BILL MOYERS: This week on Moyers & Company… A Place at the Table

KRISTI JACOBSON: When we were making this film we traveled all over the country and again and again met people who were working and trying to make ends meet but were not able to put food on the table.

MARIANA CHILTON: There's no opportunity for people who are low income to really engage in our democracy. And I think that they're actively shut out as well.


GREG KAUFMANN: There are a lot of corporations that are, you know, want to be involved in the fight against hunger. And the best thing they can do is get onboard for fair wages.

ANNOUNCER: Funding is provided by:

Carnegie Corporation of New York, celebrating 100 years of philanthropy, and committed to doing real and permanent good in the world.

The Kohlberg Foundation.

Independent Production Fund, with support from The Partridge Foundation, a John and Polly Guth Charitable Fund.

The Clements Foundation.

Park Foundation, dedicated to heightening public awareness of critical issues.

The Herb Alpert Foundation, supporting organizations whose mission is to promote compassion and creativity in our society.

The Bernard and Audre Rapoport Foundation.

The John D. And Catherine T. Macarthur Foundation, committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. More information at Macfound.Org.

Anne Gumowitz.

The Betsy And Jesse Fink Foundation.

The HKH Foundation.

Barbara G. Fleischman.

And by our sole corporate sponsor, Mutual of America, designing customized individual and group retirement products. That’s why we’re your retirement company.

BILL MOYERS: Welcome. The summer blitz of blockbuster movies has arrived. Super heroes or lesser mortals with excellent motor skills are here to save the Earth from: super villains, asteroids, aliens or other disasters, natural in nature but probably induced by global warming.

Yes, it’s another summer of excess and escapism with the thrills and chills of Hollywood scaring us down to our popcorn, yet always with a happy ending. Meanwhile, back here in the real world, where we actually live, the best film of the summer isn’t an epic tale of horror or adventure but an eye-opening, heart-moving and mind-expanding reminder that millions of people in this richest country in the world, working men and women and their children, don't have enough to eat. The film’s called A Place at the Table and it's one of the best documentaries I've seen in years.

Fifty million Americans, one in six, go hungry. And yet the House of Representatives can’t pass a farm bill because our members of Congress continue to fight over how many billions to slash from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps. Once again we’re hearing all the clichés about freeloaders who are undeserving of government help, playing the system and living large at the expense of taxpayers. This movie,A Place at the Table breaks those stereotypes apart and shows us that hunger hits hard at people who work hard to make a living. Don’t miss this one, it’s real life.

With me is Kristi Jacobson, one of the film’s directors and producers. You’ve seen her work on public television, HBO, ABC, Lifetime, and other TV networks. Mariana Chilton is here too. She teaches public health at Drexel University and is director of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities. She’s also founder of Witnesses to Hunger, a group featured prominently in A Place at the Table.

In this excerpt from the film, we meet a rancher and a police officer in Colorado, each struggling to make ends meet. Believe it or not, they have to rely on the charitable food programs sponsored by the church of a local minister, Pastor Bob Wilson.

ADAM APPELHANZ in A Place at the Table: About a month ago we had three officers, including myself, but however, due to budget constraints we’re now down to just me. It was always kind of a prideful thing that I never needed anybody’s help. Unfortunately, I haven’t received a pay raise in four years and what I used to spend on a month in groceries now gets me about two weeks.

I have utilized Pastor Bob’s food bank. The way it makes me feel, it’s, it’s very humiliating. Well I correct that; it’s not humiliating, it’s very grounding. The stereotype of food banks is always for the unemployed or the disabled, people that can’t go out and get a job. That’s not always the case. Sometimes in life you just get to points where you need a little extra help.

JOEL in A Place at the Table: Ranching is a good part of life. It’s a lot of work but it’s an honest, actually, it’s an honest trade. But the way the economy and everything has gone south, I have had to go find another job out of the house. So I work on the ranch from 7:00 in the morning till 3:00 in the afternoon and then at 3:00 in the afternoon till 11:00 at night I go down and clean the school.

It’s a good job. It’s close to home. There’s a lot that you worry about. Your kids is the main one and that’s part of the reason I did take a second job, is so I can help buy groceries and put food on the table for my kids.

Come on dogs…

BILL MOYERS: Welcome to you both.

MARIANA CHILTON: Thank you for having us.


BILL MOYERS: So, a cop who doesn't make enough money to meet all of his food needs and a cowboy who has to take two jobs to help feed his children, are they truly representative or was this just a filmmaker's good luck?

KRISTI JACOBSON: Sadly they're not the exception, in fact they're very representative. When we were making this film we traveled all over the country and again and again met people who were working and trying to make ends meet but were not able to put food on the table. So I think what the sort of filmmaker's luck or hard work paid off in that these are people who might not be willing to share their story.

But we filmed in Collbran because it was a town where the pastor, Bob, was working really hard to remove that stigma that people feel around, around admitting and then getting help. And so that helped us because we were welcomed into the community.

And you know, I remember the first time I met the police chief and I met him first on the phone and then in person and I thought he's probably not going to share this story on-camera, but it's still important to understand. And then he said, "Absolutely." And that was really, really I think a victory for the film in that we were able to show this very important group that are experiencing hunger and food insecurity but that are not, it's very hidden.

BILL MOYERS: What do you take from their stories? Because you worked with a totally different population.

MARIANA CHILTON: I'm not so sure they're that different, that's the thing. I think that when you were saying before about stereotypes I think that in the press and our legislators have a certain stereotype about who's poor and who's not and this concept of the deserving poor. But the women that I work with through Witnesses to Hunger are very hardworking.

They're excellent mothers, excellent parents. They want the best for their kids. They're often working two or three jobs. Sometimes they'll have to work under the table in order to make ends meet, trying to find side jobs. They're hustling really hard.

And I see the police chief, I see the cowboy who's also taking on that second job. What I see is common among then is a loss of dignity in the work. You can actually work full time and your family is still hungry? There's a very big problem in this country that we are not valuing hard work like we used to.

BILL MOYERS: There's a young woman in the film who says quote, "Hunger could be right next door and you would never know because people are too afraid to talk about it." Why are people afraid to talk about it, Dr. Chilton?

MARIANA CHILTON: Well, I think there's an enormous amount of shame that goes, especially when… I work with moms of little children, young children. And there's an enormous amount of shame that they experience that they, may run out of money before they can get more food. And it really tests their sense of motherhood, their sense of citizenship, of belonging. And it's very isolating. And I think that when the moms that I speak with, they talk about when they were children they, too, were hungry and they were always told, "Don't talk about it. Don't let anybody know how hard it is. Always put on a good face. Always look good," you know, it’s about being able to be in the world and be treated with a sense of dignity and respect. So they would often hide their own experiences of hunger or hide the experience that they can't feed their own children.

BILL MOYERS: Do we sometimes pass hunger down as a legacy to the next generation?

MARIANA CHILTON: Oh yes, we do. It gets transferred from generation to generation. Now, it also happens that during an economic downturn when there are not enough good paying jobs of course hunger will skyrocket. But I think that when people don't realize that hunger is very damaging to children, to, especially to young children. Food insecurity affects the cognitive, social and emotional growth of very young children.

That means that by the time they arrive to kindergarten they're not ready for school. That means that when they're in school if they're hungry they won't be able to concentrate on what they're learning and they won't do as well on their math and their reading tests. That means they won't be as successful, won't get a good paying job so that when they have children they, too, will be poor. So poverty is an experience that's really seared into the bodies and brains of children.

BILL MOYERS: What happens to someone who gets too little nutrition early in life?

MARIANA CHILTON: Oh, it's extremely important. If you think about what's happening in the first three years of life the brain is growing so fast. They're the most important years of human development. So every moment those are the building blocks of good cognitive, social and emotional development. Neurons are growing and pruning and very active. 700 neurons are growing a second for an infant. It’s an important window of human development.

So any type of nutritional depravation during this time has a severe impact on the brain even if it's just episodic, even if it happens once or twice a month those are moments of lost opportunity to be able to interact with their family and their environment, to pay attention and to learn something new which helps to grow more neurons.

So again it affects the cognitive, social and emotional development. It creates a certain kind of a stress on the child that's very toxic. And we know that children who experience that kind of toxic stress can't learn as well, can't learn as fast. And you can turn that around with food assistance programs, with a program called WIC, Women, Infants and Children or the food stamp program. The best investment of our dollars in this country is investing in very young children and their families because again those are the most important times when a child’s brain is growing. So for every one dollar that you spend on a child you make seven dolalrs back when they become an adolescent. It's a beautiful investment.

BILL MOYERS: Kristi has a remarkable profile, portrait in the film of a young girl named, I think her name's Rosie…

ROSIE in A Place at the Table: I struggle a lot and most of the time it’s because my stomach is really hurting. My teacher tells me to get focused and she told me to write focus on my little sticker and every time I look at it and I’m like oh I’m supposed to be focusing. I start yawning and then I zone out and I’m just looking at the teacher and I look at her and all I think about is food. So 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 and then I’m like, oh, great.

BILL MOYERS: Tell me about Rosie.

KRISTI JACOBSON: Rosie is an incredible young girl. And I think that what struck me so much about Rosie is that her story sort of embodied, everything about this issue which is that while she's experiencing this hunger and food insecurity it's affecting her self-esteem, it's affecting her ability to learn which is very upsetting. But at the same time she has this incredible spirit which gives you this, you know some feeling of hope and inspiration. So she's just an incredible young girl.

BILL MOYERS: And that story is replicated in your experience?

MARIANA CHILTON: Oh, very much so, very common. And I think what people forget is that, you think you can somehow see hunger, you can't look at Rosie and see oh, she's hungry. So where do you see it? You see it in school performance, their ability to get along with others, their ability to pay attention for children of school age.


MARIANA CHILTON: And attendance. But also for really young children where do you see it? You see it in the increased hospitalizations, showing up more to the emergency room when they don't-- with preventable diseases, or preventable exacerbation of asthma.

This, you know, if we could think about poverty during childhood as a type of a disease, if we could pay as much attention to poverty for children as we pay attention to infectious disease we might be able to do something in this country.

BILL MOYERS: The film makes dramatically clear the relationship between malnutrition and obesity.

MISS. CHILDREN’S HEALTH PROJECT NURSE in A Place at the Table: Step up on there. Step up on the table right there and I’ll be with you in just a second. What grade you in?

TREMONICA in A Place at the Table: Second.

MISS. CHILDREN’S HEALTH PROJECT NURSE in A Place at the Table: Second? You’re in the second grade? How old are you?

TREMONICA in A Place at the Table: Fixing to be eight.

MISS. CHILDREN’S HEALTH PROJECT NURSE in A Place at the Table: Fixing to be eight… Alright. And you’ve got asthma? Okay. Do you ever have problems with shortness of breath when you’re outside playing or anything?

TREMONICA in A Place at the Table: I have to stop playing to take a deep breath.

MISS. CHILDREN’S HEALTH PROJECT NURSE in A Place at the Table: Okay. What did you eat for breakfast this morning?

TREMONICA in A Place at the Table: I didn’t eat.

MISS. CHILDREN’S HEALTH PROJECT NURSE in A Place at the Table: You didn’t eat breakfast this morning? Okay. When you get home in the afternoon do you eat a snack? What do you eat?

TREMONICA in A Place at the Table: Chips.

MISS. CHILDREN’S HEALTH PROJECT NURSE in A Place at the Table: Chips? What else, baby? What do you drink?

TREMONICA in A Place at the Table: Pop.

MISS. CHILDREN’S HEALTH PROJECT NURSE in A Place at the Table: Pops. Okay. Do you have any other snacks besides chips you could eat?

TREMONICA in A Place at the Table: Cookies.

MISS. CHILDREN’S HEALTH PROJECT NURSE in A Place at the Table: Kisses?

TREMONICA in A Place at the Table: Cookies.

MISS. CHILDREN’S HEALTH PROJECT NURSE in A Place at the Table: Cookies. Cookies and chips, okay... Well maybe you could ask mom to start buying you some – some carrots and some celery and maybe some apples. You could slice some apples up; that’d be good, hm?

RAJ PATEL in A Place at the Table: A lot of people think there is a yarning gap between hunger on the one end and obesity on the other. In fact, they’re neighbors and the reason that they happen often at the same time and often in the same family, in the same person is because they are both signs of having insufficient funds to be able to command food that you need to, to stay healthy.


MARION NESTLE in A Place at the Table: If you look at what has happened to the relative price of fresh fruits and vegetables it’s gone up by 40 percent since 1980 when the obesity epidemic first began.

In contrast, the relative price of processed foods has gone down by about 40 percent. So if you only have a limited amount of money to spend you’re going to spend it on the cheapest calories you can get and that’s going to be processed foods. This has to do with our farm policy and what we subsidize and what we don’t.

BILL MOYERS: Help me understand the connection between hunger and obesity.

MARIANA CHILTON: Hunger and obesity are both forms of malnutrition.


MARIANA CHILTON: Meaning not, it means not getting the right kinds of nutrients for an active and healthy life. If you go back to the definition of food insecurity it means having enough food for an active and healthy life. So when people think about hunger they think, "Oh, it's just not enough food." But actually food insecurity which is a much broader term, much more precise, captures that type of experience where families don't have enough money for healthy and fresh food so they will, in order to stretch their dollar, they'll spend it on soda or on foods that have very high calories. Because they know that their kids are hungry, they have to be able to stretch their dollar in order to fill their own tummies and the tummies of their children.

They know it's not healthy, but they're just trying to figure out what the immediate, the immediacy of hunger. So they eat lots of high calories, salt, sodium. Those are the kinds of things that are not good for an active and healthy life. It's another form of hunger. So you can look at people who are overweight and obese and think maybe they don't have enough money for food, maybe they're anxious about where their next meal is coming from.

BILL MOYERS: You say in the film that there are 50 million people, one in six who are food insecure, who do not have enough good nutrition to thrive.

KRISTI JACOBSON: It's shocking that here in the wealthiest nation on earth we have this many people who do not have either access to healthy foods or nor can they afford it.

BILL MOYERS: What does it say that one out of every two kids in this country at some point in their childhood as I learned from your film will be on food assistance, one out of two?

KRISTI JACOBSON: I see a country in crisis. And it's a crisis that we need to address and we need political leadership and policies that tackle this problem dead on. And when we were making the film we looked to a film that aired on CBS in 1968 called “Hunger in America.”

CBS NARRATOR in Hunger in America: Food is the most basic of human needs.

KRISTI JACOBSON: That showed the nation shocking conditions and children that were starving right.

CBS NARRATOR in Hunger in America: But man can’t remain alive without food. We’re talking about ten million Americans. In this country, the most basic human need must become a human right.

KRISTI JACOBSON: And citizens reacted. And what they did though and part of this had to do with the reporting at the time, was they demanded legislative response. They demanded that their politicians take responsibility and address the problem. And I think that today we have, you know, every maybe once a year around the holidays there are portraits of the hungry in America.

But instead of pointing to political solutions they're often pointing to a charitable response as the solution. And I think that is a really also significant cause for how we have gotten to the point where one in six are food insecure.

BILL MOYERS: You have a sequence in the film that drives home the reliance on charity and the conclusion that it's not enough. Let's take a look at that.

JOEL BERG in A Place at the Table: The 80’s created the myth that A. hungry people deserved it and B. well we could really fill in the gaps with the charities.

JANET POPPENDIECK in A Place at the Table: And so we had a proliferation of emergency responses, soup kitchens, food pantries moving from literally a shelf in the cupboard of the pastor’s office to an operation with regular hours.

LARRY BROWN in A Place at the Table: Something changed during that period of time. There developed this ethos that government was doing too much and more importantly, the private sector is wonderful and let’s feed people through charity.

JANET POPPENDIECK in A Place at the Table: We have basically created a kind of secondary food system for the poor in this country. Millions and millions of Americans, as many as 50 million Americans, rely on charitable food programs for some part of meeting their basic food needs.


MARIANA CHILTON in A Place at the Table: That’s something that’s extremely important. The churches and the community groups that do hand out food are doing an incredible service to this country and to the children that are experiencing hunger, but that’s just a quick fix, that’s for today and tomorrow and maybe for next week. We call it emergency food? It’s no longer emergency food. This is called chronic use of a broken system for which people cannot be held accountable.


JEFF BRIDGES in A Place at the Table: Charity is a great thing, but it’s not the way to end hunger. We don’t fund our Department of Defense through charity, you know. We shouldn’t, you know, see that our kids are healthy through charity either.

BILL MOYERS: So Americans responded with "a thousand points of light" in the first Bush administration. But you say it's not enough?

KRISTI JACOBSON: Well, it's not enough because despite all of that, despite all the money that's being raised, despite the food drives, despite the proliferation of these food banks and soup kitchens we still have 50 million people who are food insecure.

And what we've found both during the making of the film and in fact since showing the film, you know, food bank directors repeatedly sharing with us, you know, "We can't do this alone. We need government to play its role." Because it should be an emergency food system, as Mariana says in the film. And it should be complementing government programs that really address the needs of the most vulnerable.

MARIANA CHILTON: I would like to really draw your attention to the impact that the emergency food system has compared to the government food assistance programs. What emergency food can do is about this much, about 5 percent of dealing with the problem, this much. What does the federal government do with the nutrition assistance? Food stamps or SNAP it's called, WIC, Women, Infants and Children, school breakfast and school lunch, after school feeding programs.

Those programs we know make a tangible difference in the health and wellbeing of children and adults. So we know that if families are receiving food stamps or SNAP Benefits their cognitive, social and emotional development is better. We know that they're less likely to be hospitalized.

The same thing goes for WIC. We also know that WIC can reduce the stress that moms often feel when they're a new mom and they're very poor. So these programs we know have a tangible public health impact. There's no research that shows what kind of impact the emergency food system is having. We know that when about 30 million children are being fed every day in this country through school breakfast and school lunch, that is magnificent. And those kinds of programs need to be protected and to be promoted.

BILL MOYERS: There's a young woman in the film, Barbie Izquierdo. She was a year looking for a job. She had food stamps while she was doing so. Then she got work. And yet as a result of getting work she no longer qualified for food stamps or subsidized childcare and her children could therefore no longer receive breakfast or lunch at daycare.

BARBIE IZQUIERDO in A Place at the Table: Anyone can sit there and tell you I’ve been through this, I’ve been through that, I got through it. Yes, I’ve been through this, I’ve been through that, I got through it, but if you’re open my fridge I’m there again. Five days into the month. And I’m going to be there next month and the month after that. It gets tiring.

When I was on food stamps I didn’t have to worry about my kids not eating. It was just how can I make it stretch, you know… I might have to take a little bit from this day. It was more about balancing everything where now we have nothing.

I literally have nothing left. Like I’m going to give them a Hot Pocket for dinner tomorrow like what am I supposed to do? What do I give them?

BILL MOYERS: What's happening there?

MARIANA CHILTON: First of all stress. Stress is very damaging to moms and kids. Secondly, you also see Barbie having the sandwich away from her kids.

So you have moms that will often scrimp on their own diets in order to feed their children. But what you see overall, the big picture there is that Barbie was working full time in those moments and therefore became ineligible for food assistance.

So what they-- what you see is what we call in the research world the cliff effect. So if a family makes just enough money to get themselves over the lip of whatever the income limit is they'll lose benefits that are actually very helpful to them and to their own children and to their health. So you can have a family kind of going up and up and say, "Oh, I'm going to take that extra-- I'm going to get a raise," or, "I'll work overtime."

They work just enough to fall over the cliff, lose their benefits and then they're worse off than where they were before. So we have a really big problem in this country with the way that we are looking at our wages and our public assistance programs and how they're interacting with each other.

KRISTI JACOBSON: And that scene was one of the most difficult to film. And both because of just, you know, the pain that Barbie was feeling and allowing us to capture, but also as filmmakers Barbie had gotten the full time job and so we thought this is the end of the film and--

BILL MOYERS: The arc of the story.

KRISTI JACOBSON: Exactly. And when this happened we were devastated for Barbie and thought what is this going to do to the story? Well, of course as filmmakers we have to follow the story. And I remember the conversation that we had with Mariana where we were talking about this and we were worried that it wasn't representative and then learned this is in fact so representative and a really important problem to expose. Because we need for these programs, if we're going to have them and we're going to fund them which is a different issue, they should be meeting the needs of the people who are using and benefiting from the programs.

MARIANA CHILTON: And in our research we know that food stamps do help to prevent hospitalizations, they do promote health, it does help. But the type of allotment is called the Thrifty Food Plan. The way that the government calculates how much an adequate meal or an adequate sort of thrifty food basket costs is actually inadequate for a healthy diet. So even if you have families that are receiving the maximum allotment, as if they had no other income, they still can't make ends meet.

BILL MOYERS: There's a nice twist in the film. When you're reporting on what it's like to live on food stamps and you have an interview with Representative James McGovern of Massachusetts who did his own research, as you do, into the subject.

REP JAMES MCGOVERN in A Place at the Table: I lived on a food stamp diet for a week along with Jo Ann Emerson from Missouri. We did so because we thought that the food stamp benefit was inadequate. Most of my colleagues had no idea that the average food stamp benefit was $3 a day.

I had my budget and I went to a supermarket and it took me an awful long time because you have to add up every penny and it has to last you for a week. And so I did it and I will tell you I, I was tired, I was cranky because I couldn’t drink coffee because coffee was too expensive. I mean there are people who are living on that food stamp allocation. And you really can’t. For us it was an exercise that ended in a week. For millions of other people in this country that’s their way of life; every day is a struggle just to eat.

KRISTI JACOBSON: Sadly Representative McGovern is one of few leaders and voices in Congress pushing to do the right thing here which is to protect and improve food stamps and other government programs.

He's an incredible leader, but he is even having trouble getting his members of his own party to support his efforts to protect these programs. And that's really troubling and upsetting.

BILL MOYERS: The road to reform always leads to Washington. And there almost every reform whether it's the environment or whether it's agriculture or food hits up against the power of big money to write the laws it wants and influence the politicians it needs. You found that to be the case, didn't you?

KRISTI JACOBSON: Yes, I think that, you know, I believe, and I don't think naively, that we Americans should be able to influence how our politicians vote on these issues. That's not happening right now. And the problem with this issue is that you don't always-- it's not so obvious necessarily how a politician is voting when it comes to programs that address food insecurity.

BILL MOYERS: There was a poll taken I think in connection with your film that found the majority of Americans actually were surprised to hear that 50 million people don't know where their next meal is coming from. And many of those polled just don't think of hunger as a pressing issue. Given your work on this how do you explain it?

MARIANA CHILTON: There's this concept that you can somehow see hunger, that we would know that there are hungry children if they were fishing around in the garbage can or if there were flies coming or they had swollen bellies and, you know, limp on the sidewalk. But that's not what hungry children look like. We don't see that in the United States. You might see that's severe starvation when you're dealing in times of war and massive drought.

BILL MOYERS: Somalia, the Congo, Sudan, all…

MARIANA CHILTON: So in the United States there-- it's children like Rosie who light up the room when they come in. It's moms like Barbie Izquierdo who's beautifully spoken, so brilliant. Her children are funny and enjoyable. And yet they're still experiencing food insecurity and hunger. So I think people are actually shocked "Well, I don't see it, so it can't be real." And they don't believe the numbers.

But what it is happening underneath is a massive crisis in human potential in the United States. Our kids are showing up to school not ready to learn. When they're in school they can't concentrate. You have kids who are food insecure when they're adolescents. They're suffering with stress and suicidal ideation. That's what we find in our research. How can we--

BILL MOYERS: Suicide ideation?

MARIANA CHILTON: Suicidal ideation, so it's thinking about, "Oh, what does it matter that I live?" It's thinking about killing yourself. These are very depressing and stressful experiences to experience hunger, to see your parents struggling with that and to struggle yourself.

So when you-- what's happening is that we are developing a whole half of the country overall is really left out of the public dialog. They are underpaid, undervalued, unhealthy. And we can prevent this kind of-- and we can prevent this.

That's why I think it's so important, what's so exciting about what Witnesses to Hunger is trying to accomplish is to make sure that people who know the experience of hunger and poverty firsthand are a part of the national dialog, that they're not silenced, they're not short of shamed over off in the corner, that they're actually front and center. They're the ones who can turn it around.

So we have to take back our democracy, be more engaged. And I think that a lot of people sort of in the middle who haven't struggled with hunger or poverty think, "Oh, we'll just let the government handle it. They must be doing the right thing," and, "There's no hunger," that's just called disengagement. We've got a big problem in our country with being engaged about what our politicians are actually doing for us.

BILL MOYERS: So you've tried to engage them. Let's take a look in the film at a very interesting sequence.

BARBIE IZQUIERDO in A Place at the Table: Everybody say, “Washington.”

WITNESSES TO HUNGER in A Place at the Table: Washington.

MARIANA CHILTON in A Place at the Table: Here’s the plan; at 11:30 the reception at the Senate. Senator Casey will speak, I will speak, Tianna will speak, Barbie will speak and every time that you have an opportunity give your ideas for change, for what you need for the success and healthy life of your kids, okay? These guys are the ones who make it happen.

BARBIE IZQUIERDO in A Place at the Table: I was the first mother of Witnesses to Hunger and I didn’t think anyone would take us seriously. But I’m here to let everyone know that just because we live where we live and come from where we come from doesn’t mean that we’re not smart. Doesn’t mean that we don’t have potential. Doesn’t mean that we do not want education. Doesn’t mean that we want to depend on welfare for the rest of our lives. I want the same hopes and dreams as everyone in this room for their children. We just need the opportunity to make it come true.

BILL MOYERS: Did they listen?

MARIANA CHILTON: I think they listened a little bit. They felt it a little bit. But it's not long enough, you can't just go to Congress and talk to legislators one time and they'll get it.

I think it's really hard to break through the cloud over our legislators. I'm not really sure who they're listening to except for people who have a lot of money and a lot of influence. So I think they're very touched by the personal experiences of a person who's poor, especially from a mom.

So I've actually seen Senate staffers get very teary-eyed listening to these stories and they say, "Oh, keep telling your stories, keep telling you think stories." But then they'll turn around and vote to cut food stamps. And that doesn't make a lot of sense. So I'm wondering who is it that's influencing Congress? Who's got their thumb on what Congress can do? And I think that there's just not enough people who are poor who have an opportunity to speak out.

I don't think they get enough press, they don't have, they're sort of shut out, there's no opportunity for people who are low income to really engage in our democracy. And I think that they're actively shut out as well.

BILL MOYERS: So bear with me though as I put on my horns and play devil's advocate. There are a lot of Americans who think that we're spending too much on food stamps and that the cost is out of hand. Your poll associated with your film suggests that last year alone the government spent $81 billion on this nutritional safety net as you call it, now SNAP, what we used to know as food stamps. And some folks say that is simply way too much and that we're creating a culture of dependency.

Here's Representative, Republican Representative Steven King of Iowa.

REP. STEVE KING: Handing out benefits is not an economic stimulator. But we want to take care of the people that are needy, the people that are hungry, and we’ve watched this program grow from a number that I think I first memorized when I arrived here in Congress, about 19 million people, now about 49 million people. And it appears to me that the goal of this administration is to expand the rolls of people that are on SNAP benefits. And their purpose for doing so in part is because of what the gentleman has said from Massachusetts. Another purpose for that though is just to simply expand the dependency class.

MARIANA CHILTON: All right, well, first of all I'm a researcher, so I like to base things on empirical evidence. There is no evidence that the food stamp program creates dependency.

Let me show you what this congressperson is doing. Basically they're pinning the problems that we have in this country on people who are poor. If you think about people who are poor really-- you have 80 percent of people who are food insecure are actually working. That means their wages are so low that they're eligible for food stamps.

So you want to talk about dependency in this country? Let's talk about corporations and businesses that pay such low wages that they depend on the United States government to add money to those wages through the Income Assistance Programs, like SNAP. So because if you take a company like Walmart, pays their workers so low that their workers are actually eligible for food stamps. Who's dependent on the U.S. government? I'd have to say it's Walmart is the welfare queen here.

BILL MOYERS: But if I were Congressman King sitting here I might say to you make a very convincing case and I believe that both of you are genuinely committed to this issue, but you know, 48 million people are receiving food stamps. Can't you see why some of my constituents in Iowa would be shocked by that and at that cost?

KRISTI JACOBSON: Well, I think it's also important to look at how many corporations and agribusinesses are collecting subsidies out of the same government bill, the farm bill.

Well, yeah, and I think that there is an ethos in Congress right now that assisting those individuals who need help via the food stamp program or WIC or school meals is big government and is going to put us into debt. But providing subsidies to large agribusinesses and big corporations is just business as usual.

And I think that we're looking at, you know, investing in our youth and investing in our future. And if it doesn't get to you, congressman, from the moral point of view that it's really frankly not okay to have kids like Rosie and Barbie's kids to the tune of 17 million of them in our nation-- well, what about the cost of not doing anything? Because the cost of food insecurity, the cost of obesity and malnutrition is way larger on the back end and the health care than it is to get these programs adequately funded and feed kids nutritious foods.

MARIANA CHILTON: If you think about what government is supposed to be doing, it's supposed to create the conditions in which people can make healthy choices and live an active and healthy life.

It's all about creating good conditions for us to prosper, right.

Somehow when we think about helping people who are poor, many of whom are working, it's there becomes this type of societal vitriol towards people who are poor as if they're not us. Well, actually people who are poor are all around us. Their children are going to the same schools oftentimes. We need to really rethink about who we are as a country, what does it mean to be an American. If you think about one in five of our children living in households that are food insecure, they're just as American as the rest of us, we need to really invest in our own country and who we are.

BILL MOYERS: You've been to Washington with some of your constituents. You've made your case. You're up against the interlocking power grid of big agriculture, big corporations and big government. What makes you think you have a chance of turning them around?

MARIANA CHILTON: The power of the human spirit. When you have a lot of moms who have had enough we can take over Congress and say we care about our children just like you care about your children. But we need more moms, we need more families to be able to speak up. I think that we need to take over, take back our democracy, take back our sense of involvement, of belonging, that this is our government.

This government is supposed to be working for everyone regardless of how you were born or where you were born or how much money you make. It's supposed to work for all of us.

We've got to figure out a way to just help the people who are in power to recognize their own sense of humanity and recognize that they are no different than Barbie Izquierdo, no different than Rosie, that their kids are no different than Rosie, that we're all a part of that same human family. Ultimately that's what we need to tap into.

BILL MOYERS: On that note thank you, Dr. Mariana Chilton, for your work and Kristi Jacobson, thank you for an extraordinary film. And thank you both for being here.

MARIANA CHILTON: Thank you so much.


BILL MOYERS: Food stamps were at the core of the monster farm bill that went down to defeat in the House of Representatives last week. That bill would have cut food stamps by some $20 billion over 10 years, but that was too little for House Republicans and too much for House Democrats, although Senate Democrats had already agreed to cuts of more than $4 billion.

Here to talk about food stamps and the farm bill is a journalist whose beat is hunger, politics, and policy. Greg Kaufmann is poverty correspondent for “The Nation” magazine and a contributor to our website, He’s also an advisor to the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, founded by journalist Barbara Ehrenreich and the Institute for Policy Studies. Greg Kaufman, welcome.

GREG KAUFMANN: Great to be with you, Bill.

BILL MOYERS: There are almost 48 million people using food stamps a day, and over recent years that’s a 70 percent increase. What does your own reporting tell you about why?

GREG KAUFMANN: Well, the biggest reason, I think, is the proliferation of low-wage work. People are working and they're not getting paid enough to feed their families, pay their utilities and pay for their housing, pay for the healthcare. We had 28 percent of workers in 2011 made wages that were less than the poverty line. Poverty wages.

Fifty percent of the jobs in this country make less than $34,000 a year. Twenty-five percent make less than the poverty line for a family of four, which is $23,000 a year. So, if you're not paying people enough to pay for the basics, they're going to need help getting food.

And food stamps expanded because we went through the greatest the worst recession since the Great Depression. And it did what it's supposed to do. And now, you know, mostly Republicans are saying, "Why are there so many people on food stamps?" You know, they're claiming the recession's over, but we know that most people on food stamps are, if they're getting work, it's low-wage work that doesn't pay enough to pay for food.

BILL MOYERS: The farm bill that failed in Congress last week would've spent $743.9 billion on food stamps and nutrition over the next ten years. Republicans wanted to cut that by some $20 billion over the same period, ten years. Given that we're spending $75 to $78 billion a year now on food stamps, do they have a case?

GREG KAUFMANN: Well, look, do they make a point that we’re spending too much? I mean, if they're comfortable saying two million people should be thrown off food stamps, 200,000 low-income children should not have access to meals, to their meals in school. Hey, they can make that argument all they want. I think it's out of sync with the values of this country.

BILL MOYERS: Here is what Representative Steve King of Iowa said in the debate on the floor at the time the farm bill was up for consideration. Quote, "When we see the expansion of the dependency class in America, and you add this to the 79 other means-tested welfare programs that we have in the United States, each time you add another brick to that wall it's a barrier to people that might go out and succeed." What does your own reporting find?

GREG KAUFMANN: Boy, I wish he would take a look at this great study done just in November of 2012, that was released. Dr. Hilary Hoynes at the University of California Davis and her colleagues looked at this issue of self-reliance and food stamps.

They looked at the rollout of food stamps county by county and adults who were born between 1956 and '81 who were born in disadvantaged families defined as parents not having a high school diploma. And they looked at those people in their adult outcomes who had had access to food stamps when they were young or even in utero.

And they found that the adults, all the adults had significant reductions in metabolic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure. And even more remarkable to me was women in particular had higher earnings, higher income, higher education attainment and less reliance on welfare assistance in general.

All these years these guys have been saying it's promoting dependence, and it's been building self-reliance. I wish that the congressman from Iowa would take a look at that study.

BILL MOYERS: You watched the debate over the farm bill. You followed it very closely. What did you-- summarize it for me. What was going on there?

GREG KAUFMANN: You know, with some exceptions of people who are committed to telling the truth, we heard that this was about the deficit. But food stamps, over the next ten years, are projected to be one 1.7 percent of federal spending according to the Congressional Budget Office. We heard this was about fraud, but less than one cent on the dollar of food stamp spending is lost to fraud, less than one cent on the dollar.

And we heard fraud from the chairwoman Senator Stabenow, Democratic chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. We heard a lot about this was, you know, rural districts versus urban districts and welfare on the back of farmers. But you know what? The truth is Food Research and Action Center has shown that the percentage of households in rural districts participating in food stamps is the same as the percentage of households in urban districts.

So my big takeaway is that if we don't insist on a fact-based discussion, these are the kinds of absurdities that we're going to hear. And we're going to get bad bills. You mentioned the House bill, but even the Democratic bill started with $4 billion in cuts. Senator Gillibrand had a good amendment, restoring those cuts which she would pay for by reducing the profit that the government guarantees to crop insurance companies. They guarantee a 14 percent profit. She said, "Let's do 12 percent and not do the food stamp cuts." Makes sense. Was trounced by Democrats who didn't want to stand up to the chairwoman and maybe lose their projects in the final farm bill.

BILL MOYERS: And they weren't eager to stand up to agribusiness, either, were they? The big factory farms? Weren’t there still a lot of subsidies in that bill for big farms?

GREG KAUFMANN: Yeah, what we saw in A Place at the Table in terms of the agribusiness subsidies was consistent in this farm bill, too. And if you look at the donations and I think some other reporters have done this and I know the Environment Working Group has worked on this if you look at the political contributions in the House ag committees to both Democrats and Republicans, and those businesses are giving big bucks to those campaigns.

BILL MOYERS: What's the one most important thing you'd like for us to know about the issue as it plays out in Congress? What's going on up there when they're debating the farm bill and food stamps?

GREG KAUFMANN: Well, they're catering to the most powerful interests, just like seems like with pretty much all legislation. You mentioned the agribusiness interests, the crop insurance interests. We aren't talking about hunger and what does it mean in this country to commit to ending hunger.

BILL MOYERS: Why did you take this beat on as a commitment?

GREG KAUFMANN: Well, on a personal level, I think I had worked for a Boys and Girls Club in Ohio for a few years and got to know so many of the families there didn't know what to expect. But all the things I've been describing about how hard people work, I mean, that was the first thing that hit me, how hard they work two jobs, how they hard they work to arrange child care, how hard they work to get their kids to a safe place. And I got tired of sort of annual articles on poverty -- not at “The Nation,” “The Nation” has always been committed to covering it.

But when the new poverty statistics would come out, you'd see screaming headlines, "Record Poverty," oh my god, poverty, poverty. Very few of the articles actually interviewed people who were in poverty. You know, the fact that over one in three Americans, over 100 million Americans are living at just twice the poverty level, so just—

BILL MOYERS: Which is about what?

GREG KAUFMANN: Less than $36,000 for a family of three. That's crazy. I mean, because we have poverty defined at, you know, at such a low level, $18,000 for a family of three. But really, if you think about poverty as access to the basics that we, that everybody needs food, housing, healthcare, a decent job, you know, education, you know, we know it takes a lot more than that.

BILL MOYERS: What's your own sense of why this is the case, this vast inequality in a country as rich as ours? I mean, what does this say to you, the richest 400 people on the “Forbes” list made more from the stock market gains last year than the total amount of the food, housing and education budgets combined. I mean, the Walmart corporation made $17 billion last year, $17 billion.


BILL MOYERS: Paying its workers so little, they have to use government programs to get by. In other words taxpayers are subsidizing Walmart's--


BILL MOYERS: --low-income jobs.

GREG KAUFMANN: Yeah. I mean, I think not having organized labor plays a huge role in that, the declining unionization rate. I think, yeah, I mean, Walmart's a great example. Paying employees, helping them sign up for food stamps. I mean, I'm glad that people can get food stamps but, like, why not just pay a wage? I mean, there are a lot of corporations that are, you know, want to be involved in the fight against hunger. And the best thing they can do is get on board for fair wages.

So, yeah, I think there has been turning away from real people and what they're experiencing in this country. That's why I was so disappointed as crazy as the House farm bill was, the fact that the Democrats started with a $4.1 billion cut almost made me angrier, because they're supposed to be the party that's in touch with people's real experiences.

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean?

GREG KAUFMANN: Well, like, why aren't they talking about that food stamps create nine dollars of economic activity for every five dollars in spending? Why aren't they talking about what Dr. Chilton talks about, the benefits socially, emotionally, cognitively, physically that's documented for children, and we care so much about children and what that means for their future opportunities. I mean, the Democrats are supposed to be connected to the experiences of ordinary Americans. And when you start with this defensive wimpy posture of, "Oh, okay, we'll cut this much," instead of fighting for what you believe in, we're in trouble.

BILL MOYERS: Our viewers, what would you like them to know about what you know about hunger in America?

GREG KAUFMANN: I would like them to know that there are great groups that they can get involved with who are trying to work on this. Witnesses to Hunger, Share our Strength is doing good stuff with communities to get school breakfast programs expanded, New York City Coalition Against Hunger, who, you know, Joel Berg was saying we need to do town halls. We've got to pressure all these congressmen to do town halls in every district to make it more visible.

Food Research and Action Center did a great lobbying day involving more people in the community. So, there are groups to get involved with that are really committed to using science and evidence to inform our policy and to pressure the candidates and make this issue more visible.

BILL MOYERS: We will link our viewers and readers on our website,, to those groups. And we will follow your work in “The Nation” and online. Greg Kaufmann, thank you very much for being with me.

GREG KAUFMANN: Thanks so much, Bill.

BILL MOYERS: At, we’ll link you to the website for the film A Place at the Table. And you can read analysis and opinion on this week’s historic Supreme Court rulings.

That’s all at I’ll see you there and I’ll see you here, next time.

Watch By Segment

The Faces of America’s Hungry

June 28, 2013

The story of American families facing food insecurity is as frustrating as it is heartbreaking, because the truth is as avoidable as it is tragic. Here in the richest country on earth, 50 million of us — one in six Americans — go hungry. More than a third of them are children. And yet Congress can’t pass a Farm Bill because our representatives continue to fight over how many billions to slash from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps. The debate is filled with tired clichés about freeloaders undeserving of government help, living large at the expense of honest, hardworking taxpayers. But a new documentary, A Place at the Table, paints a truer picture of America’s poor.

“The cost of food insecurity, obesity and malnutrition is way larger than it is to feed kids nutritious food,” Kristi Jacobson, one of the film’s directors and producers, tells Bill. She and Mariana Chilton, director of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities, explain to Bill how hunger hits hard at people from every walk of life.

“There’s no opportunity for people who are low-income to really engage in our democracy,” says Chilton. “I think they’re actively shut out.”

Later, Greg Kaufmann — poverty correspondent for The Nation — talks about how the poor have been stereotyped and demonized in an effort to justify huge cuts in food stamps and other crucial programs for low-income Americans.

“People are working and they’re not getting paid enough to feed their families, pay their utilities, pay for their housing, pay for the healthcare… if you’re not paying people enough to pay for the basics, they’re going to need help getting food,” Kaufmann tells Bill. “There are a lot of corporations that want to be involved in the fight against hunger. The best thing they can do is get on board for fair wages.”

Get more information about and watch clips from A Place at the Table.

Learn more about the production team behind Moyers & Company.

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  • Vicki Trusselli

    take a look at the food packaging in the store. there are pre packaged hamburger patties with very little preservatives $21.95 and there is a package beside this package $5.95 with soy products etc etc. i told the clerk so if i am not on a budget then the $21.95 is good but if i am poor and on a budge the $5.95 is good. i said not… eventually i found decent chicken without preservatives and not a monsanto gig. or so i think. yes i am on a budge due to i am retired after beginning working when i was 17 and i am on social security.

  • Kevin

    I took great interest in this show and thought everyone did a wonderful job. I really admire Kristi Jacobson and Marina Chilton for their diligent efforts.
    This topic at this time in our nation reminds me of a story I once heard:
    St. Peter was giving a tour. He showed the visitor what hell looked like. There was a huge room filled with enormously long tables full delicious of food of every variety. Everyone at these tables had long, large spoons and forks attached to their forearms. The utensils were so long that, even though the people sitting around the tables could reach the food they could not get it to their mouths. They were screaming and crying in anguish while they starved among this magnificent bounty.
    St. Peter then took the visitor to heaven. The room was the same. The tables and food were the same. The utensils were attached to the people in the same way. Yet, everyone was laughing and smiling, enjoying the great bounty. St Peter turned to the visitor and said, “The difference is that, here in heaven, these people have learned to feed each other.”

  • Anonymous

    Greed will ultimately destroy this country like the riots of our past, that we somehow always forget. History always repeats itself. Billions and trillions for military waste, medical waste, and prison industrial thievery, but scream bloody murder if money is spent on education, public broadcasting, or food for the poor. Yes we spend billions on food stamps, but it is a small price to pay to not have violence in the streets. Quite a few times in my life, I had lost my life savings trying to keep up with a mortgage i couldnt afford, and ultimately filed for food stamps. Its the only thing that saved me. Thats all I ever got out of this government was $200 to $300 a month for food stamps after paying hundreds of thousands in taxes through the last 30 years. Had I not had those food stamps I probably would have had to steal food out of gardens to survive with 24 plus years in the computer field in a supposedly stable career field. I never decided to bring children in this world because I remember the times I was cold and hungry and couldnt feed and shelter myself. My mother raised seven kids despite low wages, because she was a immigrant and knew how to pull food out of a garden and canned food for the winter months. I live in a big city where the computer jobs are, but I never have access to a plot of land to grow food. The world gets more brutal every year. At some point if one is hungry they may find a job that may or may not exist, that may or may not provide enough income to feed , clothe and shelter the wage earner, but they are damn sure going to steal or get violent if they get hungry. Always put yourself in the other person shoes. There are alot of lazy folks at the bottom, but that so called stealing is a pittance compared to the corporate welfare stealing, where the largest corporations in the country pay zero taxes. Its a very lopsided system that has to blow up with time. Luckily we appear to be able to print currency for ever. It didnt work for the weimar republic in germany after world war I, and it wont work in our present gilded age. By November 1923, the American dollar was worth 4,210,500,000,000 German marks. Our greed and policies will take us down that same road.

  • Anonymous

    ((Here in the richest country on earth, 50 million of us — one in six Americans — go hungry. Yet, the debate over how to address hunger and poverty is filled with tired clichés about freeloaders undeserving of government help.))

    Why is it not any wonder at all when grand larceny, money laundering and the shifting of money meant for others are sent to offshore havens. And the whole bit about the tired cliche’s is abhorrent especially when someone accuses those who stole the money from those it was meant for as freeloaders. The freeloaders are those loading all the cash into their pocket. Those are the true freeloaders living off the government teat.

  • Anonymous

    This film will break your heart. It is both tragic and beautiful. It shows the lovely spirits and great bravery of these parents and their children. The very dear people featured will make their way straight into your hearts through the brilliance of the filmmakers. I am so proud they are women.

    I will never forget the vulnerable human beings I met through their lens. It is indeed one of the finest documentaries I’ve ever seen, and I have seen scores of them. Please take your children to watch this. It will be a most important part of their education for life in our world.

    This week I saw a film I consider as good, but on a very different topic: the semi-covert military operations our government is engaged in across the planet, activities that kill and maim the innocent.

    The film is called “Dirty Wars” and is also unforgettable. I hope Bill will interview Jeremy Scahill and Richard Rowley, the brave reporters to risked their lives to bring us essential information.

  • jrosalindmarie

    This story reminded me of my Dad in terms of what he told me about his childhood in regards to never having enough to eat. During the times that we needed groceries, my mother would tell my Dad that we needed just a few items from the store, such as cereal, bread, fruit, veggies, rice, milk, cold cuts, juice, eggs, and ravioli, and he would literally come back with not just one, two, or three bags, but almost 20-30 bags of groceries. The first time it happened, I thought it was weird and I asked my mom why did he have so many bags. She did not answer me. Another time, this particular incident happened again, and again, I asked her why did my father buy so many groceries. This time, she sat me down and explained to me that when my Dad was a kid, he never had enough to eat, but he promised himself that if he was ever blessed to have his own family, that he would never let them starve.

    As a teacher, I see so many students who come to school and into my class complaining that they did not have breakfast, or that they did not get a chance to eat lunch, and in some cases, but very rarely that they had not eaten dinner the night before. These women did an incredible job with their documentary from what I saw from this week’s program. Thank you for exposing this truth to the American public and educating us about so many political issues that affect us daily.

  • Anonymous

    Meat may not be your best nutritional buy. There are many, many absolutely delicious and healthy recipes that do not require meat or other dairy products. Not only are they good for you, they’re good for the planet since meat and dairy production is one of the worst sources of pollution worldwide.

  • Anonymous

    This is the saddest film. Imagine, children in our country going hungry. I have worked as a foster parent and know how frightened, hungry, and desperate some children can be. Then you hear facts like, Walmart’s stock holders got enough in dividends in a year, to pay the food stamp budget for the whole country. Yet Walmart’s employees are mostly on food stamps. I could quote Hamlet? “Something is rotting in the State of Denmark” but that is not true. Denmark is doing just fine. The rot is in our own congress. And dem is fighting words!

  • Martha

    We lost our best employee because the State of California modified her child care and food stamps every time we gave her a raise. Finally, she quit. How is this helping someone out of poverty if they aren’t allowed to get a bit ahead?

  • Guido

    Volunteering at Casa Maria Hunger shelter in Tucson for 25 years reveals more to this story. Parents need practical tools on child rearing, nutrition, anger management, communication skills, spiritual orientation before having a child. With preparation a family of 4 can eat on $120 per month buying bulk, augmenting with Food Bank, eliminating white sugar, salt, rice, flour adding beans, lentils, spices, herbs. What we dont know will kill us. What we do know will fill us, free us, and transform us.

  • cathryn

    The answer begins with a fair and just tax system, whereby corporations and offshore subsidiaries and partnerships pay their fair share. Hold banks accountable for fraud and evasion. Close loopholes. Stop picking on middle class and small businesses.

  • Anonymous

    Perhaps nutrition & cooking programs need tobe added to foodbanks & other; If you are on food stamps, getting WIC benefits then a home ec style classes for someone in the household.

    If they are expecting then a home ec cooking class is a must do.

  • Anonymous

    Cutting nutrition support for children, working poor & elderly so large corporate farmers can continue their revenue insurance welfare is reprehensible.

    Currently gigantic farmers in crops like corn, soy, wheat, cotton, etc can get revenue insurance. They calculate the revenue they are entitled to based on 5 yr average. The farmer pays 38¢ of every premium dollar; we the taxpayers (WTT) pay the other 62¢. WTT pay the insurer 40¢ for every dollar of premium to off set insurers’ admin. costs. But it gets better, if the insurer loses money (premiums are not enough to cover lossez) WTT pay the losses.

    Now this only covers 85% of the revenue entitlement. So the bill may (an earlier version had this benefit) provide for direct payment from WTT of the 1st 10% of the losses.

    80% of the various farm subsidies in there various forms go to 4% of the farm entities – the very largist ones at that. Cargill Corp in 2010 had 107.88 billion in in gross revenues and collected 51 million in ag subsidies. That is 10,000 maximum Pell grants.

    On what planet does this make sense?

  • Sarah

    I haven’t finished watching the show yet, but one question that comes to mind is how does the hunger situation in this country compare to those in other “1st world” countries? How do other countries manage hunger?

  • esoj

    Terrific show! Periodic follow ups are a must!

    For now I have three observations?
    1. Where are the fathers of the children of the single mothers? Is our system so screwed up that the single parent mothers are better off not having the fathers help support them?

    2. I wonder if the campaign contributions to our elected politicians comes from the same money that is appropriated to big business through subsidies?

    3. Why isn’t there a countervailing push by certain special interest groups to increase SNAP budgets?
    Wouldn’t proposed cuts of $10, $20, $30. $40 billion dollars or more over the next 10-20 years hurt the chip, pop, and other processed food industries?

  • Scorpion Sound

    We have begun growing our own food. We also have a couple of chickens for eggs. The food that the poor have access to is of the worst nutritional quality at best. Community gardens in poor areas are on the rise. We need to get back to growing food and not lawns. Anyone can start a garden and be successful in the first season. It is a great way to fight back. We can point fingers all we want, but to take more control to feed ourselves, in my opinion is a viable direction to go.

  • Anonymous

    Obviously you havent spent any time in the ghetto, for many of these so called fathers its a badge of honor to knock these gals up and abandon the kids. Because of these draconian drug laws, and lack of union paying decent jobs in their community, most of the men and women have felonies before they leave high school, if they graduate high school. Many are not very literate and only live for the moment. Its a mess all around. In South San Francisco minor ghetto, there were very nice computer labs, every thing you need to know about the computer explosion around them, and become a part of a well paying skill. No one is in there, blows your mind. Chicagos west side forget it, thats why the murder rate is so high. If you cant get a union job, or sucessfully peddle dope, (there are no computer labs) your a dead man. Winters are brutal. Large areas of the inner cities, and some pockets of rural america have the per capitial income of the third world. Some humans can rise up from some of the lowest of circumstances in life, but without meaningful education, and some resources, they are just sheep for the slaughter, these kids are just disposable collateral damage of the republican war on living wages and affordable health care. A basic human right understood by many of our western competitors. Time to slow down our preemptive miltitary war machine, and rebuild our own cities, many neighborhoods look like a nuclear bomb hit it, but its just the aftermath of failed capitialism,with all the money going to the top, the rest be damned.

  • Tomi

    I work on Friday at a local Food Pantry. We are open 4 days a week and serve up to 40 families a day. Some people warns me that there are cheaters so we should make sure people who take the food a ligit. It was very hot last Friday. We served 40 families and had to turn away a few. People waited in line for more than an hour to get a couple sacks of food. I wouldn’t wait for more than an hour in a hot sun for a couple of sacks of food unless I desperately need food. Would you? I think there are people who are really hurting…

  • Tomi

    I grow summer vegetables, too. But we should consider ourselves lucky that we have place to grow them. Many of the hungry people have NO access to any space where vegetables can be grown, let alone having chickens…

  • Trudi Goodman

    know because I live in a rent subsidized building. This building houses
    the Elderly and The Disabled. I see this every day in my community. I
    am experiencing this myself. I have had 8 CUTS to my Food Stamps in 14
    months. Everyone I know has been cut. This is not showing up on the
    News. I am so desperate that I am buying food on my Credit Card. People
    don’t get that Food Stamps for most people is not a supplemental thing.
    -It’s supposed to be.- The only way to get them now is to be very poor.
    That means that Food Stamps are MY MAIN SOURCE FOR GETTING FOOD. So if I
    run out I have to go to the food pantry….which is very strapped AND
    also use my credit card. I am in hock up to my eyeballs. Look around a
    Grocery Store/Supermarket and you will see people paying for toilet
    paper and food with their credit cards-NOT DEBT CARDS!- I wrote The
    President about this the last time The DNC wanted a donation from me. I
    wanted to know what he was going to do for people like me who work, but
    are broke. Who are looking for work. NO RESPONSE. If there had been a
    better candidate I would have voted for that person. I am a Democrat,
    but I am shocked at how the Dems are doing nothing to stop the rollbacks
    by the Repubies. I am disgusted.

  • Trudi Goodman

    Thanks for posting this. Nobody goes into a Food Pantry who doesn’t need it. It’s not like they are handing out caviar in there. They are offering boxes of cereal. Some people have no compassion. Thanks for helping out. Hugs, T

  • jr

    Being a store owner I have seen a lot in the past 40 years. With the beginning of food stamps in the early 70’s. I had a customer come in wanting to buy soda she had 13 cases loaded into her buggy and wanted to buy an additional 13 cases. The cashier wouldn’t let her purchase it because she was using EBT (food stamps) When I came up to see what the problem was she begged me to let her buy the soda instead of going to another store. I told her I would let her buy it and asked what she was using to purchase the soda. She said her food stamp card. I asked “What ?” She answered her food stamp card. I asked two more times and told her the card was for food and not soda I asked her if that was food and she replied it was digestible. Every morning the same ones come in buying a soda, lunch cake, or candy bar. I know of one family that is third generation on food stamps. Why do better when it is handed to you. I found out the other day the people on EBT can come in and get cash with there card. Some take the cash and buy a gift card at Wal-Mart or Kroger this way the can have dinner at outback, Texas Roadhouse or say Red Lobster and have a drink with there meal running up $50 or better and leaving a $1 tip to the waitress. She gets below minimum wage due to tips and she can’t live on what she receives on tips. Free phones $1500 a year to fix the car. Not all are in the same boat this is what gives others a black eye.

  • AverageJoe

    Thats where you are wrong, plenty of people stand in line at food banks just to catch free food. I volunteered at one before going to work one day. And wouldn’t you know, a lady I saw earlier was in my store buying prime rib, steaks, and alot more. Using an EBT card? Nope, “just thrift shopping earlier”. Her exact words!

  • Dee

    Going back 25 years means since 1988? That may explain why I don’t recognize your name, as 1987 was the last year I volunteered there. From the gist of your post I’m assuming you are one of the church members that volunteers as I’d never heard Brian or even George (RIP) say anything quite like this.

  • Anonymous

    Mr. store owner you see all these replies? The people that you see buying soda and other shenanigans with EBT are rare and it means someone else, a relative or something is feeding the children that these food stamps are meant for. People who get food stamps need every penny to buy FOOD. Don’t believe the propaganda from the political ghouls!

  • Joe

    Did you see this program?

  • Michael Harrison

    Is Mr. Kaufmann talking about the paper entitled Work Incentives and the Food Stamp Program, written with Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach? Because as I read it, it said exactly the opposite from what was claimed. By my reading, the paper concluded that there is no correlation one way or the other for the general food stamp population, whereas for single-parent household, evidence agrees with theory, and theory (discussed in section 4) states that a single parent on food stamps is more likely to choose leisure activities over work activities.

    Seriously, please tell me I’m misreading this.

  • john

    This is one of the most important Bill Moyer programs I’ve seen in ages. What could be more important than investing in the people – in this modern world gone wrong where it’s impossible to just feed Americans properly.

    My question is where is President Obama and why is he missing in action on this? Welfare for corporations, children and hunger – suicidal thoughts from malnutrition, grants for agri-business and minimum wage jobs that can’t keep any american dream alive. WHERE is President Obama?

    I voted for him twice, hoping he’d be front and center on these issues… instead of posing for photo ops. Nothing is more basic than hunger. I think Bob Dyland should have performed ‘Union Sundown’ at the White House reception instead of that quaint rendition of ‘Blowing in the Wind’.

    My thanks to the wonderful hosts who were so inspiring with their truth telling. Now if we could just find some politicians with a backbone to back them up.

  • Anonymous

    Recently, NYC’s Mayor Bloomberg commented on the city’s expanding homeless population: “We have made our shelter system so much better that, unfortunately, when people are in it, or, fortunately, depending on what your objective is, it is a much more pleasurable experience than they ever had before… .”

    It was an eerie reminder from an earlier time, during the Great Depression. A delegation had come to see President Hoover to request a federal jobs’ program. Hoover responded that “nobody is actually starving” and that “the hoboes…are better fed than they have ever been.” He claimed that the vendors selling apples on street corners had “left their jobs for the more profitable one of selling apples.”

    Why do we bother to study history? One reason is it helps the ordinary citizen to detect certain patterns. When we see our public figures engaging in behavior which is more an indictment of the national conscience, we will know it.


  • Eunice Bucknerboone

    Is there hunger in America, anywhere in America? Yes or No. So there is proof to support either belief. If you have plenty to eat than you vote yes. If you are hungry vote no. oops I meant vise versa ! what am I thinking!

  • ed mangan

    well Martha. is has to do with taxes. inflation also. it is about to hit big time. this is when money is due for bills like financing a fake terrorist war. US is broke, bankrupt. you see while we fought this fake war China stole all our jobs. and by keeping their currency tied to the dollar/when we lowered it’s value. it made everthing China made even less expensive. so then then even the Euro region bought into it.

    China won the economic war!!! moyers should have me as a guest on his show.
    we are about to start inflation big time. (really a devaluation of the dollar) bread was $.10 a loaf in 1970 and now $1.00 a a loaf but soon it will be $10.00 a loaf. can you smell what I mean gasoline at $12.00 per gallon or more. it use to be $.15 regular during the 1970 gas wars.
    guess where food prices will go? !?!?!?!?!?!?

    in the 1980s I got a 5% pay raise every 6 months. it bought me less but it did put me and many other into new high rate of taxes to pay.

  • ed mangan

    pull up you panties and hold on it is going to get worse. please be careful if you own panties.
    this kind of crap went on during the 1970s already.
    bread loaf was $.10 gas $.15 in 1970. now $1 for a loaf of bread,if your lucky gas $3.25 on a good day. soon all this will be $10.00 a loaf and over $12.00 a gallon.

    every body who has a job will clammor for more pay and get it.
    it really puts them into new tax brackets not knowing buying power will be less too.

    this will kill those on fixed income like you and the elderly on Social Security.
    there was a terrorist war you know. but few people did not see there was a economic one going on too and China won!
    they won our factories (jobs) and got all our monies. some say 3 trillion of debt….but I have also heard a number like 15 trillion…and others say more likely it is really 48 trillion.

    the US is bankrupt, so go to russia and try to negotiate them to disband their nukes. we do not want them to over take us.

  • ed mangan

    well those who sold apples on the street corner. just wanted to buy a meal.
    I see them today. they wear sighs hawking hair cuts, subs and the latest fast food goodies to go.
    they just want to buy a meal too!
    glad you had the eyes to know we are in a depression. few know this. few even see them standing there in 100 degree heat wearing a costume at times if not dancing.

  • dZb2stf

    Although I fully believe lots of people in this country are hungry and malnourished, I wonder if part of the problem is due to changes in education. Years ago, every female had to take home economics to learn how to stretch food and dollars. For example, instead of buying canned beans, buy dried beans and cook them; buy dried milk and reconstitute with water plus a little canned milk if needed to help children like it. Could food pantries or churches start giving such lessons, maybe with some pots and pans and storage containers? What about pairing retired people with young, struggling families–the older ones with more time could cook and the younger ones could mow yards or clean house or whatever to help the older ones. This would not completely solve the problem, but every little bit would help. Obviously we cannot depend on Congress.

  • EdEKit

    Great fable, jr, something like the person who witnessed a bank robbery and decided to protect the bank by closing it. Your logic is flawed, some people abuse food stamps, therefore no people should have them. I like that logic, some people misuse guns, therefore no people should have guns. Or some cops are crooks, therefore all cops should be considered crooks.

    All dogs have four legs, cats have four legs, therefore, cats are dogs.

  • EdEKit

    And, a couple of weeks ago I was at a local grocery store for my needs. Ahead of me in line was a woman who had three of each of the non perishable items on the store ad. Her purpose, to donate two of each of them to her church’s food pantry. The children of a family that lives near me canvass the neighborhood for store coupons, and the parents use those to buy food for a food pantry.

    Tomi, what you are saying is that some people are greedy, and willing to take from people in need to satisfy their greed. I would not starve a child to stymie that greed, but apparently you would.

  • Kaitlyn Fredricks

    just as Brian answered I’m startled that any body able to profit $5248 in one month on the computer. have you read this site w­w­w.K­E­P­2.c­o­m

  • ErnestineBass

    Utter rightwing rubbish.

  • ErnestineBass

    Your reading comprehension could use some improvement.

  • ErnestineBass

    More rightwing rubbish.

  • KYcashier

    Clarification: The same card is used for welfare/cash benefits as food stamps. You can’t take out cash with food stamps, but you can with cash benefits. This isn’t wishful thinking, the system itself won’t allow you to take out money over the purchase. Period. Similarly, it won’t pay for any non-food within the same purchase, you have to pay the difference out of pocket.

    If you want a good “food program” that forces you to get good food, look no further than WIC. Want food stamps to work properly, ask that it be turned into something like WIC.

  • Anonymous

    I listened to this program on the radio. One thing I never understand, that reporters never seem to ask, is exactly what are people spending their food budget on. One woman worried that she only had a Hot Pocket to give her child, then no more food after that. One expert mentioned people buying soda because it was cheap. I never buy Hot Pockets or soda. I eat a healthy breakfast every day for about 50 cents (bulk oatmeal and toast, or eggs and toast). A lunch of a peanut butter sandwich and an apple is not expensive. I get a whole bag of small apples at Trader Joes for 2.99. A banana is 19 cents. I would really like to know exactly what foods people are buying, that they can’t get enough to eat for a month on 3 dollars per day, as the congressman in the story complained. Yes, you might not be able to buy exactly what you want, but you can eat healthy nourishing foods and not be hungry, assuming you have access to a supermarket. Buy what is on sale, and cook for yourself, instead of using convenience foods.

  • Diana Doe

    Thank you so much for bringing attention to this issue. I myself have been in the “low-income” bracket for over 10 years and know way too many hardworking people struggling due to low wages only to find that they are ridiculed as being lazy for being poor and/or overweight. It’s great that this program is helping to encourage an honest conversation about this and what we can do about it. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  • Arianna

    You said it yourself, “assuming you have access to a supermarket”. Most of the folks don’t and they certainly can’t get to Trader Joe’s, at least not here in rural IL or St. Louis City.

  • Arianna

    I’ll bet I know what she was doing with all that soda. Icing it down and taking it to a park to sell so she can make her rent! As to people coming into your store and buying “crap food”, why don’t you put produce out, on sale?

  • Arianna

    You get nutritional counseling when you are on WIC. And it works.

  • Arianna

    Can someone please tell me where they find this $1 a loaf bread? I can just about guarantee it’s not a 16oz loaf and isn’t whole wheat either.

  • Arianna

    As a person raised by Depression teens (read hungry children), I remember my mother being “not hungry” when she was serving us dinner. I also remember when she and her church ladies decided they’d had enough, found a shelf in the local firehouse and banged on folks’ doors, the backs of restaurants and grocery stores to fill that shelf and what went on to become many other shelves. She had all us kids knocking on doors, asking to pick fruit from trees in folks yard so we’d have fresh citrus for people who came to the food bank. We’d get the unlabeled cans, squished bread etc. IF it was left over. As an adult and young single mom with a “good job”, I was a teacher, I took my son to the early bus, went home and changed into my professional clothes and went and taught school all day to 6-10yr olds. I wasn’t on food stamps then, the cliff had caught me, but, if he was on the early bus, my son could get a good breakfast. Now, as an older adult on a fixed income, spouse of a, now reservist, member of the US Military, I have news for those of you who think hunger is someone else’s problem. YOU, the USA, depend on 1% of the population to protect you from the rest of the world. And 45% of that 1%, are ELIGIBLE for food stamps! Almost half of the military forces are receiving food stamps and other nutritional help. Yeah, that kid you are sending overseas? Chances are, his kids are on school food programs and they get by on food stamps at home. Feel safe?

  • Anonymous

    That’s another thing I never understand in these reports. Though I currently live in a city, my home is in a rural area. The nearest supermarket is 10 miles away. if you can’t afford a car, you get a ride with neighbors or relatives. What are the specific reasons ‘Most of the folks don’t…’ have access to a supermarket? There are no supermarkets or grocery stores in St. Louis?

  • Arianna

    It really depends on where you live and, above all else, access to transportation of any sort. If you don’t drive/have car, you might be able to bum a ride, but transportation in the areas I’m talking about is not a “given”. Also, imagine coming home after a day’s work, gathering up 2 kids, getting on a city bus to ride 45 minutes ONE WAY, going shopping, taking the same bus home and then having dinner. Also, the one super market in the ‘hood in STL has been repeatedly caught selling out of date produce at inflated prices, in other words, the bar code says St. Charles, it’s limp/droopy, rotten, and it’s 1 & 1/2 times what they’d pay in St. Charles.

  • Anonymous

    God, reminds me of seeing lemon trees in people’s yards in Tucson. Hundreds of lemons on the trees, dozens lying on the ground, just laying there to rot, me thinking “THOSE THINGS ARE LIKE 33 CENTS EACH.”

  • Anonymous

    Eating healthily for cheap requires three things:

    Reliable access to fresh produce at affordable prices. This is difficult for anyone not living near a supermarket with transportation problems…that includes urban food deserts and small rural towns.

    Cooking and refrigeration facilities. For anyone with unstable living arrangements or who is actually homeless, this can be a tall order.

    Enough free time and energy to actually cook.

    Also, ideally, you’ve got skill enough to make the cheapest healthy foods you can find into something palatable, but if you’ve grown up without any of the above, you probably don’t have that.

    Basically, your post is saying “let them eat cake.”

  • Anonymous

    I met people who frequently hitchhiked 40 miles to the nearest grocery store and to use the internet at the library (their only internet access).

    That’s not something you can count on, and it’s not hard to end up stranded.

    Someone might suggest they move, but with no job, their house worth nothing, no car, no nothing and their entire support network located in that rural nowhere, that’s a bit of a tall order.

    Things are tough all over.

  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous

    I’m not sure you understand how tax brackets work.

  • Salish Sea

    Mr. Moyers_
    Charlie Rose has been dropped from PBS so Canadian viewers cannot access your recent interview online.
    Is there any chance that that interview can be made available on YOUR website? (hope!)

  • Anonymous

    In many poor/working poor neighborhoods there are NO SUPERMARMETS!!! only convenience stores that at best have wilted, decaying produce if they have any.

    If you have no readily bolt hole you are toast going through these neighborhoods. No cars, bikes or other transport – much more difficult with little kids.

  • Anonymous

    In our area (eastern Wa state), we recently had a local agriculture insurance broker who colluded with farmers to cheat on crop insurance programs. These are the welfare cheats

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  • Anonymous

    I recently talked to my sister whose husband is an airline pilot. They have 4 kids, 2 grown & working, all still in a 3000+ sq ft home and they have plenty of money. They bought a piece of land in another state to build a home when he retires. Right now it has just hay/grass growing on it which a neighbor cuts for them, bales it and sells it. My sister and her husband get a tax credit, from the Farm Bill that just cut out SNAP benefits, as “farmers” for this deal. How is that not welfare? My sister and her husband see nothing wrong with it, but then their children have never been hungry. Neither has my son, but I see a lot wrong with it. They are Fundamentalist Christians and see nothing wrong with refusing to feed children of people who work full time and still can’t afford to buy a house or
    feed their kids, or homeless and/or disabled veterans (although both of them are veterans and the children of veterans), or seniors or mentally ill. I love her but she wasn’t raised to be like that and I don’t understand her.

  • Anonymous

    Skip3234, I don’t know where you live, but just this week I paid $1.24 for only two bananas. That was at Stop & Shop. Good, nutritious food IS really expensive, especially in urban areas, where many of the poor live. It really is cheaper to buy the processed foods, and not only that, but if you are a working mom who gets home around 6 or 7pm and then you still have to do chores, drive children to activities, help them with their homework, do laundry, etc. etc. etc. You simply do not have the time or energy to make a meal from scratch. It’s very easy to be judgmental of other people and to say I’d simply do this or that, but it’s another thing completely to live in that person’s shoes for a year or longer.

  • Anonymous

    In the cases I’m familiar with, it is a matter of attitude, will power and adaptability. My Mother did exactly what you describe (worked all day, then came home to kids and chores). As soon as she got home from work she put on an apron and made us a balanced healthy meal from scratch. She did not watch 3 or 4 hours of TV per night as most Americans now do. She was not a strong or healthy woman either, but she was determined. I have lived through periods of low income ($3 per day for food in New York City). I have friends who are poor and will always be poor, unless one of their lottery tickets hits big. A very close friend who was raising a child alone lost his job in the economic downturn. He bummed money from me for groceries. I saw what he bought– the same high end stuff he bought when he had income. The next time I did not give him cash. I gave him two full bags of groceries that cost me $20, including a big sack of potatoes on sale (and no 62 cent bananas). He was not happy with what I bought. A week later, privately, his kid thanked me because they had enough to eat for a week. If you make an effort, you can take the bus, or walk like my friend Eric, a distance to get access to healthy food you can afford. That can be your main chore once a week. It won’t kill you. If the fresh produce is overpriced buy acceptable canned goods. Canned tomatoes and chick peas won’t kill you. Living on Hot Pockets and soda might. Attitude, will power and adaptability.

  • Anonymous

    Arianna, could you look at my reply to Moby12, which covers similar ground to what you have expressed. Thank you.

  • Anonymous

    Using cliches like “attitude, will power and adaptability” to judge and condemn people is not helpful. You talk about what your supermom supposedly did but that was a different generation – they didn’t even have the same processed foods back then – poor people just went hungry. That is not a good thing! People like you try to glamorize poverty by saying things like – my mother worked 3 jobs and scrubbed floors and yet was still able to put me and my brothers through college. Baloney! You could NEVER do that nowadays no matter how much “attitude” you have. We need to have jobs that pay enough for a person to actually live upon and THAT is what we need to be striving for – NOT condemning folks for not buying fresh food. Shame on you.

  • Anonymous

    “Attitude, will power and adaptability” are not cliches. They exist as real forces in the lives of many people, at all economic levels. On the other hand you have used a true cliche “supermom”. All I said was my Mother came home from work and made our supper. You have blown up my comments on a narrow topic (healthy eating and access to affordable food) into an attack on me about poverty in general. You have so much anger. You might consider composing your comments offline, rereading them 24 hours later before posting.

  • Anonymous

    YOU have so much anger. I’m merely defending the many working folks who live in poverty day after day, barely making ends meet in very tough conditions while having to endure criticism from people like yourself. Instead of judging and picking apart how they have had to deal with their poverty (for example – criticizing their dinner menu) we should ALL be looking for ways to ensure that people don’t have to live in poverty. My main concern is how wealthy employers (like Walmart for example) – who can well afford to pay a living wage – instead are actively trying to lower wages and refuse to pay for health or any benefits for their workers. We as a people should focus on changing corporate attitudes from one of excessive greed to one of community and valuing labor.

  • moderator

    Hi Moby12 and Skip 3234,

    You have both made your points quite clearly, but now it is heading towards the personal. Please move on.

    Sean @ Moyers

  • moderator

    Skip 3234 and Moby12,

    You have both made your points quite clearly, but now it is heading towards the personal. Please move on.


    Sean @ Moyers

  • moderator


    I warned both of you at the same time. The final comment from Moby12 was already posted when I asked for both of you to move on.

    Sean @ Moyers

  • Anonymous

    I wish the news media would stop saying “our reps”. It’s Republicans who say “let him die”. It’s Republicans who say things like “Feed the poor and they will breed (Andre Bauer)”. Anyone fighting for even basic human rights are always fighting the Republicans.