The statistics are disturbing, but it is the faces and the stories of “This Is Hunger” that remain with viewers.
The double trailer that houses “This Is Hunger,” a multimedia exhibit created by the national nonprofit MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, was parked at the Tucson Jewish Community Center Jan. 5-8. Tucson was the third stop on a 10-month tour that will take “This Is Hunger” across the country and back to MAZON’s Los Angeles headquarters. More than 300 Tucsonans, including Tucson J winter campers, saw the free exhibit, which aims to raise awareness and dispel myths about hunger in America.
Richard Glaze, a recently retired anesthesiologist, was one of about 30 people who entered the exhibit at 4 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 5. Participants listened to short, powerful stories from a variety of Americans impacted by hunger as screens displayed stark, black-and-white portraits of the speakers.
Glaze says the statistics, including that more than 42 million in the United States struggle with hunger, were not completely new to him — he’s read books and articles on the topic.
But the stories made it clear “it’s not just people who aren’t making an effort,” he says. “In fact, I’m not sure any of those people who were interviewed had anything they could have done differently.
“For me, that was a little bit surprising and definitely worth hearing about,” says Glaze. He admits that, like many people, he has a tendency to think “when there’s a horrible problem, there must be a reason” that lays the blame on the affected person, such as not trying hard enough to find a job.
“Those people had jobs — a lot of them did. Certainly the one guy who said he was a UAW worker and made $100,000, and suddenly he’s without a job, struggling to feed his family,” he says. “That really hits you — it’s really everybody’s problem.”
After hearing the stories, participants were free to roam the trailer, looking at photo displays, reading additional stories, or engaging in a hands-on activity such as trying to design a healthful, balanced meal that would cost no more than $1.40 — the amount a person on food stamps, now called SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), typically would have to spend. In many of the profiles, people said they had to buy food that was cheap and filling, but not very nutritious.
Denise Uyehara came to the exhibit with her son, René, 10; daughter, Anya, 6; and husband, Marcel Schaap.
“We were really impacted by it. We thought it was very well presented and very moving,” she says. “What struck me the most, the people who were profiled as struggling to put food on the table – you wouldn’t know it when you met them. It really shed light on how there’s a lot of invisible hunger.”
Her son spent time reading the exhibit’s book of
stories – including one from a 10-year-old boy like him. “His clothes were good, but he didn’t look that happy, and it looked like he was really hungry,” René told the AJP.
For her husband, learning about hunger in the United States was “very poignant. Marcel is from the Netherlands [where] there’s a much better safety net,” she says, explaining that people might “make an assumption that we’re living in this very wealthy nation” but if you begin learning people’s stories, “you realize how deep [the problems] are.”
The MAZON staffers encouraged participants to sign a petition against cuts to SNAP, which Uyehara explained to her daughter as “sending a letter to Mr. Trump” to remind the incoming president to continue to help feed the hungry.
Uyehara is a grants program manager at the Arts Foundation for Tucson and Southern Arizona (formerly Tucson Pima Arts Council) and a performance artist whose work touches on issues from gender to immigration. She appreciated the exhibit’s “marriage of art and social justice awareness.”
She and her husband always try to bring their kids to events “that might expand their lives, not just culturally but also to understand about human beings around them,” she says. She’s glad the children signed the SNAP petition. “It makes them think about how little things can make a difference, and how they can make a difference.”
An infographic in the exhibit emphasizes that charity can never meet the needs of the hungry. Judith Schwartz, a board member and volunteer at the Marana Community Food Bank who visited the exhibit, notes that food bank provisions are meant to supplement a family’s budget. “It’s really designed to be emergency food,” she says, adding that some people do only need temporary assistance, but others rely on food banks for longer periods.
And some people are too proud to seek help. She recalls that many years ago, her late husband was out of work for three months and she struggled to put food on the table, even collecting soda pop bottles for the 5-cent deposit refund. Her oldest son recently remarked that when he was a child, they ate spaghetti all the time – those few months had made such a deep impression. “Although we didn’t use the food bank, we should have,” she reflects.
As for “This is Hunger,” Schwartz says the entire exhibit was very effective. “It would be nice if it could be shared with more people.”