After a sweltering July, I took pleasure in the breezy feel of an unlikely August Sunday afternoon. I switched on the tv as background noise, but quickly became drawn into the stories being shared by two women as they sat and talked with the always astute Bill Moyers. The topic being discussed, among other things, was the film “A Place at the Table,” and Kristi Jacobson, one of the film’s directors and producers, and Mariana Chilton, director of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities, were Moyers’ guests. Their argument was relatively simple: hunger hurts everyone.
I found myself nodding along, but was unprepared for the footage they shared from the film, which also documents the efforts of Chilton and her Center against the backdrop of the federal funding cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). One loving mother eats a bologna sandwich in the kitchen after serving her two small children a portion of pasta each. She does not “look hungry” as the argument sometimes goes, says Chilton, who notes in a comment to Moyers after this scene is shown that the mother even hides her nutritional sacrifice from her children.
We have seen this narrative many times: parents who care deeply for their children, but who are still unable to provide the necessary basics. Where are they meant to turn? What supports exist for adults who are working full time, often more than one job, and whose wages keep them perpetually “food insecure” — the term used throughout the film to signal an all too common phenomenon: not knowing where one’s next meal is coming from.
Moyers’ guests talk policy, change, action, and urgency, and yet the parting words have to do with the struggle to get noticed by legislators for long enough of a period to actually effect change. Too mired in uninformed definitions of dependency and misguided notions of socialism are the political arguments that seem to surface any time issues of great urgency — and this includes hunger as well as shelter, safety, and wellbeing of children — are brought into the realm of legislation.
It’s enough to make one ask what else can be done at the local, community, neighborhood level. This is one of the reasons I appreciate the multi-tiered efforts of Chilton’s Center at Drexel University that seems to bring together families — who they are calling “Witnesses to Hunger” — with a shared focus on community-based projects, actions, research, and policy.
Here’s another link to PBS Newshour footage about the film, featuring clips and additional interviews:
And in case you were wondering… yes, this is where YMEJ is headed. And we are thrilled to have learned about the Center for Hunger-Free Communities as inspiration. Universities, too, can be part of the work and not only in the business of posing problems and solutions.
Link to Moyers’ broadcast – or watch the complete program here:
Click for more resources connected with hunger, nutrition, and poverty.