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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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And I think that there is an ethos in Congress right now that assisting those individuals who need help via the food stamp program or WIC or school meals is big government and is going to put us into debt. But providing subsidies to large agribusinesses and big corporations is just business as usual.

And I think that we're looking at, you know, investing in our youth and investing in our future. And if it doesn't get to you, congressman, from the moral point of view that it's really frankly not okay to have kids like Rosie and Barbie's kids to the tune of 17 million of them in our nation-- well, what about the cost of not doing anything? Because the cost of food insecurity, the cost of obesity and malnutrition is way larger on the back end and the health care than it is to get these programs adequately funded and feed kids nutritious foods.

MARIANA CHILTON: If you think about what government is supposed to be doing, it's supposed to create the conditions in which people can make healthy choices and live an active and healthy life.

It's all about creating good conditions for us to prosper, right.

Somehow when we think about helping people who are poor, many of whom are working, it's there becomes this type of societal vitriol towards people who are poor as if they're not us. Well, actually people who are poor are all around us. Their children are going to the same schools oftentimes. We need to really rethink about who we are as a country, what does it mean to be an American. If you think about one in five of our children living in households that are food insecure, they're just as American as the rest of us, we need to really invest in our own country and who we are.

BILL MOYERS: Yeah, I was actually present when President Johnson signed-- the Food Stamp Act into law in 1964 before your time obviously. It was only-- the whole bill was only eight pages long and the first year's budget was $75 million. And its purpose I'm going to quote it for you, was quote, "To raise levels of the nutrition among low income households and to permit those households with no incomes to receive a greater share of a nation's food abundance." But as you make clear in the film it's not doing that job all these years later although we're spending $81 million on it now. So what's essentially gone wrong?

KRISTI JACOBSON: We need to look-- as we did then look at the program as it was designed which was as you stated, as a nutrition program to address the nutritional needs of low income people who don't have access to healthy foods. That's what this program should be. And we should be doing everything in our power to make that program work effectively.

And to do that I think we need to listen to people like Barbie and the Witnesses to Hunger. We could listen to Mariana also, but we need to listen to the people who are experiencing this and we need to revamp and reform the program while also adequately funding it.

BILL MOYERS: You've been to Washington with some of your constituents. You've made your case. You're up against the interlocking power grid of big agriculture, big corporations and big government. What makes you think you have a chance of turning them around?

MARIANA CHILTON: The power of the human spirit. When you have a lot of moms who have had enough we can take over Congress and say we care about our children just like you care about your children. But we need more moms, we need more families to be able to speak up. I think that we need to take over, take back our democracy, take back our sense of involvement, of belonging, that this is our government.

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