By Connie Matthiessen, Associate Editor
Most of us can’t imagine toiling through the school day on an empty stomach, but Rosie, a fifth grader who lives in Colorado, can tell you exactly what it's like.
She tries to stay focused in class, but finds herself drifting off into fantasies about food: “I start yawning, then I don't have – and sometimes looking at the teacher and I look at her and all I think about is food," says Rosie. "Cause I have these little visions in my eyes. Sometimes when I look at her, I vision her as a banana, so she goes like a banana and everybody in the class is like apples or oranges…”
A Place at the Table
Rosie’s story is featured in the new documentary, “A Place at a Table” (now in theaters) by the creators of "Food, Inc." She’s just one of the estimated 17 million children (that's one in four kids, and when you include adults, too, the number reaches a staggering 50 million Americans) who don’t know where or when their next meal will come.
As the movie makes clear, when you’re chronically hungry, you don’t get a lot of learning done — which means that America’s hunger problem is taking an uncalculated toll on 17 million futures.
Obesity and poverty
“A Place at the Table” underscored the seemingly incongruous link between poverty and obesity. Hungry people often don’t look hungry – and this superficial (mis)understanding likely contributes to our collective neglect of the hunger issue. Worse, it tends to invite scorn in our fat-phobic culture. The truth is that junk and processed foods, typically packed with fat, sugar, and salt, are often the only food option available to low-income families, since they're cheaper and more readily available than fresh fruit, vegetables, and whole grains. (To learn more about the food industry's ongoing efforts to make snack food ever more beguiling — and nutrition free — read Michael Moss’s excellent article on the science (and profit) of junk food.)
War on Hunger
The film also explains why hunger — a problem that had virtually disappeared in the 1970's thanks to targeted government efforts — is once again haunting so many American households. It also makes the hopeful case that, given the commitment and the political will, we can banish hunger once and for all, so kids like Rosie won't have to go to school hungry. "[Hunger] is weakening the nation," says actor Jeff Bridges, who participates in the film. "It's about patriotism, really. If another country was doing this to our kids, we'd be at war."
Go see "A Place at the Table" and let us know what you think!Follow @CMMatthiessen