A compelling new documentary which opened March 1 shines fresh light on why hunger in America is a solvable problem. As such it underscores our moral obligation to act now.
A Place At The Table, produced by chef Tom Colicchio and Participant Media, with a companion book of essays published by Public Affairs, bring into sharp relief that the missing ingredient is political will, and why that is an unacceptable excuse for the damage we allow hunger to inflict on our children.
Before a single word is spoken on camera, the sweeping views of fertile farmland and fields of grain that begin the film make everything that comes after seem incongruous and unnecessary in America of 2013. Ours is not a country that lacks food, the ability to produce it, or even food and nutrition programs for those not able to afford food on their own.
With hunger at near record levels, including one of two American children expected to be on food assistance at some point during their lives, and with few elected officials talking about it or media focusing on it, filmmakers Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush perform an invaluable service by giving a voice to those who are too often voiceless, and in conveying that hunger can be solved.
And whether or not we are among those who personally experience hunger, it is a problem that affects each and every one of us as it hinders educational achievement, drives up health care costs, and ultimately compromises America's economic competitiveness. We can't have a strong America with weak, poorly nourished kids.
By the film's conclusion, some viewers frustrated by both the causes and consequences of hunger, may be tempted to point a finger of blame at one sector or another after seeing how government, the nonprofit sector, and the corporate community can all do better, and more, to help solve the problem. But that would be missing the broader point. If lack of political will is the underlying issue -- then each of us also has a critical role to play, a strength to share, and a responsibility to speak and act.
At Share Our Strength we've learned that hunger is a solvable problem as we've seen the No Kid Hungry campaign demonstrate the opportunity to achieve and measure results with greater precision than ever before. For example, by helping schools shift breakfast from the cafeteria to the classroom, we were able to overcome logistical challenges and associated stigma, to add 33,000 children to the school breakfast program in Maryland just last year. Schools with school breakfast had better math scores, attendance and graduation rates. Nationwide, participation topped 50 percent for the first time in the program's history.
Political will flows two ways. When Americans wanted wars brought to an end in Iraq and Afghanistan, and health care to be reformed, they elected a president who promised to make it a priority. If they decide they want to end hunger, policymakers would surely be able to make that happen. On the other hand, a few words of commitment from the president, a courageous initiative in Congress, the unambiguous success of a governor committed to ending hunger, can ignite grassroots idealism, activism and community organizing that lays the foundation for further big and bold change. The movie is also linked with a powerful online action center, where we can all stand up to give voice to the voiceless.
A Place At The Table does what all important documentary films should do. It enables us to bear witness; to see, to feel something about what we've seen, and to be moved in the most literal sense of starting out in one place and ending up in another. That's the essence of personal transformation -- and the starting point for all social change. That's the alchemy that bearing witness, and good documentary filmmaking can create.