Jeff Bridges, who has been dedicated to stamping out hunger for the past 30 years, is now starring in a powerful documentary, "A Place at the Table." The film is brought to you by Participant Media, a company with an amazing track record of building social action campaigns and producing films like “Waiting for Superman” and “Inconvenient Truth.”
Bridges walked into the Soho hotel yesterday wearing a sharp yet unpretentious dark suit, classic brown leather shoes, a surprisingly long mostly-gray goatee and hair tied back in a ponytail. He comes across as the coolest dude; someone you'd want to spend hours hanging out with.
His passion for raising awareness and finding solutions for the ever-growing problem of hunger is infectious. If anybody can inspire much-needed changes on a governmental policy level, it's him.
Examiner Dorri Olds: This movie clarifies the magnitude of the hunger problem. Why do you think we aren't closer to a solution?
Jeff Bridges: One of the things I was excited about in Obama’s campaign was that he said, “We’re going to end childhood hunger by 2015.” That got all of the hunger organizations all excited. There were meetings and they all got their ideas together and figured it out. Now we have organized an even better plan but I’m disappointed in our government for not following through on that and not mentioning anything about hunger in recent speeches and the State of the Union.
It's surprising to learn how many families are going hungry. Is this a new phenomenon because of our struggling economy?
An organization that I helped found in 1984 called End Hunger Network produced a film called “Hidden in America” and my brother Beau starred in it. That was back in 1996 but hunger in the U.S. is just as relevant today as it was then. It’s an embarrassing thing for our country to acknowledge that 1 in 5 kids don’t have enough food. Not only embarrassing for our government but also for the people who are struggling with that. There's a social stigma for a kid in school to be labeled as so poor they need free food. Most kids would rather stay hungry than admit to being that poor.
It was disturbing to learn that food stamps only cover about $3 per day and that people can be obese and starving.
People need to wake up and take action. There's a big step between thinking, ‘Geez, I could do something,’ and ‘I’m going to do something to help in my community.’ Each community has a different challenge and there are ways to address hunger.
What are you doing specifically for your community?
I’m in the entertainment business so I try to use that to put immediate attention on the issue of hunger but everybody can look into their own lives and ask themselves ‘How can I help with this problem of hunger?’ This is about patriotism. If another country were doing this to our kids, we would be at war.
There’s a project I’m working on in Santa Barbara where I live. I’m trying to promote community gardens. We have all of these public buildings with lawns out in front of them. Why not make them gardens? We could have nutritious food to eat. I’m trying to encourage classrooms to take on the gardens. You can learn about math and different countries through what’s growing in gardens. It could be a big part of the education. It’s also about educating your palette, what you’re used to eating. When you talk about obesity, your palette gets used to eating pizza pockets and you think, ‘That’s what I like.’ But if you’re used to eating red bell peppers and carrots and a tomato right off the vine, you’d think, ‘Wow! That’s what I like.’
The film explained that by not spending enough money to feed people it is costing us close to 167 billion dollars per year in healthcare and lost productivity.
Yes, and it doesn't have to be this way.