Film screening draws 150+ Rochesterians to discuss hunger, local food system

If a few dozen people showed up to The Little Theatre on Wednesday night for a screening of a documentary about a somber topic — hunger and diet-related illness in America — event organizers likely wouldn’t have been too surprised.

After all, the snow was blowing sideways, the roads were a slippery mess and the temperatures were plunging into the teens. Not an ideal movie night.

The subject matter, however, seemed of high interest to close to 200 Rochesterians who braved the conditions to watch “A Place at the Table” and have a discussion about the challenges of Rochester’s local food system, and the solutions to making it more equitable for all.

Foodlink collaborated with Healthi Kids — an initiative of Common Ground Health, the City of Rochester, WXXI and The Little Theatre to host the free screening. Foodlink’s Mitch Gruber, who also sits on Rochester City Council, told the audience about two examples of local governments in Florida and Oklahoma making bold changes to improve access to healthy foods in their communities. Gruber also said that the city’s new Rochester 2034 Comprehensive Plan includes language about exploring a local or regional food policy council or taskforce.

“This is written into the future of our city — Rochester 2034 — so we have an opportunity to look at what places like Baldwin (Fla.) or Tulsa did, and make them even greater — not just because of the strength of our city, but of our community and the people in the room here,” Gruber said.

The film, released in 2013, explores some of the startling statistics about hunger in America, and the effects and true costs of food insecurity and diet-related illness for our nation. It also broke down complicated issues surrounding the Farm Bill and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and included interviews with experts such as Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), Professor and author Janet Poppendieck, Share our Strength founder Billy Shore, Dr. Mariana Chilton, and Marion Nestle — another nenowned professor and author … and many more.

The film explored stories from rural areas in Colorado and Mississippi, and urban poverty in Philadelphia. It touched on the effects of hunger in the classroom, the serious health hazards that stem from poor nutrition, and the struggles of a single mother trying desperately to feed her kids.

The emotional film resonated with the audience, who stuck around after the film to weigh in on some of the barriers that prevent local residents from accessing healthy foods. Easels with the question: “What do you feel are the most pressing challenges related to Rochester’s food system?” were placed around the theatre, and participants placed stickers next to answers such as “Affordability of quality food,” “Lack of framework/structure to address challenges,” and “Building healthy habits for kids.” There was also an option to write in other challenges not previously mentioned.

It was a successful night, but as organizers noted, it was just the beginning.

“I hope that this is just the start of a conversation that extends beyond this group,” said Mike Bulger, Healthy Communities Project Coordinator for Common Ground Health. “I hope that we continue to have a conversation over the next year and beyond and make some awesome change.”

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