Values: Hunger in America: Understanding the Problem, Galvanizing Community Action



Genie Gratto
Diana Johnson
Marley Rave
Paula Thornton-Greear

Genie: Introductions

Diana: lost job after 9/11, living on $1-2/day for food. Moved from "Dollar Menu" diet to cooking and eating healthier. Now teaches cooking classes to low-income individuals and families.

Marley: works for Meals on Wheels, who struggle to keep up with demand; biggest challenge: generating awareness for the cause -- not just kids, people in third world countries-- many seniors are facing the threat of hunger today

Paula: -- also says that raising awareness is the biggest challenge.

Genie: "How do we tell the stories of hunger?"

Photo Credit: Danielle Tsi.

Paula: Two sides of the issue: emotional and rational. Rational: we have enough food to feed people, that isn't why they are hungry. Emotional: the child, senior, or returning vet who can't afford to buy food. Written word is powerful, and visuals are very compelling. Once people are touched by a story or meet someone who is hungry, they are changed and want to pay it forward, share the story.

Marley: 99% of people know the name "Meals on Wheels." But they don't always associate it with seniors, and often think they are entirely federally funded (which is not true). Seniors alone in their homes = "the hidden hungry." Find it powerful to generate awareness with images.

Diana: There can be a lot of shame when you are hungry, and people aren't telling their own stories. We need to share their stories for them (anonymously, if desired), to put a "face" to hunger for our readers.

Paula: It is very important for people to realize they are not alone, and you have the ability to tell people they aren't alone in being hungry. Tool: "Map the Gap" -- shows that hungry doesn't know age, race, circumstance: it touches everybody. 0.5 degrees of separation, not 6. Shows people that there are people who are hungry right in their neighborhoods.

Marley: Infographics have been very effective in engaging people and getting them interested.

Paula: Infographics is now her favorite word. They are strong. FeedingAmerica also has a Blogger Council they send infographics, studies, etc to share with followers.

Genie: How can bloggers use social media as a way to make a difference at both the local and national level?

Marley: 4-word elevator pitch: "Go deliver a meal." For bloggers: "And then blog about it." Have a day when Mayors deliver Meals to local residents. One mayor wanted to be done, and they convinced him to deliver one more -- turns out that the last delivery was to his third-grade teacher.

Paula: Go visit your local food bank. Once you do, you will never be the same. It really brings the issue home. Nobody wants to read the numbers and statistics over and over again, but they will want to read your personal experience packaging food, delivering meals, handing out food, etc. The impact of what you do cannot be denied.

Paula: Back in the day in communications, when it was about faxing press releases, nobody would have thought about things like Twitter, etc. Social media is now coming up to the top way to share news and information. Reach out to organizations like FeedingAmerica, etc to get the local and national information and stats.

Diana: Bloggers have so much power. We can use social media as a resource for our own community. Does your city have food justice plans and conversations? Talk to the food banks, the schools. Ask what their needs are. Tell them you are passionate about ending hunger, and ask what they need and how you can help. It may be as simple as spreading the word, using social media to raise awareness. Social media also allows you to immediately connect with groups like FeedingAmerica to get the statistics and knowledge you need.

Paula: You are the experts. For all of the right reasons, bloggers are trusted in the community around you and as a whole. So when you speak, people will listen, because you are telling it from your perspective.

Genie: Question to audience -- what do you know about hunger? How have you chosen to cover it on your blog? Have you told any stories about it?

Audience 1: Blogger and journalist who covers hunger. Hard sell outside of holidays. Summer is an important time to spread awareness because of all the fresh produce AND kids that would normally get lunch at school aren't during the summer break.

Paula: Hunger doesn't exist just during the holidays and "season of giving." Children can't get lunch at school during the summer, which puts excess pressure on parents to balance bills, groceries, etc. There are so many sides of the story -- access, nutrition programs that Congress are threatening to cut, etc. Tell the story of hunger as it exists all year round.

Audience 2: Grocery stores have the opportunity to donate food to food banks -- instead of throwing away produce/food that isn't pretty or perfect that people won't pay for, they could donate to food banks. Bloggers can ask local stores whether they throw away or donate, and encourage donations.

Q from Audience: Why is hunger so prevalent in our country?

Paula: There are a number of reasons. 1) The confluence of the economy. Right now, an overwhelming number of people are unemployed and having to make difficult choices about where to spend their money. When it comes to rent, electricity, etc, food often falls to bottom of priority list. 2) People don't have access. Can't get to fresh fruits and vegetables and nutritious products. And may not have transportation to get to where they could buy this food either. 3) As production gets more efficient, there is less excess = less leftover to donate.

Marley: There are parts of the economy that are affecting hunger. Food prices have gone up. MealsonWheels has a problem when gas prices also spike up. Hard to decide what to cut from budget. For seniors, medical care can be very expensive, and food ends up getting cut to pay for medication, etc.

Diana: Gas prices can be a real issue. Farmers may have a truckload of apples that are going to go bad, but can't afford to drive it out to food banks, etc. Another issue: lack of knowledge. People don't know how to cook and don't know how to use the dried beans, fresh produce, lentils, etc that are donated.

Paula: It is a perfect storm of things that are happening to create this tidal wave of hunger. People also want hope -- cooking classes for low-income families to teach them how to use dried beans, etc provide hope.

Audience3: Farm Bill will also dictate what will be subsidized, what will be spent. We can talk to our representatives.

Paula: -- find out more about Farm Bill, what you can do individually and collectively to help this

Audience 4: Cities and counties may have regulations that prevent restaurants from donating extra food once it is made. Restauranteurs face fines for doing the right thing and donating freshly-made meals (ie: if order has already been paid for and then is canceled last-minute, restaurants may donate the meals they had already made). Nonprofits need support and grants as well.

Audience 5: FoodShare and similar programs allow you to effect change on an individual basis.

Genie: Posts get featured on BlogHer Food if Genie is made aware, and she is partial to food justice and policy posts. Email her if you have a post on hunger and related issues.

Paulia: Send posts to FeedingAmerica by email, social media and they will help spread the word and share your post.

Marley: Some MealsonWheels programs are active in social media, and others are not. If you are interested in helping them with social media, that is another way to get involved.

Audience 6: Hunger is also an issue in Canada. People don't know how to use healthy donated ingredients like dried beans, quinoa, etc. In one food bank in Canada, two women would come in and make recipes using the healthy ingredients and put out samples so really show people what they could make with the ingredients, etc. You could do something similar at local food banks.

Diana: At "Food on the Table" event, a group said they would donate $1 for every comment on a particular blog post. Ended up donating $700.

Audience 7: Works with farmers in California. Had opportunity to go down to an asparagus harvest -- workers are allowed to bring home the asparagus that isn't pretty enough to sell, etc.

Paula: Dialogues and education in community is critical. There are millions of ideas out there to help end hunger -- we can help bring them forward.

Q for Audience: What tools do you need to help raise awareness and start writing about hunger?

Audience 8: Social media packet we could download with infographics, stats, etc -- things we could Pin, add to our posts, tweet, etc. Help us figure out where to begin, how to start executing our ideas.

Audience 9: Texas: children of migrant farm workers can get a free education, room & board in college if they do well enough in high school. That child may go on to help pull their whole family out of poverty, help others. Education for children can be a long-term solution.

Paula: Hunger doesn't operate in a silo -- it is interconnected with education, etc. A story that often doesn't get out: how hunger affects college-aged students. They are no longer getting free lunches like they did in K-12 and need help.

Marley: For the younger generation, 70% of what they look at online are things that are shared. They are reading what is being shared -- blogs, etc. For MealsonWheels, it can be hard to get kids involved in something that is an issue for the older generation (senior hunger). We need to get the younger generation involved to carry the torch.

Audience 10: State of California is naming September "Food Literacy Month" thanks to nonprofit work. Will be going into classrooms with a program for K-5 called "My Peanut Butter Sandwich Can Save the World." For the restauranteur that spoke about penalties for donating uneaten prepared food, there is something called "Zero Percent" -- software to send out a tweet every time there is food available to hunger nonprofits (when an event is canceled, etc). There is also something on a national level passed by Clinton that says you can't be sued for providing food, etc to the hungry.

Paula: September is also Hunger Action Month. Orange is the color of hunger. There will be a single day where all bloggers are asked to write about hunger issues.

Diana: Never thought she would be an activist. When you choose to get involved in food politics for the good of your community, you will be astounded at the response. You don't have to have a background in it.

Audience 11: Something I have found that is super effective in getting people involved is getting together and organizing your blogging community to post about the issue as well. Partnerships between bloggers and charitable organizations can be very effective, especially if several bloggers write about it on the same day/week, etc.

Marley: Collective energies can come together to post on Pinterest boards together, etc. Helps you reach a wider audience.

Q from Audience: Underrepresented groups -- who are they, other than seniors?

Paula: Latino, African American communities -- disproportionately impacted by hunger. Mainstream media likes to feature people that you wouldn't necessarily associate with hunger, instead of the highly represented communities. We need to talk about vets who are coming home and can't get a job, seniors. We need to stand up and say "you have a right to nutritious food" no matter your demographics. Need to focus on making change across the board.

Marley: Woman, living in the South, rents, living with grandchild -- they feed the grandchild first and go hungry themselves. Seniors living alone with a pet share their food with the pet. These things need to be talked about.

Diana: Ask teachers to find out what population is hungry in your community. In her community, there is an Asian population that is hungry but culturally won't ask for help or sign up for free school lunches, etc. Teachers can tell, and may sign kids up for it because they can tell who is hungry.

Q from Audience: How do we give a voice to the hungry without dehumanizing, shaming them?

Paula: Story bank at to see how we handle it. We give respect and hope to the hungry -- there is always hope and solutions to hunger. When we talk to clients, it is understanding that it isn't cookie cutter, having a real conversation with dignity and respect to understand their personal situation. Won't work with people or groups who won't provide this respect.

Genie: Food stamp challenge/ Hunger Challenge is a great way to tell the story because you are telling your own story, not somebody else's. More people should do it. Be honest about what you experienced, how you felt, etc, but also be aware that you are lucky to be able to make the choice to participate rather than being forced into it.

Genie: The Hunger Challenge is often hosted by food banks. You eat for the week on a food stamp budget. Interesting challenge and an opportunity as a food blogger to share recipes using the items you could afford, etc.

Audience 12: Brings produce to after-school programs with her kids and has the students come up with salads, etc. Whoever comes up with the best one gets the $50 gift certificate to the grocery store. Gets the students involved, gets her kids involved and aware.

Marley: Whatever you can do to get your kids involved when they are young, they will be that much more likely to volunteer and get involved as adults.

Q from Audience: The effect that the government and food companies has on poverty and hunger in America is strong. We can choose which companies to buy from, which companies we want to support.

Genie: Closing thoughts: what would you recommend as a starting point for getting involved?

Diana: Don't try to go it alone. Find like-minded people.

Marley: Even little things make a big difference. Dig deep down and initiate the change you want to see in our country. Have courage in leadership.

Paula: Elevate your voice, cross-curate with each other and continue this dialogue. Know that organizations are there to provide answers or resources that you need to tell the story as you see it. Continue moving forward -- the movement will stall without you.