Nationally, 50 million people in the United States do not always know where they will find their next meal, anti-hunger activists say. Locally, more than 12 percent of households in Washington, DC have experienced food insecurity.
Film directors Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush examine what they see as a growing issue of hunger in America in a new documentary called “A Place at the Table.”
Their project tells the stories of hunger that lie behind the numbers.
Viewers meet Barbie who is a single mother with two kids living in Philadelphia. She wants to keep her kids healthy, but it is difficult for her to earn a living wage. Then there is Rosie, a Colorado fifth grader who says she is often very hungry. She has difficulty focusing in school. Tremonica is a second grader living in Mississippi whose health problems are made worse by the empty calories she consumes. The cheapest food is all her hard-working mother says she can afford.
According to Hunger in America, a campaign run by the hunger-relief charity Feeding America, people who experience food insecurity suffer in many ways. They not only experience empty stomachs but nausea, headaches, and inability to focus that Rosie faces in the film. They may also feel anxiety, fear, and shame.
“A Place at the Table” explores the toll hunger takes on individuals and also raises questions about the causes of hunger. It looks at the food distribution system, social support programs, and even the charitable organizations that have become what “Sweet Charity?” author Janet Poppendieck calls, “a secondary food system for the poor.”
The film tells us that there are enough calories in the United States, but they are largely the wrong type of calories. One in three children born in the year 2000 will develop Type 2 diabetes. High blood pressure, developmental delays, asthma, emotional problems and other health problems escalate the cost of hunger in America. The U.S. economy spends $167 billion per year addressing hunger and food insecurity.
Nutrition policy expert, Marion Nestle, explains, “we are spending $20 billion a year on agricultural subsidies for the wrong food.”
Then there are the food deserts, areas where healthy food is unavailable. The film shows Rhee driving 45 minutes from her small town in Mississippi to reach a fully stocked grocery store, and Barbie taking the bus over an hour each way to do the same. Low wage earning working mothers make these choices simply to find healthier food choices, like fruits and vegetables, for their families. The corner stores in their neighborhoods and the bags of food donated by food banks tend to offer high sugar, high fat, high salt products. The relative price of fresh fruits and vegetables has gone up by 40% since 1980 when the obesity epidemic first began. The relative price of processed foods has declined by about 40%.
In addition to making the story of hunger in America more personal and palpable “A Place at the Table,” makes the solution something each of us can reach toward. The film recalls the story of the 1960s push to end childhood hunger that resulted in free breakfast and lunch programs, senior meal programs, and the expansion of food stamps. The problem was largely curtailed by the late 1970s.
“A Place at the Table” includes a companion website that allows social action and advocacy. The address is http://www.takepart.com/place-at-the-table.