NOW with Alex Wagner | February 04, 2013
>>> 50 million people are food insecure in this country, unsure of where their next meal will come from. one in five children fall into this category and nearly three in five of these americans rely on some form of government food aid . the food stamp program now called snap provides each person an average of $33.35 a week per food, or $4.76 a day. the problem is prevalent, but oftentimes plays out in the shadows of american society . in the book "a place at the table" dr. chilton writes all this happens without outcry or substantive political discussion . the american public can't see the problem, and the moms who know about it are so busy struggling to pull out of their predicament that they can't take the time to figure out how to advertise their plight. joining the panel is founder and ceo of share our strength, billy shore, and the editor of the book "a place at the table" peter principalingle. thank you for joining us. there's not going to be nearly enough time in this show many our time on air and on msnbc to talk about this problem. it is so painfully under discussed. when we talk about food stamps in this country, there is a stigmati sfwl ation, it is a life-saving -- it is a life-saving program, and i think you put that in the context of how much a family of four makes to live on the port line . that's close to $23,000 for a family of four, $11,000 for an individual, according to the 2011 census. 46.2 million people live in poverty. these are life-saving programs. yet, those who were vilified in the paul ryan budget would like to, you know, cut $134 billion from the program.
>> these are near record levels. we've never had 46 million americans on food stamps . the secretary of agriculture, tom vilsack said of all the kids in america today half will be on food assistance at some point during their childhood. that's remarkable. how are we going to have a strong america with weak kids? you can't do it. this is such a small investment in the scheme of things. most of the food and nutrition programs, such a small investment, but the impact on education, the impact on health and nutrition, the impact on economic competitiveness are huge.
>> it's foundational. peter, many terms of the stories here, i mean, when you read, when you see the documentary, the book there's a great rolling stone piece that we talked about a couple of weeks ago. people, to get on food stamps , it takes work to get on food stamps . you literally have to have nothing. i'll right an excerpt from the rolling stone piece. a woman says "i capital tell you how many people have come to my office and say i couldn't get stood famps because my car is worth too much, said nancy kapp, the coordinator of one of the probz programs. she said you have a car, but have you lost everything. your house, your job, your pride, and all you have left is you and all of your belongings in it, and they say you still have too much? lose it all. you have to have nothing when you already have nothing.
>> yes. well, but what we managed to do in the book as opposed to the film is go back to history of food stamps . how did it start? it started in 1939 after the depression, and there were orange stamps and blue stamps, and they were all for fresh foods. agricultural surpluses. now what are they for? they've changed. you can now buy, you know, soda pop on food stamps . we're talking about even when you get those food stamps , you are probably going to get the wrong kinds of food. sfoo part of the problem is $4.62 a day, what can you buy for that, right? if you are actually living on that, and you talk about what qualifies as poverty in america , what is the poverty line ? you mention during the break that went up a little bit from $23,021 as the federal line for poverty.
>> it goes up with inflation, but, i mean, i think the thing to understand about food stamps and the context of the great recession was there certainly was no other anti-poverty program that responded so effectively and thoroughly. the reason food stamp rolls we want up is because the economy went so far down, and so many people lost their jobs and incomes. unfortunately, much of our safety net hasn't been working in that counter way. yes, the fact that calories are very cheap is a problem that this book deals with very effectively, but the issue of food stamps as a safety net program has to be one that we protect.
>> in terms of the quote that we let in from the book, the notion that those who are on food stamps are the ones that could probably make the most effective argument for food stamps , but they are literally scraping by, and so the dialogue is missing those voices, and has been fairly unmanufacturetive at best.
>> i think that's the key thing to focus on. the fact that people involved here, particularly children, are not only vulnerable, but they are voiceless, right, because this is a solvable problem. we're not talking about syria or sudan or sequestration. we're talking about the wealthiest, most abundant country in the world. this is a solvable problem, but there's been a lack of political will. hopefully it's growing. ultimately, you know, jim mcgovern talks about this hunger being a political condition. the political will can make a huge difference here, and it's iffing to take leadership from all of us. one of the things i think the book points out is not just the president, it's not just the business community , not just nonprofits. it's going to take all of us to solve this problem.
>> i think that's right. if you look at the discussion of poverty during the 2012 election, it was nonexistent. bill clinton did mention the word poverty in his address there. he talked about it within the context of kids, and i think politicians need to do more of that. democrats used to be the party to do that. you had john edwards talking about two americas.
>> in some ways republicans you had people like kemp, but that doesn't exist anymore, and i think it is in some ways because there is this stigmatization around poverty that is, unfortunately, intertwined with's.
>> pierre, you know, the other piece of this is that one in three americans are at or mere poverty. 35% of america is obese. you can see an interlinkage. if are you on food stamps and you are lelying on fast food , it is a sort of cyclical -- it is a snake eating its own head. have you to break that cycle.
>> in the book we have this piece by maran nestle, a nutritionist at niu. she says the costs of fresh foods has gone up 40% since 1908 , and the costs of processed foods , which are the ones that make you obese, has gone down 40%. it's pretty much as simple as that. where you go from there is to, you know, try and decide -- make a program into this social action .
>> read the -- if we begin with the book and then the movie and having you guys back on as soon as possible after this show, thank you so much for coming on the show. the book is "a place at the tables" and the