Mothers struggling to feed their children, kids unable to focus in school because they are hungry, working-class families unable to put food on the table: these images appeared on screen in the main gallery of Bridge Storage and Art Space. The audience of a dozen Richmond residents was captivated: Viewers gasped and mumbled as they watched the painful realities of food insecurity in the U.S.
A Place At The Table, a film documenting the growing issue of hunger in America, was the November selection for the Richmond Food Policy Council’s Food Justice Film Series.
The series, which launched earlier this year, is part of the Council’s outreach initiative to educate and encourage community participation on food security. The viewings are free and open to the public on the first Thursday of every month.
“Our goal is to get people more empowered about our food system,” said Gwenn White, member of the Council.
After each screening, attendees form a circle and talk about the film. Event moderator Trisha Clifford calls the discussion a time to process the film’s content and the emotions brought on by it.
“Were the facts in the movie surprising?” asked Clifford.
“Not for those of us who have been through it,” replied Stephanie Hervey, member of the Council.
As the group launched into discussion, several people shared anecdotes about relying on government assistance or charity when they were children.
“I just remember standing in line at the food bank with my mother,” said Urban Tilth Executive Director Doria Robinson, as she wiped tears from her eyes. “Emergency programs are great, but it is not about emergency food, it is about economic security.”
This is an idea that the movie addressed: There’s a fundamental instability in relying on charities and emergency services to put food on the table. The film suggests that the real issue is poverty.
This may be true in Richmond. The local emergency food bank provides assistance to more than 42,000 residents every year. And the local poverty rate is twice the average within Contra Costa County, with over 18,000 residents living below the poverty line.
In July, residents gathered to watch The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil. According to the film, Cubans were able to sustain themselves during economic turmoil with organic and local farming. Richmond Food Policy Council has taken a similar approach.
“When residences are involved, that’s when you get something sustainable,” said Tanya Rovira, a Food Policy Council member and one of the event coordinators.
Robinson, who co-chairs the Council, expressed the need for residents to invest in local initiatives on food security, and the importance of working with regional government rather than depending on the short-term solutions that federal programs often provide.
“The government I value most is local government,” said Robinson. They have the power to play a major role in re-tooling these aspects of the community, she said.
The Council hopes to reach communities beyond Richmond with the series.
“I want to extend this to East County,” said Rovira who is also the Nutrition and Food Security Coordinator for Contra Costa County. “They have a lot of the same problems but they don’t have the history of activism that Richmond has.”
The December selection for the series is Byron Hurt’s Soul Food Junkies. A film that explores the connection between soul food, identity, and health issues in the black community.
Visit the Urban Tilth website for more information on viewing times and locations.