Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh joined Project Bread, Children’s HealthWatch and the East Boston community on Monday for a free screening of the film “A Place at the Table” followed by an in-depth panel discussion about food insecurity in the region.
The film, “A Place at the Table” is the 2012 documentary film that focuses on hunger in the United States. It tells the powerful stories of three of the 50 million Americans who do not know from where their next meal is coming. The film both details how these people maintain their dignity, even as they struggle to eat, and it shows how the issue of hunger could be solved forever if the American public took a stand.
The panel discussion and subsequent Q&A included Mayor Walsh, Jules Frasier, a volunteer for the Witnesses to Hunger Program, Ellen Parker, executive director of Project Bread and Dr. John T. Cook, principal investigator for Children’s HealthWatch as well as moderator Steve Holt, a journalist that covers food issues.
“My experience day to day is up and down with food insecurity,” said Frasier. “I’m a single mother that is striving to do the right thing. I’m enrolled in a Springfield College BA program and I am an honors student. I have spent my time supporting rallies to improve and change the system but it is unfortunate that I continue to struggle with food insecurities.”
Frasier said that her daughter has severe food allergies that makes her weekly shopping bill a lot higher than average because she has to buy a lot of specialty foods for her nutrition.
This coupled with her past experiences with absentee landlords has played a huge role in her food insecurities.
“In the past, because my unit was unsanitary and mouse infestation I has to throw a lot of food away at great cost for someone like me who is already struggling,” she said. “We need to hold landlords accountable for safe and sanitary housing across the city.”
Parker agreed with Frasier and said the problem is just not hunger.
“What Jules described is true and there is no such thing for families being just being food hungry,” said Parker. “There are issues with housing, issues with jobs. You can’t take a piece of the person and try to solve one problem but you have to look at the whole situation the person faces and try and solve all those problems that lead to food insecurity.”
Parker added that food insecurity is increasing in Massachusetts and that it is really important for people are paid a fair wage.
“People should be paid a fair wage for the work they do and have enough money at the end of the day for food and enough money for shelter.”
Dr. Cook agreed and said people are facing housing insecurity, food insecurity and energy insecurity and very few people have only one insecurity that easily solvable.
“Most people experience two or more of these hardships everyday,” he said. “And what we see at Children’s Hospital is that it leads to more children’s’ health issues, more hospitalization and this harm to children and the future is a harms to all of us.”
Walsh was on hand to address what his administration plans to do about issues of poverty and food insecurity in the city.
“This is an important topic that I have seen in my 16 years as a legislator,” he said. One of the reasons why I ran for mayor is that I love working with social service programs that improve people’s lives. I think one of the solutions is dealing with the issue of poverty by improving educational opportunities and strengthening our schools areas. Where families don’t have enough education to secure a job not only does it widen the achieving gap it leads to all the issues we are talking about tonight. We have to start by helping the family and the family unit and work to address what struggles families are facing with work, housing and food.”
Like Parker said, Walsh said he wants to try not focusing on one solution for a family but an entire solution that helps families climb out of poverty, secure affordable quality housing and jobs and improves access to nutritional food.
Walsh also pointed to the fact homelessness is one of the fastest growing problems for children in the city.
“There has been study after study and we don’t need anymore studies what we need to do is recognize there is an issue and begin to find solutions to solving these issues with creative long-term solutions,” said Walsh.