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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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So any type of nutritional depravation during this time has a severe impact on the brain even if it's just episodic, even if it happens once or twice a month those are moments of lost opportunity to be able to interact with their family and their environment, to pay attention and to learn something new which helps to grow more neurons.

So again it affects the cognitive, social and emotional development. It creates a certain kind of a stress on the child that's very toxic. And we know that children who experience that kind of toxic stress can't learn as well, can't learn as fast. And you can turn that around with food assistance programs, with a program called WIC, Women, Infants and Children or the food stamp program. The best investment of our dollars in this country is investing in very young children and their families because again those are the most important times when a child’s brain is growing. So for every one dollar that you spend on a child you make seven dollars back when they become an adolescent. It's a beautiful investment.

BILL MOYERS: Kristi has a remarkable profile, portrait in the film of a young girl named, I think her name's Rosie…

ROSIE in A Place at the Table: Okay, mine is about this um goddess or Queen. Her husband died and he gave half of his kingdom to the Romans and… LESLIE NICHOLS A Place at the Table: Hunger definitely impacts my classroom. I have had students come to me upset and it’s definitely a huge issue in our small community. […]One student in particular, Rosie, I just really felt she wasn’t really applying herself in the classroom and I couldn’t figure out where that attitude was coming from. […] And what I realized when I brought her in one day was the main issue was that she was hungry.

ROSIE in A Place at the Table: I struggle a lot and most of the time it’s because my stomach is really hurting. My teacher tells me to get focused and she told me to write focus on my little sticker and every time I look at it and I’m like oh I’m supposed to be focusing. I start yawning and then I zone out and I’m just looking at the teacher and I look at her and all I think about is food. So I have these little visions in my eyes. Sometimes when I look at her I vision her as a banana so she goes like a banana and everybody in the class is like apples or oranges and then I’m like, oh, great.

BILL MOYERS: Tell me about Rosie.

KRISTI JACOBSON: Rosie is an incredible young girl. And I think that what struck me so much about Rosie is that her story sort of embodied, everything about this issue which is that while she's experiencing this hunger and food insecurity it's affecting her self-esteem, it's affecting her ability to learn which is very upsetting. But at the same time she has this incredible spirit which gives you this, you know some feeling of hope and inspiration. So she's just an incredible young girl.

BILL MOYERS: And that story is replicated in your experience?

MARIANA CHILTON: Oh, very much so, very common. I think that-- you know, I think-- again I work with families that have very young children. And I've been watching the development of the children over time. And some are really doing just so beautifully, very dear, full of light and so much potential. And I think what people forget is that, you think you can somehow see hunger, you can't look at Rosie and see oh, she's hungry. So where do you see it? You see it in school performance, their ability to get along with others, their ability to pay attention for children of school age.

 
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