“The face of hunger in America is not a homeless guy,” Tom Henry, executive director of Feed America First, says in a trailer for the new documentary Hunger in America. Instead of that clichéd notion, which simply refuses to die, we see a montage of those familiar, relatable faces that Henry notes are the true face of hunger: children, single mothers, the elderly, the disabled.
If you don't want to take the film's word for the disparity, the math tells the tale. In 2012, forty-nine million Americans lived in food-insecure homes. On a night in January 2013, there were 610,042 people in America who were documented as homeless. The problem with confusing the homeless with the hungry is that we aren't seeing how massive the hunger problem is.
The film, which airs on Food Matters TV in September, touches on many of the issues covered in Participant Media’s A Place at the Table. There’s the prevalence of cheap, unhealthy calories in America’s food deserts, the lack of access to healthier foods such as whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables—this despite a national food surplus. Our hunger crisis both contradicts and is in part driven by our ability to produce fantastic amounts of cheap (and largely unhealthy) food.
“You can get a lot more bags of potato chips than you can get bags of potatoes. You can get a lot more soda versus gallons of milk,” Tina Edwards of Graceworks Ministries says in the trailer. “Children are eating lots of empty calories, because that food is cheaper to purchase.”
Does this all sound familiar? Like you’ve seen this movie before? Maybe so, but that’s part of the problem—despite researchers having shown that hunger in children has a long-term impact, for example, on their ability to learn and succeed in life, we’re still stuck with that image of a homeless man as the face of hunger. Until that changes, this story will have to be told over and over.