Sunday Reflections: Food Insecurity
'A Place at the Table' is a documentary focusing on hunger in America that concludes 'charity is not the solution to ending hunger.'
By Rev. Dai Morgan
During the season of Lent, many people will observe a fast, to one degree or another. Sometimes it is simply a matter of eating fish in place of meat. Some individuals will actually go without eating, for a period of time, for the sake of self-sacrifice or self-discipline. However, some folks don’t have much choice. Lent or not, they just don’t get much to eat.
On March 1, a documentary movie was released entitled A Place at the Table. The topic of the documentary is hunger in contemporary America. The current expression for this phenomenon is “food insecurity”—insufficient food to provide adequate nutritional calories on a regular basis.
Call it what you will, it is a national tragedy and, I think, a national shame. The figure cited in the film is that 50 million Americans suffer food insecurity. This means that 1 in 6 Americans don’t know where their next meal is coming from. It is believed that for children the ratio is 1 in 4.
At Living Spirit Ministry, where I am the pastor, we host Meals on Wheels, we provide small quantities of food, without question, from our Food Basket and we distribute masses of food to low-income people from our Food Pantry. Providing folks with food is far and away the biggest part of our outreach ministry. Consequently, my ears perk up when I hear anything about the issue of hunger in America.
A Place at the Table will be screened at theaters this month and can also be accessed through iTunes and cable video on demand.
The film is directed by Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush. Ms. Silverbush’s husband, Chef Tom Colicchio, the founder of Craft Restaurants and lead judge on Bravo TV’s hit show “Top Chef” is the Executive Producer.
A Place at the Table tells a difficult story. It profiles people in Colorado, Mississippi and Philadelphia who struggle to feed themselves and their families. It also highlights some collateral effects of hunger, such as serious childhood developmental problems, reduced school performance and negative health implications. In fact, food insecurity is related to many social and political issues, for example: poverty, economic justice, the health care system, education and national security.
One of the profiled families includes a fifth-grader named Rosie, who has trouble concentrating in school. Both parents work, however their low income is not sufficient to purchase fresh food. Rosie must exist on processed foods and the kind of empty calories that fill without nourishing. Jacobson and Silverbush find similar cases of working poor across the nation, where two employed parents can either not afford good food, or there is no nearby source to purchase it (so called “food deserts”).
In an interview before the documentary’s release, Colicchio made the following comments:
“My wife was mentoring a young girl and she realized that she was often hungry. In fact, we got her into a school that we thought would better suit her, but it didn’t have a breakfast program—breakfast and lunch were the only two meals she was having all day. One day she got a call from the principal, who said, ‘She’s always looking for food. She’s always hungry.’ We didn’t realize how bad it was at home and so that got Lori thinking, ‘Is there a film here? Is there something we can do?’”
In the course of exploring this question, filmmakers Silverbush and Jacobson discovered a 1968 television documentary entitled Hunger in America, hosted by Charles Kuralt. The documentary shocked the public. At that time the statistic was that 10 million Americans experienced hunger. Colicchio observed:
“Public pressure was outrageous after watching this show, after literally watching a young child die in a hospital from starvation. The incoming Nixon administration made it a top priority to fix the problem and very quickly they did. Sen. Dole and Sen. McGovern reached across the aisle and created the modern food safety network, because of demand. Pretty much, hunger was wiped out. (But) ideology changed in the ‘80s and it came back and it came back in a very strong way.”
The anti-hunger program was sacrificed in the Reagan administration’s emphasis on defense spending and a pop political attitude that welfare is for malingerers and the system is being abused. The idea, which continues today, is that there are large numbers of “takers,” people who won’t support themselves because they don’t want to. They’d rather live off the largesse of the government—which, of course, is so generous.
However, in reality, for example, food stamps are recognized as having the lowest rate of fraud of any government program, about 1 percent. Colicchio stated, “Doing the film, we wanted to change the face of hunger and wanted to show the working poor. It’s not someone looking for a handout; these are people who want a better life, they want to feed their children. They can’t. It’s tough. Food has become so expensive, nutritious food.”
A Place at the Table is an eye opener. However, in my capacity as an administrator of our food pantry, there was one specific contention that stood out—charity is not the solution to ending hunger. It argues that hunger is a systemic problem that needs to move beyond “ad hoc” efforts. Food pantries, such as ours, are extremely valuable. But, the exponential growth of such agencies in the last two decades, without alleviating the demand, indicates that a solution to hunger in America needs to come from other means.
Can the nation be galvanized on this issue, like happen in 1968 after the airing of Hunger in America? The idea that it happened once before inspired the makers of A Place at the Table to try it again. They contend that the problem of food insecurity can be solved once and for all, if the American public decides that making healthy food available and affordable is in the best interest of everyone. Silverbush says that the film was created for both “red states” and “blue states.” Actor Jeff Bridges, who participates in the documentary, asks, “This is about patriotism. What kind of country do you want to live in?”
Consequently, the purpose of this documentary is not only to raise awareness, but also to inspire commitment to helping the least fortunate among our citizens. A campaign has been created in conjunction with this film. If you are interested in learning more and having a voice on the issue of hunger in America, go to: www.takepart.com/table
If nothing else, see this movie.
…inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat…Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You…‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ Matthew 25:34
The Rev. Dai Morgan is pastor of Living Spirit Ministry-Swissvale United Methodist Church.