Picturing hunger in America

BY Mary Jo Brooks  February 18, 2014 at 2:38 PM EDT
Hunger Through My Lens: Photographs of Hunger in Everyday Life

Elizabeth Deak (left) talks about her work with “Hunger Through My Lens,” a project sponsored by Hunger Free Colorado.

Hunger Through My Lens” has a dual mission: to empower people who are living in poverty and to promote awareness about hunger issues. Sponsored by the non-profit group Hunger Free Colorado, the program gives digital cameras to food stamp recipients and asks them to chronicle what it’s like to be hungry in America.

So far, 15 women — who come from all walks of life — have participated in the pilot program. Over the months, they’ve formed a “sisterhood” of sorts, supporting and encouraging one another. One woman is a former paralegal who suffers from autism. One is a family practice physician. A third woman is HIV-positive and has struggled with chronic homelessness. A fourth just got off government assistance and is now an executive director of a local non-profit organization.

Their photos are as diverse as the women themselves. At first glance, many of the photos don’t necessarily appear to depict hunger; one shows two driver’s licenses, another a bent fork. But the stories behind the photos tell about the complications and suffering that poverty brings. The work has been on display in Denver libraries, churches, coffee houses and even the Colorado Capitol. At each exhibit opening, the women come to talk about their personal stories.

Hunger Through My Lens“This issue is hard to talk about. There’s so much stigma attached to hunger in America,” said Kathy Underhill, director of Hunger Free Colorado. Underhill says she has seen a real blossoming among the women and is so proud of them for speaking out, because their photos and stories help break down negative stereotypes.

“Everyone has this archetype of who’s hungry in America and it’s usually the gentleman on the side of the street with the cardboard sign,” Underhill said. “And the truth is, you’re most likely to live in a hungry household in Colorado if you’re between the ages of 0 and 5. You’re most likely to be hungry if you’re an older adult or a single woman. So it’s incredibly important for folks to understand that hunger can impact anybody.”


“The stress of $50 a week — $2.40 per person, per day for one mom, two kids.”

Photo by Andrea Fuller

Photo by Andrea Fuller

“After I lost my job, grocery shopping became extremely stressful. Even just the act of making the shopping list caused stress, knowing I wouldn’t be able to afford many of the items on the list. One morning, I saw that my nephew had written ‘I love you’ on my grocery list, and just that small notation made me feel so much better.”


“November: SNAP Cuts and Garden Frozen”

Photo by Robin Dickinson

Photo by Robin Dickinson

“My family relies on two main sources for food: our garden and SNAP benefits. Last November it seemed especially cruel that SNAP benefits were cut at the same time winter frost killed off the last of our tomatoes.”


“Balancing Act”

Photo by Elizabeth Deak

Photo by Elizabeth Deak

“This photo represents a couple of things for me. First, you can’t eat with a broken fork just like people in this country can’t eat because of a broken system. But the photo also symbolizes the delicate balancing act that people in poverty have to maintain– finding employment, housing, transportation and food.”


“The Land Is Plentiful, So Why Isn’t Access?”

Photo by Ashley

Photo by Ashley

“I took this photo of a community garden in Denver. This small plot of land helps provide food for people who don’t have enough money to buy fresh produce. There is so much land available in this country for gardens like this. Why don’t more people have have access to it?”


“AIDS. Food is Medicine Too”

Photo Courtesy: Sallie

Photo Courtesy: Sallie Campbell

“I have AIDS. And I’ve discovered that my medicine doesn’t work if I’m not eating right. The driver’s license photo on the left was taken in September 2007 when I wasn’t eating well. The photo on the right was taken in August of last year. Look how much better I look when I’m eating well! Food feeds not just the body but the soul.”


“Reversed Disparity”

Photo Courtesy: Caroline Pooler

Photo Courtesy: Caroline Pooler

“I took the photo of the beautiful bananas in a large, chain supermarket in a nice neighborhood. The other bananas, which were over-ripe and more expensive, were in little corner bodega in a low-income neighborhood. It struck me that people living in poverty have no chance of eating nutritionally with that kind of disparity.”


“Still Waiting”

Photo by Victoria Asalp

Photo by Victoria Asalp

“Poor people encounter signs like this every day. They wait in line to hand in paperwork for assistance. They wait in line at food banks, at soup kitchens. Often it feels like too much of my life is spent just waiting.”


Watch the full PBS NewsHour report about “Hunger Through My Lens:”