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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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CBS NARRATOR in Hunger in America: Food is the most basic of human needs.

KRISTI JACOBSON: That showed the nation shocking conditions and children that were starving right.

CBS NARRATOR in Hunger in America: But man can’t remain alive without food. We’re talking about ten million Americans. In this country, the most basic human need must become a human right.

KRISTI JACOBSON: And citizens reacted. And what they did though and part of this had to do with the reporting at the time, was they demanded legislative response. They demanded that their politicians take responsibility and address the problem. And I think that today we have, you know, every maybe once a year around the holidays there are portraits of the hungry in America.

But instead of pointing to political solutions they're often pointing to a charitable response as the solution. And I think that is a really also significant cause for how we have gotten to the point where one in six are food insecure.

BILL MOYERS: You have a sequence in the film that drives home the reliance on charity and the conclusion that it's not enough. Let's take a look at that.

JOEL BERG in A Place at the Table: The 80’s created the myth that A. hungry people deserved it and B. well we could really fill in the gaps with the charities.

JANET POPPENDIECK in A Place at the Table: And so we had a proliferation of emergency responses, soup kitchens, food pantries moving from literally a shelf in the cupboard of the pastor’s office to an operation with regular hours.

LARRY BROWN in A Place at the Table: Something changed during that period of time. There developed this ethos that government was doing too much and more importantly, the private sector is wonderful and let’s feed people through charity.

JANET POPPENDIECK in A Place at the Table: We have basically created a kind of secondary food system for the poor in this country. Millions and millions of Americans, as many as 50 million Americans, rely on charitable food programs for some part of meeting their basic food needs.

[…]

MARIANA CHILTON in A Place at the Table: That’s something that’s extremely important. The churches and the community groups that do hand out food are doing an incredible service to this country and to the children that are experiencing hunger, but that’s just a quick fix, that’s for today and tomorrow and maybe for next week. We call it emergency food? It’s no longer emergency food. This is called chronic use of a broken system for which people cannot be held accountable.

[…]

JEFF BRIDGES in A Place at the Table: Charity is a great thing, but it’s not the way to end hunger. We don’t fund our Department of Defense through charity, you know. We shouldn’t, you know, see that our kids are healthy through charity either.

BILL MOYERS: So Americans responded with "a thousand points of light" in the first Bush administration. But you say it's not enough?

KRISTI JACOBSON: Well, it's not enough because despite all of that, despite all the money that's being raised, despite the food drives, despite the proliferation of these food banks and soup kitchens we still have 50 million people who are food insecure.

And what we've found both during the making of the film and in fact since showing the film, you know, food bank directors repeatedly sharing with us, you know, "We can't do this alone. We need government to play its role." Because it should be an emergency food system, as Mariana says in the film. And it should be complementing government programs that really address the needs of the most vulnerable.

 
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