I recently watched a documentary, A Place at the Table (co-directed by Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush and starring Jeff Bridges, 2012) on the subject of hunger in America. Three different families in three regions of the U.S. are featured with their particular experiences and situations. According to the film, at least fifty million people (1 in 4 children) in the United States struggle with food insecurity each day. Food insecurity means not knowing if and when the next meal is coming.
The film explores the personal ramifications of hunger through the experiences of Barbie, a single mom who grew up in poverty in urban Philadelphia and who is trying her best to provide a better life for her two little ones, to those of Rosie, a Colorado 5th grader whose family is struggling to survive and who has trouble concentrating in school because she is often hungry, to Tremonica, a second-grader living in a semi-rural area in Mississippi whose mother cannot often afford to buy her healthy food, resulting in obesity in her daughter, which is compromising the child’s health and future well-being.
It is shocking to observe that in a country such as the United States that so many people cannot either find or afford sufficient nutritious food and provide well-rounded meals for their families. The film also documents how, over the course of the last seventy or so years, government funding of certain crops such as wheat and corn have allowed corporate food giants to form and grow out of control. The initial intent of such government programs was to support smaller family-owned farms in the after-math of the Great Depression. Yet today, these farms no longer exist, and the huge industrialized farms contaminate the land with pesticides and provide abundant and cheap “food” products that have no food value and very little diversity. The result is that families with limited resources are funneled somewhat unconsciously into purchasing high calorie low nutrition foods that cause their children to be over-weight and undernourished. The film also shows that the prices of fruits and vegetables, which are not government subsidized, have escalated over the last forty years, and that such high nutrition foods are often not readily available in small towns and rural areas.
As consumers, we do have the power to change how the food system works in this country by choosing to support smaller local farms and by pressuring government to change the way our country works. There are so many people working to support social change, such as change.org or avaaz.org. You can sign petitions that have global social and legislative impact. We can’t afford for our children to grow up hungry and unhealthy.
I live in a neighborhood that largely consists of families on welfare. I observe my neighbors and see how much and what type of garbage they produce. Chip bags, soda cans, and candy wrappers litter my neighborhood. Many of the children and young adults are either obese or are on their way to obesity. I don’t really know how the food stamp program works, but I suspect that education is really the most important factor in helping people move from poverty to a better way of life. As a single parent with a low income, I personally know how exhausting it is to constantly recalculate how much money I have in order to meet expenses. Often, I can shop for groceries every other week, after pay day. Too often, we eat noodles or cereal or rice. However, I try to use my food dollars wisely and I buy a lot of fruits and vegetables, some eggs and dairy products, little meat, and little or no junk food. Occasionally, I’ll make cookies or a zucchini bread as a treat. I read a lot about health, and I do my best within my means to buy good food. We rarely eat out and our main beverage is filtered water.
What I appreciated about this documentary is the attempt to share with a larger community of humans the fact that in a country as wealthy as the United States poverty is a common state of affairs for many. It is very time-consuming to be poor, and the energy spent on trying to survive could be used for so much more interesting and important pursuits. Children should never have to worry about their next meal…in any country! Corporate greed and the lack of compassion of wealthy legislators has left our nation bankrupt morally and physically. Our land has been corrupted by chemicals and the devastation to nature caused by excessive cultivation of monocultures. We need to rethink how we treat our land, our animals, our people. A loving and compassionate outlook is what we need to restore our confidence in the natural abundance that is available to each and every one of us, and not just to a wealthy and select few.