December 11, 2013

"A Place at the Table" - A Documentary that is Changing My Life

One month ago I posted about how I was wondering what it would be like to have to live on food stamps as your sole source of food money. I asked you, my readers to help me by coming up with some scenarios. I will still be posting my ideas but – a lot has happened since then. I have been too busy – too busy in fact to put up my Christmas tree yet.

One day a neighbor from a block away came to my house and asked if I had a frozen chicken that he could have. I had a whole chicken and I gave it to him. Have you ever had a neighbor come to your home asking for food? How hard was that to do? Right after I posted that article, I came across a documentary on Netflix called “A Place at the Table.” I streamed it and watched it a couple of times.

This documentary came out in 2012. On Netflix it is described as follows “Using personal stories, this powerful documentary illuminates the plight of the 49 million Americans struggling with food insecurity. A single mother, a small-town policeman and a farmer are among those for whom putting food on the table is a daily battle.” This documentary is every enlightening and I am asking as many of my followers as possible to watch this.

If you don’t have Netflix, ask your public library to get this documentary. Why? You will be surprised at what you learn. This documentary dispels the myths about hunger and poverty that you may have. Also it describes terms such as “Food Deserts” where fresh fruits and vegetables are not available or the fact that someone living in an inner city setting has to take a bus to a grocery store that takes 2 hours round trip. It also tells the story of one minister trying to feed the people in his small community. One person is a police officer who now goes to the food pantry for food for his family. He hasn’t had a raise in 4 years and with the cost of food going up, his paycheck just doesn’t make it to the end of the month.

This documentary has some Hollywood backing in Jeff Bridges. He, along with his brother, Beau, have been talking about hunger in America for years. This documentary goes you historical background and also shows you what people are up against. For example, the single mom who finally gets a job, but her income is just a little bit too much and and she no longer qualifies for SNAP or child care assistance. She’s worse off working; then when she was on unemployment and assistance. Her food situation is dire. Stress from not being able to provide can make a person so sick. (No matter what you think about people on food assistance, always remember that the babies and children have no say in their parent’s choices for how they spend their SNAP funds.)

Something is wrong when we live in the greatest nation in the world and yet we have children living with little food. The other problem is health related. Living on high processed, high carbohydrate food means obesity and type 2 diabetes and other health problems. Fresh fruits and vegetables are too expensive for many people. After I saw this documentary, I purchased a DVD that came out 15 years ago starring Beau Bridges as a widower with two children and his struggle with unemployment and feeding his two children. It is called “Hidden in America.” It portrays someone who wants to work and is actively looking for work and doesn’t want to be on assistance. He tries so hard, but in the end he has to go to apply for food assistance and goes to a food bank.  This is a gut wrenching story that sheds the light on hunger, especially with his kids.

Here is the problem: we don’t give our children adequate nutrition and they perform poorly in school. In our school district alone there are over 50% of the children on free lunches and breakfasts. However, the USDA guidelines leave nutrition to the side when it comes to the school meals. High fat, high carbohydrate food is on the menu. Heat and eat foods is what kids get more and more.

After viewing the documentary and film, I went ahead and purchased the participant’s book given the same name as the documentary, “A Place at the Table.” I have been reading it a chapter at a time each night. This book is a great companion to the documentary and it goes into detail where the documentary can’t. Why? It would take another 2 hours to get it all down on film. For example, one chapter deals with the history of food stamps and how it came into being in 1939. The initial program helped farms and the poor by offering fresh fruits and vegetables and other extra farm commodities at a reduced rate that could be purchased with food stamps. Over the years the program morphed into allowing more foods to be purchased with food stamps, such as soda drinks.  Don’t believe everything you hear on the news, do the research yourself. Call your library and ask to get that book perhaps through an inter library loan.

After a couple of weeks of watching documentaries and reading and researching, I received an e-mail from a friend at church. A nearby college was hosting a hunger and homelessness awareness week. The friend asked me if I would like to attend a few of the events with her. I was very excited to go and learn more. The first night they showed the documentary “A Place at the Table.” The next night we were invited to a panel discussion. Four panelists were present: one was the director of a local food pantry; one was a director of a large homeless shelter, one was from an organization that helps to fill the gaps in between charities and one person who promotes community gardens and individual gardens for individuals to grow their own produce.

The 3rd night was an OXFAM banquet. I was given the role of being a middle income individual and was served rice and beans. There were guest speakers from the World Food Bank and a professor who is teaching a class on Food and Justice.

OKAY – why am I telling you this? We all want to leave this life having made a difference and I am finding my niche.

Between me and my friend, we have solicited a few other like minded women at our church to work on poverty and hunger in our community. We are in the process of interviewing 15 local charities to find out their purpose, their needs and their vision for our community to aid in this issue. In January when we meet and report our findings to each other, it is our goal to find a “gap” in meeting the needs of the hungry and poor in our community. We don’t want to overlap or try to fill a need that is already being met.

 I’m not sure where we will find the gap, but I am guessing that we may start a weekend food backpack program in our elementary school, summer time meals for children when school is out, or even a breakfast program at our church for students in High School. Most of these students could get a free breakfast, but how many poor High School students want that stigma?

We will concentrate our efforts on one program. I am passionate to do something.

I want to also find a way to reduce our expenses as much as possible so that we can get money in the bank for our retirement. I have no idea what the cost of living will be in 11 years when we retire, but I am now feeling as if we need to set aside more money for food and other incidentals. If anything, I could save money so that when there is a hunger need, I can help meet it.


Paula said...

Martha, I've been eagerly waiting to see what you are up to with this project. You are to be commended for how seriously you take this problem, and for wanting to do something about it.

As a person who has had a pantry and fridge bursting at the seams for years, who is unofficially retired into full time homemaking again, whose husband no longer has a work schedule for me to work around, I couldn't in good conscience fail to respond when I saw a plea in our local weekly for someone to help with the pantry and the commodity distribution.

Otherwise, I would feel ashamed at the riches in my home pantry. Our need is so relentless at the pantry, just nip and tuck all the time. I made a commitment to never go in a store without buying two things to donate, concentrating on what we are low on. This time of year when we are shopping extra to lay in holiday provisions, that adds up to quite a few items. I don't let myself add up the cost. It's better if I don't know. LOL.

I don't get netflix, but you mention the policeman in one of the films. My father was a policeman. When I was a girl, if my mother hadn't worked (at a job many people think they are too good to do), and if they hadn't been gung-ho gardeners and preservers, we would have been hungry. (When my mother unexpectly became pregnant with my little brother and had to stop working at five months, the pickings got slim, but we always ate.) Yet they always shared food with those in need.

Let us know what is the cause of "food deserts." I read the term, but it makes no sense to me. Everywhere I've lived, grocery stores have been eager to come in and suck up as much money as anyone would spend.

Martha said...


An example of a food desert would be where large food trucks that service chain grocery stores won't go. Usually it is a small town way off the beaten track. It doesn't pay the food distributor to have their trucker drive 100 miles to deliver fresh produce to a little corner store in a town of less than 500 people. Those little stores rarely get good fresh produce. The people of those communities must drive to another town, miles and miles away to go to a larger store in order to get fresh produce.

Debbie said...

I do some community work every year from November to the end of March, with the homeless folks in our area. We provide the local church basements for sleeping arrangements, a hot meal, a small breakfast, and basic nursing care for those who wish to see us nurses. The thought behind this program was to meet sure that these folks were provided with a safe warm environment to keep out of the weather during the harsh months of winter. It seems to be working. I enjoy providing nursing care to the folks who sign up, and my husband works in the kitchen helping provide meals. We do this two nights a week for 20 weeks. The churches do not provide this service during the warmer months.

I am a RN and also donate every two weeks to our local food pantry. It's in dire need and post a list on their web site. It's run through the local churches and folks meet at the pantry to receive the help. We donate canned goods, fresh produce, and small amounts of meat (since they have freezers). It's amazing to walk in the back office, donate the items, and see the amount of people who need assistance. It's a very good feeling to be able to help. I've donated about 450 dollars worth of goods to CCAP this year. It's a good thing for my heart to help out.

Theresa said...

I will watch this when I have a chance. I have been watching many documentaries on the growing poverty in Great Britain(though I am in Canada) and it is truly alarming. Sadly, I think it will get worse everywhere and we will have to do more to help in whatever way we can.

I have been consciously remembering to buy stuff to put in the food bank bin at the grocery store. It is not enough though, and I must do more.

God has been bringing this to my heart and mind and I cannot ignore his prodding.

Lee Ann said...

I've seen this documentary and have the book. It is eye opening. I would love to see the food stamp program overhauled. I'm sure that statement makes some folks uncomfortable or even mad but I feel foodstamps should be used for food, not junk food. I also don't understand why food stamps can't be used for deli food like deli chicken but you can buy chips, cokes etc.......Some folks are really trying as hard as possible to earn a living and it simply isn't enough. I think a lot of us would be surprised if we knew just how bad this situation is. I've never had a neighbor ask for chicken but I'm sure that someone around needs help simply because statistics show that. I'm not sure what the answer is. I applaud you and your church friends for trying to find the gap that isn't being addressed. I also hope you find loads of willing helpers to assist with this.
Blessings to you!
Lee Ann

Paula said...

I have finally read this entire blog from the beginning up to now, something I've never done with any other blog. Eagerly waiting to see what you write next!

Practical Parsimony said...

A food desert is not a country problem. Or, maybe it is. This is part of what I studied for my degree in Social and Behavioral Science. Food deserts will be found more often in large cities, like Atlanta. A woman from there said they did not have bus fare to go to a grocery store and it was too far ( 2 miles) for her mother and little kids to walk to a grocery store. So, for breakfast every morning the mother took the children to a convenience store and bought each of them a carton of chocolate milk and a box of pop tarts to feed the children. Even as a college educated employed by the federal government she had the same breakfast. She never even bought a gallon of chocolate milk, just a single serve bottle.

She was obese and decided she would lose weight. My friend and I sat with open mouths while she took her McDonald salad and put two little bags of croutons on the salad and two Ranch dressing packs. She was so happy she was going to lose weight. My friend and I were sad and just watched. The next time she got the salad and asked for two packs of croutons and two Ranch dressings, I told her nicely that what she was doing wrong. My friend chimed in. We told her to keep the croutons for a snack this day and to use only one dressing, to save the other for home. But, we directed her how to make the salad more healthy. THEN, we told her how to buy a bag of salad or the head of lettuce and do this all more cheaply.

Her problem having grown up in a food desert was that eating from the convenience store left her ignorant of how to eat. Her mother probably knew no better.

At any rate, she knew so little about nutrition because she had never been exposed to what dinner should be. Bologna sandwiches were dinner, along with chips and coke.

Food deserts do not help people how to eat healthily so that the children go out into the world with no idea of what they do not know.

We went to a fancy restaurant. The director of the program treated the three of us. She talked all the time about her table manners, yet she ordered a sloppy sandwich and insisted on picking it up, spilling it over her nice clothing all during the meal while the juice ran through her fingers. Later, I tried to help her by suggesting she not order a calzone no matter how upscale the restaurant. If she did, she should learn to eat it with a fork.

She argued that she like calzones and likes eating with her hands, that all the food she ate growing up was eaten with her hands. Even when I go to Sbarro's, I use a fork on a calzone.

They had no place for a garden that her grandmother wanted to plant in the ghetto. People would steal from it and destroy it.
Can you see how a food desert causes people to have ideas and habits that thwart social progress and negate the college degree's advantages?

A need not met might be tp, soap, shampoo, etc.

Do the people know they can buy seeds with food stamps.

Yes, I was going to my friend's house. She called and asked me if I could bring her some spaghetti. I agreed and took her a jar of spaghetti sauce and a two pound package of pasta. She refused the pasta, saying she had a package.

I had fewer resources and less money than she did. But, she squandered her resources. Her asking was not embarrassing to her or an imposition on me. She gave me clues where to go out in the country to get fresh vegetables and fruits from her friends or abandoned homes. I told her to just ask for what she needed when I left her house that day.

Anonymous said...

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moi aussi said...

I think reading this has made me feel that I should volunteer at my food bank. I think I need to know what people take and what they need. I worry so much that we feed people, but we don't give them quality. I am a teacher who sees students get adequate calories in their free breakfast and lunch, but are they getting adequate nutrition????? That's the big worry for me.

I love what you wrote and it has me thinking a lot. I also want to see this documentary.