Maitre D': I Need a Place at the Table ... For 50 Million

Feb 15, 2013

By Tom Salyers

I had the privilege last night of attending a screening in Washington, DC for a soon-to-be-released documentary.  This new film, A Place at the Tableputs human faces on the issue of hunger in America. I came away inspired to join the fight against hunger.

First, some background.  I'm a non-profit communications guy with deep roots in the early childhood community, but who joined CLASP only this past summer.  As a relative newbie to the breadth of poverty-related issues that CLASP addresses, I'm still learning a great deal about the support programs and systemic solutions out there to help move - and keep - people out of poverty.  So, when a colleague passed along an announcement about this screening, I jumped at the chance to go and take a deep dive into the issue of hunger.  Of course, it didn't hurt when I saw that Tom Colicchio, celebrity chef and host of the TV series Top Chef was in the film and would also be on-hand at the DC screening.  Therefore, I decided I could lure my wife and 2 daughters (ages 13 and 10) to join me for the screening. 

As the film quickly instructed us, the United States is currently home to some 50 million people who are food insecure.  It is truly unbelievable to think that so many Americans, and particularly children, are hungry.  Naturally, when the 5th grade girl from Colorado appeared on the film, I couldn't help but think about my own fifth grader whose middle-class life seems outright lavish in comparison.  This movie was going to hit home. 

Sure, my work at CLASP has taught me about SNAP, TANF, EITC and many other programs (alphabet-soup-named and otherwise) aimed at trying to lessen the consequences of poverty.  However, I didn't realize hunger was an issue that had practically been solved in this country back in the 1970s (while I was a student).  The lessons from A Place at the Table are powerful and help paint a picture of how our country's approach to addressing hunger has so seriously run off the rails.  In the 1970s, we embraced - on a bi-partisan basis - the government-led programs that adequately addressed hunger.  That fell apart, though in the 1980s as we backed off those programs and moved to the less-structured, less-secure approaches that depend too much on charity and the kindness of others - when both are too tenuous to be counted on as long-term solutions.  As actor Jeff Bridges noted in the film, just like it would be crazy to fund our military through charity, we shouldn't depend on charity to address a systemic problem like hunger. 

A Place at the Table premieres nationally on March 1, 2013.  It's a film I recommend seeing - regardless of whether or not Tom Colicchio is on hand at your screening of it.  Please check out this documentary when it comes to a screen near you.  And then take to heart the systemic problems it reveals and join in the fight against hunger.

My family is fortunate, indeed, and I am planning to help CLASP ensure the integrity (and funding) of SNAP when the Farm Bill comes up for reauthorization again this year.  SNAP plays a critical role in helping low-income families access food, and Congress has proposed large cuts to the program in recent debates. As the film makes stunningly clear, big agricultural interests play an outsized role in this bill, and the hungry have far too few strong voices advocating on their behalf.  I'm proud that CLASP is working with many other organizations to harmonize our voices together into a chorus of supporters for the hungry. 

Here's hoping that we can work to defeat hunger - once more - in this country and keep it from rearing its ugly head again.  After all, it's downright impossible to find a place at the table for 50 million fellow Americans.

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