Documentary Film Review: Hunger in America

Hunger in America is a 2014 Emmy award-winning documentary written and directed by Zac Adams. As the title clearly explains, the 51-minute long film talks specifically about hunger issues here in the United States.

A common misconception that many Americans have is that hunger and poverty are problems that occur only in developing nations and in small pockets in inner cities. Hunger in America seeks to correct that misconception and reveal the true facts of food insecurity across the country.

Hunger and poverty often affect senior citizens, the disabled, and children. These people groups can’t do much to change their financial situations – seniors are often too old to work and are dependent on the fixed income provided by social security and/or their retirement savings, the disabled are physically or mentally unable to take on additional work and are dependent on their social security disability income, and kids are too young to legally work. Subsequently, when the cost of food goes up or systems around them break down, the old, disabled, and young are particularly vulnerable.

But it isn’t just these groups that experience hunger. As one interview subject stated in the film, “Someone you know is hungry today.” Many Americans live paycheck to paycheck and are just one small disaster (minor illness, car repairs, etc.) away from financial setback, or one big disaster (major illness, house fire, natural disaster, etc.) away from going hungry.

And it’s not just resources and access to food. Lack of skills for preparing or storing fresh ingredients often leads to waste as fresh ingredients go uneaten until they rot. Without the skills to store and prepare fresh food, many people rely on prepackaged and processed junk to get their calories. People end up filling up on empty calories because they’re easier to store and prepare.

The upside of a documentary – quick overview – is also the downside. Documentaries don’t go deep, and they don’t cite their sources. Hunger in America doesn’t dig deep. It provides basic information to clear up misconceptions and encourage donating and volunteering. If that’s what you’re looking for, check it out. It’s well made and short enough to show in a classroom or small group.

Hunger History Lesson – Celebrity fundraising during the 1980s famine in Ethiopia

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a historian. Like an actual, two degrees in the subject, works at a museum historian. And I seriously never know what will come up in a given day at the museum. Once I had someone call to ask me what the phone number for the police was before 911 because he was restoring a vintage police car and wanted to put the original number on it. Once I spent an afternoon watching Nazi propaganda footage. Yesterday I spent time going over satellite images of a prison yard looking for an old cemetery. It’s always old, but it never gets boring…

So when I was thinking about a new topic to bring to Food Shelf Friday, I quickly thought of history. I love all the where did this come from and whatever happened to… Right away I thought of a hunger issue from my childhood – the 1980s famine in Africa and the celebrity fundraising response.

Check out this gem – We Are the World by USA for Africa, 1985. Just take the seven minutes and giggle at the ‘80s fashions, try to identify all the celebrities, and get this song firmly lodged in your head for the day (sorry not sorry).

Do you remember it? I do! I remember singing that song in school music class and seeing the video on TV. The famine in Ethiopia was all over the news from 1983-85. It was the worst famine in that region in a century, caused by drought and coupled with civil war and human rights violations, it resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths. When the Ethiopian government failed to adequately respond to the crisis, international aid organizations and foreign governments began to pour into the region with funds, supplies, and aid workers to try and alleviate the crisis.

In 1984, after seeing a BBC story on the famine, a group of British and Irish musicians got together under the name Band Aid to record a song to raise money for the crisis. Do They Know it’s Christmas hit the airwaves in December of 1984 and raised millions for dollars for the cause.

Inspired by the Brits, a group of American musicians calling themselves USA (United Support of Artists) for Africa, recorded their own single, We Are the World (hyperlinked again because I KNOW you want to watch it again…). The song was released in March of 1985, and it also brought in millions of dollars.

Inspired by their success, the musicians decided to keep the momentum going and planned a huge, world-wide concert and telethon event called Live Aid. On July 13, 1985, concerts were held simultaneously in Philadelphia and London, while other performances went on in countries across the globe. Pulling it off involved satellite feeds, multiple media organizations, venues, performers – barely controlled chaos! But the publicity and fundraising stunt worked in spite of the big egos and technical chaos. Between the initial event, and the books and recordings sold later, Live Aid eventually raised over $125 million for famine relief in Africa. It also inspired musicians to hold similar events for other causes, including Farm Aid for American farmers losing their family farms, and Live 8 for global poverty relief.

I hope you enjoyed this blast from the past! Follow the hyperlinks to check out YouTube videos, org websites (yes, some of them are still around and raising money for today’s crises), and a History Channel article. If you love the celebrity gossip stuff, check out the Wikipedia pages, especially for Live Aid. Wikipedia isn’t the most reliable source, so I didn’t include it here, but if you want all the dirt and gossip of who was invited to perform, who was left out, who failed to show up, and who dropped the f-bomb on live TV, Wikipedia has all that. Share your memories of these star-studded relief efforts in the comments!

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Run Your Race

I am NOT a runner. I used to make jokes about it, like calling Proverbs 28:1 (“A fool runs when no one is chasing him”) my “life verse,” or saying that if you ever see me running you should run too, because it means that something bad is chasing me. But my husband is a runner (3 marathons and counting, #ProudWife), and now so is our son. So as I recovered from knee surgery and started making progress on my personal fitness journey, I had a nagging thought that I wanted to know if I could run.

The short answer is no. The long answer starts with “well, kind of…” Back in February, in a burst of carb- and coffee-fueled enthusiasm, I registered for my first 5k. Then I jumped on a treadmill and told it to do a 5k. I took 54 minutes. So I set a goal to finish my first race in 45 minutes, and started training. I started a couch to 5k program and got sick with a nasty and lingering cold. Then we did some traveling. Then the weather turned full-on winter again. But I had paid for this race and committed to doing it, and I was going to do it come hell or high snowbanks…

In a last-minute attempt to derail we had a little “adventure” finding parking on race day. My husband hadn’t brought his wallet along, and after he dropped us off near the starting line, we realized that he was going to need me to pay for parking. My son and I walked well over a mile to where my husband was, paid for and found a parking spot, and walked back to the start line with only moments to spare. It was tense. I was more than a little crabby about walking a 5k before the race even began. You see, I had worked for this. I had trained in spite of everything. I studied the race map. I carefully planned my outfit. I created a custom playlist for the race. I had visualized myself crossing the finish line in under 45 minutes as I tried to fall asleep each night.

I was stubborn.

My sweet, contrite husband, experienced runner and veteran of many many races turned to me and said, “Do you want me to stay with you?”

Insert record scratch sound

Stay with me? No way. My training prepared me to do this at my pace, not at his pace. And even though I’m sure he would have dialed back to my level, I would have been so self-conscious the entire time. I would have pushed myself too hard in the beginning and run out of steam before the end. I would have spent every step agonizing over what my husband thought of my form when I ran and my lack of stamina when I walked (I’m still speed walking over half of my “runs”). The only way this was going to work was if I could lose myself in my music and do this my way. So I thanked him for his thoughtful offer but suggested that it would be best if we each ran our own race.

That’s a familiar phrase – run your own race. I always thought it meant that we should do what is set before us and not get caught up in comparison and trying to do what God intended others to do. But running the 5k, I realized that trying to run someone else’s race doesn’t just mess with you, it messes with them as well!

Hebrews 12:1-2 says “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

  • Throw off those unexpected setbacks. The enemy wants you to fail. You will face challenges. But hold true. Stay firm. Persevere.
  • Stay in your lane. Don’t get in the way of the person God called to a certain role, and don’t get caught up comparing your role to anothers’. He needs us all, but He doesn’t need us tripping each other (or ourselves) up!
  • Fix your eyes on the goal, not the other runners.

At about mile two of my 5k, I was passed by the tuba section of the University marching band, instruments and all. At about 2 and a half miles I passed a toddler in a Spiderman costume (passing a toddler is obviously not the story here, the story is that he stayed in front of me for most of the race!). I rounded the corner and headed into the final stretch, crossing the finish line in 45 minutes and 6 seconds. My husband was at the finish line, waiting with his camera ready.

I threw off the setbacks. I ran my own race. I finished strong. And though I still don’t consider myself a runner, I’ve registered for a few more opportunities to get that time under 45 minutes…

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Fighting Youth Homelessness: HOPE 4 Youth

It is really hard to recover from homelessness. In addition to the basic lack of food, hygiene, and shelter, homelessness presents long-term challenges that make it even harder for people to find opportunities and get back on their feet. How do you get a job or apply for government assistance without an address? How do you enroll your kids in school? Where do you feel safe?

The challenges of the homeless are magnified even more in homeless youth. On any given night, there are about 6000 homeless young people between the ages of 16 and 23 on the streets in Minnesota alone. Some of these kids have aged out of foster care and have no home to go to. Others have been abandoned or kicked out by their parents/guardians. Some are runaways.

Becoming homeless at some point in your adult life is hard enough, but starting out homeless is a deep hole. In 2012, a group of people in the north suburbs of Minneapolis-St. Paul (where I live), decided that it was unacceptable for these kids to crash with different friends every night, to live out of backpacks or cars, or to sleep on the streets. So they founded HOPE 4 Youth.

HOPE 4 Youth is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that has shelter space, drop-in centers, food, personal hygiene, and clothing supplies available for teens aged 16-23. They also provide assistance so the kids can finish their education and/or find employment. They do outreaches and work to prevent more kids from becoming homeless, as well.

So what can you and I do to help groups like HOPE 4 Youth in their efforts to prevent youth homelessness and rescue at-risk kids?
-First, if you do not live in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, dig around online for an organization in your area.
– Second, consider ways that you can financially support the organization. Non-profits are always looking for corporate sponsors for their programs and fundraisers. As an individual, you can also attend or participate in a fundraiser for the organization. In fact, tonight my husband and I will be running HOPE 4 Youth’s “Darkest Night of Your Life” 4k race.
– Third, shelters need stuff. Non-perishable food items, new and gently used clothing and shoes, unopened toiletries, bedding, etc. Check the organization’s website for specific needs.
– Fourth, consider giving your time. Groups like HOPE 4 Youth keep their overhead low by using an army of volunteer labor. You could get involved short-term by helping to plan a fundraiser or event, or take on a long-term role sorting donations or helping kids with homework. Again, the organization’s website will be your best resource for this information.

Kids need to be safe, healthy, loved, and provided for. What can you do to help at-risk teens, tomorrow’s adults, in your community?

 

The Trouble With Motivation

Ugh. Motivation. Why do you come and go? Why is it so easy to workout (eat healthy, work hard at my job, clean house, write blog posts, keep learning, etc.) some days, and other days I’d rather have my teeth drilled? I know you feel this way, too. The internet is full of motivational images and articles designed to keep us doing what we should. Yet some days the cat posters just aren’t enough…

I recently read (listened to on audio book) You Are A Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero. Full disclosure: I don’t feel great recommending this book. And no, it’s not because there’s a minor swear word in the title. Badass happens to be one of my favorite words. The reason I can’t fully endorse this book is because of Sincero’s messed up version of spirituality.

Early in the book she encourages her readers to get over their aversion to the notion of faith and just embrace it, because the sooner you accept it, the sooner you can tap in to the power of it. I thought that was great. A snarky, badass-talking, self-help book that actually embraces faith? Yay! And then I heard her definition of faith. Whomp-whomp.

Sincero has a very New Age version of spirituality. Basically throughout the book she promotes the idea that there is this life force energy in the world, and the sooner you can get on the same wavelength, the sooner you can tap into its power. The main problem with this philosophy is that it reduces God to a cosmic keg of warm feelings, flowing cash, and good parking spaces, and teaches that all we have to do is tap into that keg and it will be at our disposal. In other words, it strips God of his sovereignty and puts us in the driver’s seat.

The reason I mention the book to you at all is because there was one part that has literally changed my life. In one chapter, Sincero talks about the things we say to or about ourselves that hold us back. For example, I have long said that I don’t run, and that I have bad knees. Sincero points out that we start saying these things because they come from a point of truth and they serve us in some way. I really do have trouble with my knees, and saying that served to protect me by excusing me from doing things that would put strain on them. But it also held me back. Because I firmly believed that my knees were, are, and always will be “bad,” I never thought I could get fit, or start running, or lose weight long-term.

Following the advice in Sincero’s book, I made a list of these things I say about myself. I considered each one and what purpose it originally served. I took the cheesy, self-help step of thanking those thoughts for serving me in some way, and then I re-wrote them in a more empowering way. So “I don’t run,” and “I have bad knees,” became “I am a fit chick, and I’m getting stronger every day.” The next step is to start embracing that new mantra not just as what I do, but who I am, and to let that new identity guide my behavior.

Now instead of seeing myself as a fat woman with bad knees who thinks runners are crazy, I see myself as a fit chick who reads about nutrition, tries new exercises, and is getting closer every day to having the strong body that matches my fitness-focused mind. It’s a matter of making choices from a point of power and opportunity instead of a place of failure and shame. And it’s working. I can say no to junk because I’m a fit chick and “we” don’t do that, instead of saying no in front of people because I’m fat and then eating junk when I’m alone. I even ran/walked a 5k this month!

I can’t wait to apply this mindset to other areas of my life, as well.
I’m a writer/blogger, and I have good things to say.
I’m a historian who adds value to the community.
I’m an advocate for the hungry, and I have the skills and resources to make a difference.

In what areas of your life do you lack motivation? What half-truths do you tell yourself that hold you back? What empowering identity can you take on instead? Leave a comment!