Food insecurity in Birmingham

Aleah Vassell, Columnist

Earlier this month, there was a convocation in the Planetarium titled, “A Place at the Table.” As a senior with about 20 more convo credits to earn, I was there.

At first glance, the title gave me an impression that this might be a religious lecture about the history of communion and Jesus breaking bread and drinking wine with his disciples; I was extremely wrong.

Food deserts in Birmingham

Food deserts in Birmingham

“A Place at the Table” (2013) is a well-made, eye-opening documentary directed by Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush about the issue of hunger in America. The film examines the lives of a few families as they struggle with food insecurity, a term I hadn’t heard before this convocation.

Food insecurity is the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. Food insecurity exists in both urban and rural areas.

According to Feed America, one in five people struggle with hunger in Alabama alone. The Community Food Bank of Alabama, a partner to Feed America, does local food drives in Birmingham, but this isn’t the root of solving this problem.

One of the people focused on in this documentary is Tremonica, an overweight second-grader from Mississippi. Her obesity arose from her family being on a tight budget and choosing cheap foods over healthy foods because of the cost, which I can relate to.

When the cost of apples are $1.50 per pound and a big bag of non-name brand chips is only 99 cents, which one do you think people on a budget will buy?

According to the film, the U.S. Department of Agriculture subsidizes 84 percent of commodity crops such as cotton, wheat, corn, rice and soy, 15 percent of dairy and livestock and only 1 percent of fruits and vegetables.

Because of this, the commodity crops are the main ingredients in the packaged, processed foods like chips, crackers and sweets. They’re inexpensive because they’re the foods that are being invested in.

The USDA is over-investing in the wrong foods and needs to change its direction so nutritious foods can become more affordable for everyone.

This is a political problem, as the government is the one choosing to back the wrong foods.

It’s up to the people to help the people when the government can be more interested in money than the health of its country.

Let’s make a difference so more of our American brothers and sisters can rightfully have a place at the table.

Aleah Vassell is a senior musical theatre major. Email her at

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