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Moyers: 50 Million Go Hungry in America

Debates on how to address hunger are filled with clichés about freeloaders undeserving of government help. But the documentary "A Place at the Table" paints a truer picture of America’s poor.

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BILL MOYERS: There's a nice twist in the film. When you're reporting on what it's like to live on food stamps and you have an interview with Representative James McGovern of Massachusetts who did his own research, as you do, into the subject.

REP. JAMES MCGOVERN in A Place at the Table: I lived on a food stamp diet for a week along with Jo Ann Emerson from Missouri. We did so because we thought that the food stamp benefit was inadequate. Most of my colleagues had no idea that the average food stamp benefit was $3 a day.

I had my budget and I went to a supermarket and it took me an awful long time because you have to add up every penny and it has to last you for a week. And so I did it and I will tell you I, I was tired, I was cranky because I couldn’t drink coffee because coffee was too expensive. I mean there are people who are living on that food stamp allocation. And you really can’t. For us it was an exercise that ended in a week. For millions of other people in this country that’s their way of life; every day is a struggle just to eat.

KRISTI JACOBSON: Sadly Representative McGovern is one of few leaders and voices in Congress pushing to do the right thing here which is to protect and improve food stamps and other government programs.

He's an incredible leader, but he is even having trouble getting his members of his own party to support his efforts to protect these programs. And that's really troubling and upsetting.

BILL MOYERS: The road to reform always leads to Washington. And there almost every reform whether it's the environment or whether it's agriculture or food hits up against the power of big money to write the laws it wants and influence the politicians it needs. You found that to be the case, didn't you?

KRISTI JACOBSON: Yes, I think that, you know, I believe, and I don't think naively, that we Americans should be able to influence how our politicians vote on these issues. That's not happening right now. And the problem with this issue is that you don't always-- it's not so obvious necessarily how a politician is voting when it comes to programs that address food insecurity.

BILL MOYERS: There was a poll taken I think in connection with your film that found the majority of Americans actually were surprised to hear that 50 million people don't know where their next meal is coming from. And many of those polled just don't think of hunger as a pressing issue. Given your work on this how do you explain it?

MARIANA CHILTON: There's this concept that you can somehow see hunger, that we would know that there are hungry children if they were fishing around in the garbage can or if there were flies coming or they had swollen bellies and, you know, limp on the sidewalk. But that's not what hungry children look like. We don't see that in the United States. You might see that's severe starvation when you're dealing in times of war and massive drought.

BILL MOYERS: Somalia, the Congo, Sudan, all…

MARIANA CHILTON: So in the United States there-- it's children like Rosie who light up the room when they come in. It's moms like Barbie Izquierdo who's beautifully spoken, so brilliant. Her children are funny and enjoyable. And yet they're still experiencing food insecurity and hunger. So I think people are actually shocked "Well, I don't see it, so it can't be real." And they don't believe the numbers.

 
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