Photo essay: Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger’s Good Food for All

The art of food justice

At first glance, one might think this was the waiting area for an audition. People milled about a room in the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Central Parkway Library, examining their roles. Author and journalist Carol Saline carefully studied hers, which read, “You are... Boris Ivanovska. Age: 68. Marital Status: Married to Penka, 66. You and your wife are Russian immigrants who moved to Philadelphia in the early 1990s after the fall of the Soviet Union.”

Students from Food Moxie’s after-school cooking club demonstrate how to make a roasted-sweet-potato salad and eat healthily on a budget. (Photo by Brittany Barbato.)

Theater of cruelty

But it was no audition. This was Food for a Week, a hunger simulation created by the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger as part of its Good Food for All conference. Individuals were assigned “roles” (based on real people facing food insecurity in Philadelphia) and tasked with acquiring as much food as possible given their unique circumstances.

A coalition staffer coolly instructed the entire group to get moving. Noelle Dames, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) outreach coordinator, announced, “We’re not going to give you a lot of instruction because it doesn’t come with a manual in real life either.”

Cultivating empathy

The small conference room was quiet as participants stopped at desks occupied by more staff and labeled with printed signs: “Food Pantry,” “County Assistance Office,” “Store.” As participants began experiencing increasingly long lines, poor communication, and steep prices, hands went on hips and toes started impatiently tapping. When the County Assistance Office “clerk” announced her break, several people groaned. Within just a few minutes, the energy of the room spiraled into frustration.

The activity was one of more than ten breakout sessions offered at the third annual conference, where it was evident that many food-justice organizations are turning to the arts to inspire action for their cause. They’re not just talking about hunger anymore; they’re showing it.

What better way to cultivate empathy and inspire action around an issue than to enlist interactive techniques that have already proven successful for visual and culinary art, music, theater, and multimedia organizations? 

Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger's Food for a Week hunger simulation assigns participants background stories (based on real people's experiences with food insecurity) and asks them to act out their roles.
Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger's Food for a Week hunger simulation assigns participants background stories (based on real people's experiences with food insecurity) and asks them to act out their roles.
“I felt totally frustrated and not heard,” says Carol Saline, an advisory board member for the Culinary Literacy Center who participated in the Food for a Week hunger simulation. “It was a very off-putting experience. I wonder how many people don’t finish the process because it’s this way.”
“I felt totally frustrated and not heard,” says Carol Saline, an advisory board member for the Culinary Literacy Center who participated in the Food for a Week hunger simulation. “It was a very off-putting experience. I wonder how many people don’t finish the process because it’s this way.”
Presenter Lauren Todd shared her research on food waste, which she turned into a 30-page illustrated guidebook for community members. [Editor's note: The author serves with Todd on a local food-justice committee.]
Presenter Lauren Todd shared her research on food waste, which she turned into a 30-page illustrated guidebook for community members. [Editor's note: The author serves with Todd on a local food-justice committee.]
“Diabetes Talk Show” (screenshot of video by Tom Mahon). Theatrical performances like this collaboration between Living Well Theater Players and Temple Diabetes Education encouraged audience members to participate in a
“Diabetes Talk Show” (screenshot of video by Tom Mahon). Theatrical performances like this collaboration between Living Well Theater Players and Temple Diabetes Education encouraged audience members to participate in a "live" talk show about preventing diabetes.
A powerhouse panel on innovative programs delivering food and food justice throughout the region included members of the Free Library of Philadelphia's Book Bike Program, the Masjidullah Center for Human Excellence, Double Lyte Posse Sportbike Inc., Vetri Community Partnership, and Greensgrow Farm.
A powerhouse panel on innovative programs delivering food and food justice throughout the region included members of the Free Library of Philadelphia's Book Bike Program, the Masjidullah Center for Human Excellence, Double Lyte Posse Sportbike Inc., Vetri Community Partnership, and Greensgrow Farm.
Link Ross perches on the Free Library of Philadelphia’s book bike, which she pedals across the city to provide mobile outreach services to schools and community organizations.
Link Ross perches on the Free Library of Philadelphia’s book bike, which she pedals across the city to provide mobile outreach services to schools and community organizations.
Nicole Breen introduces attendees to mindfulness-based yoga practice, which she offers to people affected by trauma, addiction, and incarceration through the Transformation Yoga Project.
Nicole Breen introduces attendees to mindfulness-based yoga practice, which she offers to people affected by trauma, addiction, and incarceration through the Transformation Yoga Project.
The United States, says Saru Jayaraman, keynote speaker and co-founder and co-director of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United,
The United States, says Saru Jayaraman, keynote speaker and co-founder and co-director of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, "is heading very quickly towards disaster, with levels of income inequality that directly reflect the Third World countries we are so quick to criticize.”
Attendees worked together to make challah, a traditional Jewish bread, under the guidance of Challah for Hunger staff.
Attendees worked together to make challah, a traditional Jewish bread, under the guidance of Challah for Hunger staff.

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