Jonathan J. Halperin
Jonathan J. Halperin
Designing Research, Communications
and Strategies for Sustainability

Facts -- Not What They Used to Be

The story of hunger in America is quite instructive, and as the radical right plays financial chicken with the federal budget and the good faith and credit of the United States, 47,000,000 citizens wonder where they will find their next meal. In an America where compassion remains a core value, this is only possible because people have differing visions of reality.

For those in denial of the problem it is impossible to accept that Mitt Romney’s moochers and cheats deserve anything at all, much less a government hand-out. They are an undeserving and unmotivated underclass, so unworthy as to be dispensable. They are unseen and unwanted, a blemish on America the Beautiful. They are the proverbial “other,” perceived as so unlike “us” that they can be subjected to denigration, harassment, and denied basic human dignity and respect.

And facts, the stock and trade of those who would have us address this problem, rarely penetrate this emotional veil. The more facts disseminated the more the veil closes, the more overwhelmed people become, the more people close ranks and invest more deeply in self-reinforcing stereotypes about “us” and “them.”

Story-telling and personal inspiration, however, can pierce this veil of denial. And for that reason I continue to feel privileged to be involved with A Place at the Table, the film that puts a new face on hunger in America. The sheer emotional power of the film shatters the ‘us/them’ dichotomy and speaks to a more basic sense of human empathy. Whether leading a discussion around the film earlier this year in Denver (below) or showing a clip from it next week at the James Beard Foundation Conference in NYC, I believe in the power of story telling to drive transformational social change.

It is one thing to deny this or that fact in an ocean of information. But it is quite another to look someone in the eye who has been without adequate food for months or weeks and challenge their experience. The words and images of SNAPAlumni are poignant and inspirational, personal and evocative.

SNAP Alumni

They demand that we act to strengthen our communities and our nation by bringing an end to hunger in America. Let us get on with it, now. Where is hunger in your world?

When I began to unhook from SustainAbility in 2008, after 20+ years, to co-found Volans, Jonathan was working with the US end of SustainAbility — and sent the London end of the Volans team a large cardboard box of multi-colored felt rocks, which initially I couldn't make head nor tail of. I thought he was mad, or overly American.

But I have to say that, over time, those felt rocks have become a central feature of the Volans culture, thrown by team members at other team members (or guests) on the slightest provocation. That aside, he's a consummate professional, creative collaborator, skilled communicator, and keen intellect—and I am delighted both to have had Jonathan as a colleague and to now count him as a friend.

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