In America today, in the richest country in the world, as many as 50 million people are food insecure – they don’t know where there next meal is coming from or don’t have enough money to feed themselves or their families between paychecks.
Most of these food insecure Americans are working – some two or three jobs – in an effort to make ends meet. Yet, they still need assistance.
A recent film, A Place at the Table, highlights hunger in America, its long-lasting impact on children’s development and ability to learn, and how food insecurity leads to obesity.
The average SNAP or Food Stamp benefit is $3.00/day so people spend it on foods that provide a lot of calories for a small price. That means highly processed foods with lots of sugar, salt and fat, which contribute to obesity.
The film tells the stories of people who live in three “food deserts” – where there are no supermarkets and little access to fresh foods – rural towns in Alabama and Colorado, and inner-city Philadelphia.
In Colorado we meet Rosie who lives with her parents and grandparents in a small house. Rosie talks about being hungry and having trouble concentrating in school. At times she envisions her teacher and students as pieces of fruit. The small town where Rosie lives has a church with a food pantry and serves meals once a week. What started out as a way to provide emergency food, has become a large operation that meets ever-increasing needs. Those needing assistance include the town’s police officer who hasn’t had a pay raise in four years.
In Alabama we meet an eight-year-old 2nd grader who is very overweight. Her elementary school teacher is working hard to teach her students to love fruits and vegetables as much as junk food. But even if the teacher is successful, availability is an issue. The residents of this small town have to drive 45 minutes one way to get to a supermarket.
In Philadelphia we meet Barbie Izquierdo, a young mother of two small children. She spends a year looking for a job, while getting food benefits which include free breakfast and lunch for her children at day care. Having enough food was tough, but manageable. However, Barbie gets a full-time job and makes too much to qualify for food or childcare assistance. Now, five days after getting paid, it’s difficult to put food on the table. In one especially powerful scene we see Barbie serving canned spaghetti to her children while she eats a sandwich for dinner. Later, we see her in tears due to stress about how they are going to make it to the next paycheck.
The movie connects the dots between hunger, public policy and economic issues. It also asks some tough questions. For example, why does the government provide corporate welfare to large agribusinesses that support the processed food industry but don’t support small farmers growing local, healthy fruits and vegetables? Or, why aren’t we outraged over the low wages paid by large, highly profitable companies like Wal-Mart and McDonald’s that force these workers to rely on SNAP and other benefits?
Moyers & Company presented an hour-long show on this topic with the film’s co-director Kristi Jacobson, and Dr. Mariana Chilton who is featured in the film. Dr. Chilton is an Associate Professor and the Director of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities at Drexel University School of Public Health.
I highly recommend watching this movie and getting involved in helping end hunger and obesity by advocating for all Americans to have access to enough healthy foods.