Hungry in America

Whenever I make a meal for a gathering, I love to lay out all the plates and platters on the table and assign a dish to each one. I think it is the serenity of it that appeals to me—all these plates sitting there so peaceful and pretty before they’re filled with heaps and mounds of food.

But there’s nothing pretty at all about dishes that stand empty for one, two or even three meals a day. And there is no serenity in lying awake at night wondering how in the world you’re going to feed your child.

That is the reality of 49 million Americans who struggle with hunger. That’s 1 in 8 American families; 1 in 4 children.

In 1968, CBS aired a one-hour documentary that shocked the country with its report that 10 million Americans were facing hunger. Congressmen George McGovern and Bob Dole responded by creating legislation to form programs like WIC, a supplemental nutrition program for women, infants and children, modern day food stamps and school feeding programs. Much of it worked.

But somehow hunger became a lost priority. With each passing decade, the number of hungry families in our own country climbed, from 10 million to 30 million to a staggering 49 million in 2008. That’s five times the population of Hungary, and almost the entire population of France.

What’s shocking is that most of these families have at least one adult who works full time. And none of these families goes lacks food because our country lacks the resources to grow enough. This isn’t a famine. This is an outrage.

The United States is the only wealthy, industrialized nation with a massive hunger crisis. Why?

That is exactly the question the filmmakers behind the documentary Hungry in America seek to answer.

Private food banks, pantries and other feeding programs financed through charity seek to address hunger, but the need is too great. The problems causing hunger need to be addressed on a bigger scale. We need to ask questions like why ten percent of America’s largest and richest corporate farms collect almost 75% of federal farm subsidies; and why are many of these the same farms that grow corn to produce foods sweetened with corn syrup and sold cheaply to low-income Americans.

Good Food is everyone's right.

That is a belief I share with organizations like FEED projects, Good Food Gardens, Share our Strength and Hungry in America. Last night, at Colicchio and Sons restaurant in Manhattan, Tom Colicchio {of Top Chef fame} joined FEED foundation and Vanity Fair to raise funds to finish the film that will be a game changer in the fight against hunger, and to help launch FEED USA. Many generous New Yorker’s including Natalie Portman, Katie Couric, and Jake Gyllenhal gathered to lend their support, their celebrity, or their sense of responsibility to the filmmakers.

After we all ate rounds of carefully crafted potato gnocchi with braised brussel sprouts, tuna sashimi, lamb loin with lentils, and steamed oysters with celeriac slaw, we paused to try to imagine what it would feel like to have an empty belly as we listened to the voices of hunger as filmed by Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush, the women behind  Hungry in America.

It’s a difficult thing to imagine, an empty fridge, an empty pantry, an empty plate. But it exists. In this country. No one can turn away from the true stories of those who live in that nightmare every day.

When the film is finished and shown across the country, the hope is that we can count on the passion and empathy of the American people to demand national change. In the meantime, the film, and the feeding, requires individual change and the generosity of sponsors like you. If you can, please support the film here. And you can help FEED a child here. 

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Sarah Copeland is a food and lifestyle expert, and the author of Feast: Generous Vegetarian Meals for Any Eater and Every Appetite, and The Newlywed Cookbook. She is the Food Director at Real Simple magazine, and has appeared in numerous national publications including Saveur, Health, Fitness, Shape, Martha Stewart Living and Food & Wine magazines. As a passionate gardener, Sarah's Edible Living philosophy aims to inspire good living through growing, cooking and enjoying delicious, irresistible whole foods. She thrives on homegrown veggies, stinky cheese and chocolate cake. Sarah lives in New York with her husband and their young daughter.