One week before Congress considers drastic cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, lawmakers on Capitol Hill gathered for a screening of A Place at the Table, a new documentary about hunger and nutrition shortages in America, as well as a chance to speak with former SNAP recipients featured in the film.
Top Chef star Tom Colicchio, executive producer of the documentary, said at the Wednesday-night screening that Congress should be adding more to the SNAP budget to ease the kind of suffering illuminated in the film rather than considering cuts from the meager $3 a day budget SNAP allows. Colicchio said he hopes the film will spark conversation around food policy in Washington and change the way the public views governmental food assistance.
“I think that what needs to happen especially around SNAP and nutrition programs is that we need to change the conversation. The conversation needs to move away from welfare, move away from takers, move away from the stigma that is out there,” Colicchio said.
Colicchio’s wife, Lori Silverbush, codirected the film with Kristi Jacobson. The two women have been traveling across the country for over three years, speaking with parents struggling to feed their children, children going to school hungry, and researchers and policymakers who say the problem is getting worse.
Jacobsen said she was most surprised by the shame those who received governmental food assistance carried long after they had found their way out of poverty. One of those who still carries those feelings is Leslie Nichols, who is featured in the film and spoke through tears to a silent room.
“For many years I had that feeling of just feeling inferior to others because my family relied on government assistance to have our needs met,” Nichols said. “That personal struggle and those issues with self-esteem don’t go away.”
Also in attendance was Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), who makes an appearance in the film and sits on the House Agriculture Committee, which will consider making cuts to SNAP next week. McGovern co-chairs the Congressional Hunger Caucus, a group of Washington lawmakers that fights for funding for programs like SNAP. He said he would like to see President Obama take a larger role in defending the program against Republican-proposed cuts.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has proposed a $125 billion cut to SNAP over the next five years. McGovern told those gathered at Wednesday’s screening that he is urging his Democratic colleagues on the Agriculture Committee to vote “no” on the proposed bill and prevent it from coming up for a vote on the House floor.
“If you do [vote for the bill], what you see in this film, we make worse,” McGovern said.
Already, one in six Americans and one in four children are uncertain of where they will find their next meal.
A Place at the Table was produced by Participant Media, TakePart’s parent company.
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Julia Edwards is a Washington-based journalist and frequent contributor to the Boston Globe and Washington Post.