Thursday, July 11, 2013


Why am I angry? It’s because we finally saw “A Place At the Table” on DVD. I’ll leave its artistic merits to the film critics while I discuss the message that film makers Lori Silverbush and Kristi Jacobson are conveying in this documentary. It chronicles the rise of hunger in America which has grown exponentially since the 1980’s. At present, approximately 50 million people including 17 million children are food insecure i.e. they don’t know where their next meal is coming from and many a night they go to bed hungry. The consequences of malnutrition for growing children were well enumerated in the film as well as the effects on our future as a nation having a large portion of our population malnourished. The movie has just become even more relevant since the House voted on a Farm Bill that eliminates funding for SNAP (formerly known as Food Stamps).

Hunger was addressed and largely conquered in the 1970’s with the initiation of several government programs including Food Stamps (now called SNAP), WIC¸ and free lunch and breakfast in the schools for children from low income families. Since then, these programs have received less and less funding making government programs woefully inadequate. Currently, most Food Stamp allotments provide $3.00 per day per person for food. (I want to remind everyone that people cannot use Food Stamps for soap, toothpaste, clothes detergent, or other nonfood items that people often buy at super markets.) Although I do several economy measures – buying sale items, cutting and using coupons, making a list, cooking vegetarian a couple of nights a week, I would find it impossible to eat on $3.00 per day and I challenge anyone reading this post to try it. If you can, please send in your menus. I’d love to know how it’s done. When I worked as a social worker, most of my clients who received Food Stamps ran out of their monthly allotment in two weeks.

Silverbush’es and Jacobson’s premise is that because of  America’s dwindling social safety net, the job of feeding those who don't have adequate funds to feed themselves has been left to private charities. Many organizations are doing admirable, laudatory jobs. The number of organizations has grown by leaps and bounds to try to meet the need of the hungry, many of whom are employed at low-wage jobs. Nevertheless, it isn’t possible for private charities to meet these needs entirely. This task should return to the purview of the government. As one volunteer in the film said, “Would the Pentagon be left to private charity? Where are our priorities?”

The message of “A Place At the Table” was stressed to me as I volunteered at the monthly Produce Mobile, a joint project of the Greater Chicago Food Depository and  Interfaith Action of Evanston. Evanston was designated as a community with 15% of its population food insecure and the produce mobile began here in February. The few times I have helped I have been amazed how many people are in such dire need of food that they will stand for hours in all kinds of weather to receive a supply of free fruits and vegetables. Many people have come to volunteer and it is an ideal example of private citizens aiding their neighbors but it doesn't solve the whole problem. Maybe it’s time for the Pentagon to hold a bake sale.  

Great job again Interfaith Action/ Greater Chicago Food Depository volunteers. It's great to see so many people making an effort to fill the gaps that our safety net leaves. But is this the whole answer? I certainly don't think so. It's time for us to decide what kind of society we want to be.

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