Community members from Emory as well as the greater Atlanta area came together at a CNN Dialogue to discuss food insecurity and its implications in Atlanta on Tuesday.

The event, titled “Hungry For Change: America’s Struggle to Eliminate Food Deserts,” is one of many CNN Dialogues that serve to highlight various ideas and perspectives on pertinent issues today.
The dialogue took place at Spelman College in a full Cosby Auditorium. Emory University as well as the National Center for Civil and Human Rights and Emory’s James Weldon Johnson Institute for the Study of Race and Difference (JWJI) sponsored the event.

Panelists consisted of Hugh Acheson, award-wining chef and cookbook author; Maura Daly, chief communication and development officer for Feeding America; K. Rashid Nuri, founder of the Truly Living Well Center for Natural Urban Agriculture in Atlanta and Monica White, an assistant professor of Environmental Justice at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Associate Chief of Neurosurgery at Grady Medical Center and Emmy award-winning CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta moderated the event.

Gupta is also assistant professor of neurosurgery at the Emory University School of Medicine.

Gupta began the conversation by discussing the Nov. 1 cuts in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Benefits and the approximately 24 million people affected.

“Quality food must be a right, not a privilege,” Nuri said.

In response, the audience of 400 people applauded and cheered for Nuri.

Acheson then commented on the stigma around hunger and homelessness as a product of “laziness” and the audience laughed as he recalled the “crazy” comments he read on social media surrounding the cuts.

The talk addressed issues of hunger and malnutrition and centered on agriculture, which Nuri said is essential to culture.

Although Rashid and Hugh joked about chefs not knowing whether carrots grow on trees, Nuri pointed out that the United States consumes 31 percent more processed food than any other nation.
Nuri added that his rule is that food that has more than five ingredients is not real.

To tackle this issue, Gupta introduced the idea of education, and the panelists discussed in school and after school programs such as the School Pantry Program and Monday Morning Breakfasts that provide food to children during the day who otherwise would go hungry.

The problem, the panelists decided, arises when students do not have access to these programs after school, on weekends and during the summer.

The panelists and their discussion opened up to questions at the end that centered on federal policy, community engagement and racial implications in the issue of hunger.

One audience member from Boxcar Grocer, a local grocery store, expressed concern that retailers and grocers are never invited to speak about these issues.

Nuri replied that in fact his own farm had gone into Boxcar Grocers to negotiate more sustainable practices and has yet to see any large change.

The cultural implications of this discussion were also pertinent, as Nuri commented on the idea that farming seems “too close to slavery” in the eyes of some people, and thus they are discouraged from growing their own fruits and vegetables.

White added to this discussion by introducing hip-hop as a popular means of sustainable advertisement.

College junior Jordan Kolpas has worked with a freestyle hip-hop group called Soul Food Cypher in Atlanta in order to spread awareness about sustainability through popular media.

“It was disheartening to hear about the millions of people that are malnourished across the country,” Kolpas said.

He added that by the end of the night he felt obliged to help in some way.

On the other hand, Anu Rajasingham, a food and water epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), said she wished the panelists had provided actual ways to help in the community as well as more resources.

– By Naomi Maisel