Why are so many kids in America going hungry?

IMG_0274One in six Americans doesn’t have enough to eat. That’s almost 50 million Americans. And for kids? That figure is one in four. Sixteen million of those who are food insecure are children, with kids under five are more likely to live in a house where meals get skipped and cupboards stand bare.

This is a bigger problem than just a few rumbling tummies. Hunger, especially for little ones, can have overwhelming consequences: lack of nutrients can blunt brain development during those early years, and hunger makes it hard to focus on school, and is linked to higher rates of hospitalization, asthma, and other conditions.

What, exactly, is going on here?

There’s a new movie that reveals the complex, and heartbreaking, reality of hunger in the US. A Place at the Table is a powerful documentary that digs into hunger, from the stories of a young mother doing everything she can to get food on the table for her two kids, to the hunger-obesity connection, and the complicated and often contradictory role of the government.

One of the co-directors, Kristi Jacobson, told me, “The reality of 50 million Americans who are experiencing food insecurity, it’s pretty shocking. There’s not a single community in America in which people don’t experience hunger. Hearing the very real struggle that’s happening and understanding the devastating consequences, the lifelong consequences – it’s a story not enough people know, because it’s invisible.”

I had a chance to see the film, and, since then, I can’t stop thinking about one story: that of a mother of two named Barbie, who struggles to find work and earn a living wage. Hearing about her kids getting put to bed hungry, asking for food and thinking they weren’t getting any because they’d done something wrong, brought me to tears. Children should not be missing meals, not in this country. Not anywhere.

We’ve got enough food in this country. But people don’t have the money to buy it — especially healthy food. Fruits and vegetables are 40 percent more expensive now than they were thirty years ago, and cheap processed food is cheaper, something that A Place at the Table explains is a result of the Farm Bill.

Each day, thousands of people are responding, helping to feed their neighbors and advocating for change. In my home state of Colorado, there are bike-pedaling volunteers picking up soon-to-be-tossed produce and getting it to people who need it; communities sending home nutritious food through backpack programs, so that kids who eat free lunch during the week can have something more than ramen on the weekend; and even a cheerful bus touring low-income neighborhoods, to make sure kids get at least one nutritious meal per day during the summer.

What can you do? See the movie. Tell others about it. And take action, in whatever way you feel called to do so. Your state may have an anti-hunger organization (like Hunger Free Colorado or the Oregon Food Bank) that you can check out. The filmmakers have a site with a few ways to get involved, and will soon share even more opportunities to do something.

As Kristi Jacobson told me, “Change is really possible….We want to work toward ending hunger because we believe it is solvable.”

A Place at the Table opens March 1 nationwide.

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