Jewish Organization Feeds Minds, Hearts with Traveling Exhibit: 'This Is Hunger'

When Americans conjure up images of domestic hunger, they often think of Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother,” believing hunger in America to be a relic of the Great Depression. The non-profit advocacy group MAZON hopes to counter this myth through a new traveling exhibit entitled “This is Hunger” that invites participants to sit across a dinner table from one of the many faces of hunger in America today.

Lisa Adler, coordinator of Community Engagement & Volunteers at Jewish Family & Children’s Services (JFCS) of Greater Mercer County, New Jersey, invited me to attend a tour of MAZON’s exhibit on wheels, which had currently taken up residence at Adath Israel Congregation in Lawrenceville. Ironically, as I pulled into the parking lot, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings were singing "People Don’t Get What They Deserve." It was a timely reminder that I kept hearing as I viewed photographs depicting Americans suffering from a form of hunger known as food insecurity—the lack of good quality food in ample quantity.

Image via MAZON

Educator Marni Gittleman curated the exhibit that is traveling the country through October. A bright and passionate woman who views art as a form of social activism, Gittleman emphasized that her goal with the exhibit is to honor the individuals photographed and create an environment for safe, conducive conversation. This is why a farmhouse-style dining table acts as the exhibit’s focal point. “What is a kitchen table but the place where you eat, pay bills, sit together, live life,” she observed.

“We wanted to give participants a feeling that would resonate after they left. The hope is that when they go home and sit down to a meal they’ll remember the experience of sitting at our table.” It’s a powerful experience, indeed. Using specialized technology, guests at the table are introduced to America’s stories of hunger through the format of a mealtime discussion. The plates projected onto the table, however, remain empty.

MAZON primarily works with elected officials to create systemic change in order to address hunger. According to 2015 statistics, 42.2 million Americans suffer from hunger. Seventy percent of them live in families with children. More than 25 percent are seniors. Because hunger in America often manifests in the form of food insecurity, most who suffer, including those photographed by MAZON, experience the effects of a poor diet: obesity, heart disease, high cholesterol, exhaustion to name only a few.

Image via MAZON

Local Hebrew high schoolers from Temple Micah who were in attendance were given the challenge of creating a healthy menu on the average SNAP budget of $1.41 per meal. It only took them a few minutes to learn why hungry people on a budget opt for quantity over quality, often choosing cheap, filling food instead of less filling, more nutritious options.