Film highlights a national scourge

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Students, faculty, and community members were gathered in Bentley 207 to watch the 2012 documentary “A Place at the Table,” which explored in depth the problem of food insufficiency in America.  Nearly 100 people attended the film on Monday, Nov. 11,  after Theresa Snow,  of the local non-profit Salvation Farms, hosted a discussion.

Snow defined food insecurity as occurring when people must constantly worry about where their next meal is coming from. The USDA website defines it as “a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food.”

Before the film began, Snow highlighted some of the ways Salvation Farms is helping end hunger locally. “Salvation Farms works to capture farm’s surplus food and makes the food items available to folks who would otherwise lack access, “she said. “We mainly serve intuitions such as schools, hospitals, nursing homes, as well as the charitable emergency food systems. We don’t just serve the hungry that are typically classified as the food insecure; we also serve those who are served by institutions that often have restrictions in their budgets to make wiser or healthier or more local choices for those that depend on their meals.”

Snow asked the audience to watch the film from both a personal perspective and from the perspective of the entire nation. “What I would ask all of you in watching this film is to think about flaws in our systems and our policies on how we choose to address issues like poverty and food insecurity,” said Snow., the documentary’s official website, describes the film’s purpose as illuminating the issue of hunger in America on a nationwide level while also portraying a moving and realistic record of the day-to-day life of those who are suffering from a lack of food. Directors Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush unfold this reality by documenting the struggles of three American families who are dealing with food insecurity.

The film weaves in and out of these personal narratives while providing hard-hitting facts: since 1980 fresh fruits and vegetables have gone up in price 40 percent. Starches and grains, major ingredients in the chips and cakes that dominate grocery store aisles, have decreased in price 40 percent during this same time.

According to the documentary, these price fluctuations are directly to what the government decides to subsidize. The film spoke of how in 1980 food insecurity was nearly eradicated in the United States, yet now it’s the worse than it’s ever been on a per-capita basis and raised the specter of the next generation “living sicker and dying younger” than that of its parents.

The film examined the “Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act,” an act led by President Obama in 2010 that aimed at providing schools with a larger budget so that cafeterias could provide students with more nutritious meals. It asserts the president initially pledged $10 billion over 10 years. After Congress denied this bill, $4.5 billion was agreed upon.

Jacobson and Silverbush attempted to put this big number in proper perspective by revealing that this amounted to an increase of $.06 per meal for every student, a tiny addition to the $1 that U.S. public schools spend on average for each student. They asserted this increase was made possible in part by cuts to welfare programs such as Food Stamps. The film compared this to the $700 billion bank bailout of 2008, and the $1.3 trillion in Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of the nation.

Targeted too were the effects of prolonged hunger. According to doctors interviewed in “A Place at the Table,” if a child is undernourished during the first three years of its life, it can have lifelong cognitive effects.

Kids can suffer from an inability to socialize due to hunger and will be more prone to sickness and infection without proper nourishment. A woman in the film, Barbie, is shown holding one of her children in the medical office, with tears in her eyes and her son breathing out of an oxygen mask while the doctor asks about the family’s eating habits.

The documentary also noted the prominence of food deserts in the US, areas where individuals do not have access to fresh and nutritious foods, fruits and vegetables.

According to the film, 23.5 Americans live in food deserts.

One mother appearing in the documentary had to take two busses and walk many blocks  to get out of her food desert; another parent had to drive 35 miles one way to purchase nutritious food, a round trip costing her over $10 in gas.

Also present were some familiar faces, such as actor Jeff Bridges. When speaking of the number of hungry children in America, Bridges says, “If another country was doing this to our kids we’d be at war… “It’s about patriotism.  It’s about your country. How do you view your country? Is it where 1 in 4 children are hungry?”

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