Joel Berg: All You Can Eat

Two nights ago I photographed author Joel Berg for the Clinton School of Public Service, in Little Rock.He was there as a guest speaker discussing his new book All you Can Eat: How Hungry is America? Berg is the director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger (NYCCAH) which, as you might imagine, strives to eliminate hunger both in New York and nationwide.

I've been interested in this topic lately because it seems to me such an outrage that there be anyone struggling with hunger here in "the greatest country in the world". This is supposed to be the land of milk and honey, not a poor third world nation that can't feed itself.

Berg was one of the most captivating speakers I have ever seen in my entire life. He is a shortish, stocky Jewish New Yorker who talks and acts like a short stocky Jewish New Yorker in the best possible way. Fast, witty, blunt, unapologetic, charming, hilarious, extremely knowledgeable, sarcastic, etc. He was wild and almost crazy on stage ranting about his passion, walking all over the place, slapping his hand on the podium, talking so fast he could barely spit out the last words in his sentences before taking another breath.

He talked about the past Cholera and Malaria epidemics in the US and how we don't have to worry about them anymore because the Government wiped them out. Yes, the big bad horrible oppressive socialist government, he said. They had the authority and the money and the ability to re-plumb entire cities, and eventually the entire nation, with fresh, clean drinking water that eventually cleared up both diseases for good. He asked the crowd for a show of hands of anyone that has ever contracted Cholera or Malaria while living here in the United States. No one.

Hunger, he said, could be wiped out just as easily, if not much easier, by the US Government, and Berg has a plan to make it happen with 24 billion dollars; which sounds like a lot, but when compared to the 90 billion that the US Government spends on dealing with people who are hungry every single year, its a no brainer.


He said we are tackling hunger like volunteer bucket brigades used to tackle fires, with organized volunteers and churches running the show by having canned food drives and soup kitchens. This is all great, he said, but it just doesn't really do much, and it's not a long term solution. What we need, is professionals. Paid professionals. Paid by the Government. Just like the Fire Department. The old bucket brigades were great in their heyday; organized, strong men volunteering to save their community, but the problem was, city after city burned to the ground. He reminded us of the fires that completely destroyed New York and Chicago and other cities across the country. Berg asked for a show of hands of anyone who had ever watched a city they were living in burn down entirely. No one.

Why? Because the government solved the problem by developing a system of Fire Departments across the country and began paying trained professionals to run the show. The big bad horrible oppressive socialist government. It was a problem, and now its not.

Hunger could be the same. But not without the government stepping in. One out of every eight people living in the US live in food insecure homes, he said. One out of EIGHT.

Anyway, it was such a good talk and an important issue that I thought I should pass it along. His proposals could really solve a problem that I am pretty sure no one reading this blog has to worry about. He recommended we write our congressmen and thank them for their leadership and "gently push them" on this issue. Check out the NYCCAH website above and his personal website here.

On a side note, I got to talk to him for a few minutes while I was shooting him and he said he lives in Brooklyn, which is where I told him my brother lives. He asked where in Brooklyn and I said Williamsburg.

He said "Williamsburg, heh? So is he in a band or is he a designer?"


It was a pleasure meeting you, Mr. Berg. Thanks for doing what you do.