A veteran, senior citizen and child share one connective thread between them. They’ve all felt the pain of hunger in America. Their stories are among the many that a one week traveling exhibit highlights to inspire activism to end hunger.
“This is Hunger” arrived in Denver on Sept. 24. Parked outside Temple Emanuel synagogue, the interactive exhibit combined audio with projected images to turn the daily struggle to feed oneself into a visceral experience.
“Overwhelmingly, we don’t talk about it. The number of people who come in here just in the last two months that I’ve been on the job, look genuinely shocked and go, ‘Oh, but it’s not that bad in my community, it’s not really one in eight here,” said Jackie Schicker, one of the exhibit’s facilitators. “Most of the places we’ve been, it’s one in seven here, one in six here.”
Seated in front of a large wooden table, attendees waited in silence as the lights dimmed till the room became pitch black. Twenty plates are projected from the ceiling onto the table, all arranged so that each seat had one plate in front of it. Slowly, one by one, they disappeared until only one plate was left. Somber music filled the trailer the exhibit is housed in, while photos of people who endure hunger are projected at each end of the table. Their voices filled the room, sharing their experiences with visitors.
Food insecurity affects 42.2 million Americans, which translates to a little over one in eight. Seniors are especially hit hard, with one in seven living in poverty. Veterans are also victims of food insecurity, affecting as many as one in four who served in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Schicker said it is insane how many people go hungry.
“It’s not that we don’t have food, it’s not that we don’t have the logistics to feed the hungry in America, it’s that we lack the political will to do so,” Schicker said. One of the infographics projected on the walls showed that charity alone is a not a sustainable solution to the problem.
The exhibit is organized by Mazon, a nonprofit dedicated to ending hunger in the U.S. and Israel. The advocacy group bills itself as the Jewish response to hunger. “This is hunger” is the group’s front-facing project, however, they also work with legislators in Washington D.C. and around the country in pursuit of their mission. Mazon is the hebrew word for sustenance, and the nonprofit’s roots in the Jewish community are deep. The exhibit relies on local synagogues for a place to set up.
The exhibit itself has traveled through 26 states, with Denver being it’s 48th stop. The tour plans to make a total of 75 stops, ending in February 2018. Typically, “This is hunger” stays in a given location for about five to seven days before moving on. The tour reaches about one thousand people a month. The tour’s objective is to raise awareness among the public regarding hunger. Mazon’s stance is that hunger in the U.S. could be ended if the political will existed.
“Most of us have been affected by hunger in our lifetimes, whether it’s ourselves personally, or someone we know. A work colleague, friend. It was more like seeing a neighbor, a community member, which is what I think the exhibit did very well,” said Sarah Lawless, one of the attendees of the exhibit.
For Rabbi Steven Kaye, “This is hunger” was a striking reminder that veterans are also faced with food insecurity. Kaye lives in Colorado Springs and sees the high concentration of veterans in the area.
“In my congregation, through a program called Sharing and Caring, we provide for food for vets and other people. Even those who are active military often don’t have enough money to support them and their families. Those who are vets who may not be gainfully employed don’t have enough money for them and their families,” Kaye said.
Nearly 133 billion pounds of food went uneaten in 2010. Total food production in the United States is 430 billion pounds. That represents a 31 percent loss. Scarcity is not a problem for U.S. food stores. Mazon argues that the issue is access. Food deserts in the middle of large urban centers is proof of that.
To food activists like Schicker and the others who work at Mazon, those numbers lead to the main takeaway from exhibits like “This is Hunger.”
It can happen to anyone.