So often, discussions about food in this country can seem a bit ... elitist. We talk about 100-percent grass-fed beef, humanely raised pork, and organic produce, but when someone mentions the fact that those foods are more expensive than their modern conventional counterparts proponents merely say it's worth it.
For about 50 million people in this country, being "worth it" is irrelevant. They aren't asking themselves whether their meat is humane or how far their produce traveled, they are wondering where their next meal will come from, how they will pay for it, and whether it will show up at all.
Those 50 million food insecure Americans simply want A Place At The Table, and filmmakers Lori Silverbush and Kristi Jacobson are hoping their documentary will accomplish just that.
It isn't that we don't still need to do something about the factory farming, GMO seeds, and other problems in our modern industrial food complex, but there is another problem we mustn't ignore: hunger.
"I had been mentoring a young girl who, it turned out, was going hungry and it was messing up her life everywhere," says Silverbush. "It was causing her horrible educational complications, social problem, health issues. I was pretty heartbroken because no matter how often I would try to help her, the problem would still exist. I started to get really frustrated because I went to all of these fundraisers and no one ever asked "why?" I started to feel a little cynical like, who are we really doing this fundraising for?"
So, Silverbush decided to do what she does best. She knew at once that the film had to be a documentary.
"I thought if we did a fictional movie people wouldn't believe me because it's so shocking because we have so much food in this country."
Hunger seems like in issue in third world nations far from our shores and not in the US where one third of adults are obese. But, as A Place At The Table illustrates, hunger and obesity aren't opposites. They're two sides of the same coin - a lack of basic nutrition. They are both the result of a food system that uses food science to sell more food, not make it more nutritious; that produces food in excess, but does not get it to those who need it most; and that subsidizes the production of the least nutritious foods. It is for those very reasons that hunger is often hidden in America.
Silverbush explains that when we think of hunger we imagine skeletal children with bulging bellies, but more often in our country people hover on the brink of hunger. This lead to the term, food insecure.
"Intitially we were skeptical of the term because we thought it as this Bush Era term and it might have started that way but it was really useful because so many people in this country don't fit the picture of hunger. Over 50 millions Americans don't know where their next meal is coming from."
And the fact that food insecure started out as a Bush Era term is fitting, because Silverbush explains that you don't need to be a bleeding heart liberal to understand why feeding people is important. It is an issue that is a drain on our economy, a serious blow to our productivity as a nation.
"We met parents who, instead of spend the best years of their lives contributing, working, producing, volunteering, they spent all of their time scrounging for food, trying to feed themselves and their children. And it's so emotionally draining."
As is the documentary, which you can watch on iTunes or, tonight only, at Cinema Paradiso in Fort Lauderdale at 6 p.m.
It isn't all doom and gloom, however. While the idea of millions of people around you - one in four children - going hungry is depressing and even overwhelming, unlike most massive problems facing our society, this is one we can fix. We did once before.
"I didn't know when I set out to do this that hunger is actually solvable. We thought of it as an intractable problem that would always be with us. The biggest surprise to me is that it is fixable and we have fixed it in the past. But, we have to let go of this misperception of a couple of canned food drives are going to fix it."
Charity is a Band-Aid on hunger, but it not a long-term solution. The single most important thing a person can do, is also the simplest - call, email, text, or even tweet at your elected officials.
"I think the number one thing people have to overcome is their cynicism that their one voice doesn't matter, that if they call their representative it won't matter, because we have had legislators look us in the eye and say that it does."
One elected official told Silverbush that if as few as six people called his office about something, he moved on it, because if six people care enough to call, there must be many more who cared but didn't.
"Once I learned that it was democracy that could fix hunger and not food drives, it made me realize we have precedent in this country for standing up and saying it won't be this way."
Broward Meals On Wheels will be there collected non-perishable food donations for your food insecure neighbors. Give all that you can, watch the film, contact your elected officials, and then visit takepart.com to learn more.
To learn more about Jeff Bridges' organization, End Hunger, visit jeffbridges.com/endhunger.
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