One Nation, Underfed

By Meghan Eldridge, Kate Hrdina and Jessica Schlager

DES MOINES, Iowa — The 2012 documentary A Place at the Table explores the often forgotten issue of hunger within the United States. By following people such as Barbie Izquierdo, a single mother of two living in north Philadelphia and Rosie, an elementary school student in rural Colorado, the film demonstrates the pervasiveness of living without food in both rural and urban settings. It tackles themes such as the economics of health and questions current governmental policies. The following are just a few myths the film debunks about hunger:

People on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly Food Stamps) are lazy. The film delves into the issue of hunger in the United States by focusing on a few examples of hard-working individuals striving to feed their families. The filmmakers debunk this myth by drawing on the personal experiences of these individuals, specifically the story of Barbie. Barbie went through the process of working a job that made her too much money to qualify for food stamps but not enough to afford to feed her family. She describes the countless hours she devoted to applying for federal assistance, but to no avail. Even when Barbie was striving to remain employed, she was still not in a position to provide food for her two children. Sharon Thornberry, who serves on the board of Bread for the World and as the Community Food Systems manager for the Oregon Food Bank, was featured in a panel discussion following the film. “You’ll starve to death if you’re lazy,” Thornberry said. “Being poor is not a gig for someone who’s lazy or doesn’t have a lot of guts.”

Obesity and hunger are not linked. The cost of eating a healthy diet including fruits, vegetables and whole grains is significantly more expensive than eating a diet of processed, highly preserved, high-sugar-content, starchy foods. The film includes an interactive graphic illustrating the differences in the amount of food $3 will buy when it’s put toward fresh fruits and vegetables versus junk food. The graphic demonstrates that $3 of fresh fruits and vegetables would contribute less than 500 calories to an individual’s diet, while $3 of junk food could buy more than 2,000 calories. For many people living on a low income and experiencing hunger, the choice to stretch a limited food budget influences purchasing choices.

Donating cans to the food bank stops hunger. From an individual standpoint, yes, donating food to a food bank or food pantry is feeding a hungry person. Handing out calories, however, doesn’t solve the problem in the long run. The film as well as the post-viewing panel discussion made it evident that hunger is a political issue. Without continued funding of programs such as SNAP and WIC, people such as Barbie cannot afford to feed their families every meal every day. “My kids have to sign an anti-bullying agreement when they go to school,” she said, “What about the government?” Organizations such as Bread for the World encourage governmental lobbying as a solution achievable by everyday people. 

The United States doesn’t have a hunger problem. The United States is the richest country in the world. Although it is 17 trillion dollars in debt, the country still has a net worth of $400-800 trillion. All too often the image of hunger is an undernourished child in Africa. As Raj Patel says in the film, “People are not dying of hunger here like they are in Africa, but that’s about the best you can say.” The difference is the United States has enough food to feed its people, but somewhere, somehow, things are lost in policy through the government. One out of every two children in the United States will receive federal food assistance at some point in their lives.

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