Open your refrigerator or take stock of what’s in your pantry and imagine not eating today.

Given the bounty of our country, and all the food choices we take for granted . . . what does hunger in America really look like?  What does it taste like?  How does it feel?

Today, more than 1 in 8 Americans can answer those questions first-hand and tell you about their struggle with hunger.

I never thought living in America would be like this.”

“It affects your appearance, how you act, how you do at school. It makes you feel like you’re not normal.”

“It’s not something that you should have to live with.”

According to the Economic Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture, 42.2 million people, including 13.1 million children and 5.7 million seniors, know all too well what hunger is – how it feels to skip meals to feed your family, what it’s like to decide between nutrition and medicine, wondering how to get by without the help of a food pantry, planning a balanced meal on a budget of $1.40.

To drive home the stories and images of hunger to hundreds of Jewish Detroiters last month, This is Hunger – an exhibit on a national tour – parked its 53-foot rig on the grounds of Temple Israel, in West Bloomfield, as one of the stops of MAZON’s  anti-hunger and advocacy campaign.

A powerful exhibit in a big rig

MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger is a national advocacy organization founded in 1985 with the goal to end hunger among people of all faiths and backgrounds in the United States and Israel. With an initiative that began more than three years ago primarily as a photo journal assignment to portray the faces of hunger and cast light on the crisis of food insecurity across the land, the project evolved into a powerful traveling exhibit now on tour through 30 cities and towns across the U.S.

“MAZON launched This is Hunger as a public tour specifically to inform and to engage visitors,” noted Maya Joshua, the exhibit’s tour facilitator. “Our first goal is to deliver the message that hunger in America is truly on a mind-boggling scale. It’s not a reality that those visiting this exhibit are forced to encounter in a painfully obvious way in their daily lives. So many of us move through our daily routine without even thinking about hunger, what it is and what it means. Our hope is that our visitors walk into the exhibit and leave better acquainted with this issue. Secondly, we invite our visitors to join us in action to change the policy that allows this hunger to exist in our communities year after year.”

Designed as an immersive experience, This is Hunger invites guests to a “community table” with seating  for 20. The experience begins in the dark. As visitors are seated at the table in silence, “plates” are projected onto it,  a single half-tomato on each one; then the plates begin to disappear — a little food and then it’s gone. In the brief video presentation that follows, virtual guests appear on projection screens at the head of the table to share their personal stories and provide insight into the lives of those coping with hunger and why.  The interior walls of the rig then further engage the viewer in the exhibit to learn more about the various political, economic and health aspects of the issue and then to take action using some simple advocacy tools that can lead to change.

Invited to the presentation at the “community table,” where plates disappear, visitors gain insight into what hunger looks and feels like in America today.

Indicating the walls lined with infographics and photos, Maya makes the point that the faces of hunger are all around us and that people coping with food insecurity come in all shapes and sizes and ages. “The one thing they have in common is that they are all food insecure. Food insecurity is a more specific term we use to define people who are in the tough situations – an autoworker whose job has vanished, a family deciding to pay the mortgage or buy groceries, a senior citizen on a fixed income cutting fresh tomatoes into bite-sizes to make them last, a single parent working two minimum-wage jobs, a woman who has faced a health catastrophe. These are all life changing situations that would put people in the category that is food insecurity.”

Portraying the faces and stories of hunger, a dramatic back-lit photo gallery lines the interior walls of the rig.

Since This is Hunger hit the road in November 2016, approximately 8,000 people have visited the exhibit. The tour,which started in L.A. County,  is now working its way through the Midwest. It may come as no surprise to some that the spectacular custom-built rig was built in right here in Motor City area by Kentucky Trailer of New Hudson, MI in partnership with exhibit developer Mobile X Events.

Back of the 53-foot rig and front entrance to the exhibit, This is Hunger.

A call to action

This is Hunger is a community engagement program of MAZON, the Jewish Response to Hunger.   To follow the tour and learn what you can do to add your voice to the campaign to end hunger in America and in Israel, please visit thisishunger.org or  mazon.org

 

 

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