Although one of the richest nations in the world, the United States still suffers from chronic hunger. In fact, the US ranks worst in hunger among the world’s most developed countries. But in this country, food shortages are not the issue, cyclical poverty is. This the main message that A Place at the Table presents. The film screening, hosted by the EcoReps last Wednesday night, presented these issues in an emotional and captivating way. The documentary follows various stories of hunger around the US such as Rosie, the middle schooler in in Colorado who depends on friends and community organizations for food; and Barbie, a single mom from Philadelphia who, despite her best efforts, has been unable to escape poverty and struggles to feed her children on a weekly basis. By following these personal stories, the film is able to provide its audience with a look inside the lives of the 49 million people who struggle with hunger in the United States.
Not only does this film highlight the fact that so many people living in this country struggle to feed themselves and their families everyday, but more importantly, the film discusses the complex food systems behind that struggle. There is no shortage of food in the United States; in fact, 40% of our food grown for consumption is wasted every year. This is enough food to feed 25 million people who face hunger. The issue that really causes hunger in this country is continual poverty and the intense difficulty many people face when trying to escape the cycle. Coupled with a lack of legal and federal action to support programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), previously known as food stamps, not only are people that face hunger in the United States unable to afford adequate amounts of food, they are also unable to acquire help from the government.
But what defines hunger? Even still, a large portion of the rhetoric surrounding hunger involves an image of a starving, bone-thin child in a foreign country. Something that is so important in order to understand the issue of hunger in the United States is making the connection between hunger and obesity in this country. A Place at the Table highlights this link well. The film discusses the messy systems that indirectly control the prices of food in the United States. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is responsible for both agriculture and food programs such as SNAP. Big business agriculture has a tight grip on this system and prevents legislation for better food programs, such as school breakfasts and lunches, from moving through congress. What is more astonishing is that the current subsidy system supports products such as wheat, soy, and corn but not fruits and vegetables. Thus, people struggling to afford food choose more calories per dollar because it will last longer, but it will also have detrimental health effects. So even if you make enough to not qualify for the SNAP program, like Barbie in the film, the food that you are able to afford is not healthy.
A Place at the Table discusses a very hard topic, one that many United States politicians are afraid to speak about publicly. The film does so in such an informative yet emotional way as to draw the audience in and not only tell us why we should care about hunger in the United States, but also how it is so difficult to breakout of the hunger with the current system. By putting emphasis on the systematic issues, A Place at the Table helps its audience start rethinking what exactly it means to be hungry in the US.