The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated food insecurity in the United States. General economic hardship, school closures and overwhelmed food banks have left the most vulnerable increasingly at risk. The crisis has revealed the dysfunction of our food system and how structural inequalities contribute to the growing number of food insecure and hungry across the nation.

On Tuesday, Sept. 15 at 12:45 p.m. ET, Washington Post Live took a deep dive into unexpected drivers of food insecurity with award-winning documentarian and journalist Soledad O’Brien and Temple University professor Sara Goldrick-Rab on their work exposing hidden hunger on college campuses. The program will also feature a special conversation about fighting food insecurity, from the community level to the big think of policy creation, with legendary Black-business owner Virginia Ali, co-founder of landmark D.C. eatery Ben’s Chili Bowl, and Food Tank co-founder and president Danielle Nierenberg, a thought leader conducting extensive research around the world in hopes of galvanizing systemic change.



Soledad O’Brien, CEO of Soledad O’Brien Productions and Host of Matter of Fact

Soledad O’Brien has produced, directed or reported nearly 2 dozen documentary films, including the critically acclaimed Black in America series, and the documentaries Kids Behind Bars and Black and Blue. Her CNN documentary The War Comes Home debuted as a Fathom event in movie theaters around the country. She has been recognized with three Emmy Awards and was honored twice with the George Foster Peabody award for her coverage of Hurricane Katrina and her reporting on the BP Gulf Coast Oil Spill. Her reporting on the Southeast Asia tsunami garnered CNN an Alfred I. DuPont Award.

Sara Goldrick-Rab, Professor of Sociology and Medicine, Temple University

Sara Goldrick-Rab is Professor of Sociology & Medicine at Temple University, and Founding Director of the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice in Philadelphia. She is also the Chief Strategy Officer for Emergency Aid at Edquity, a student financial success and emergency aid company, and founded Believe in Students, a nonprofit distributing emergency aid. Sara is best known for her innovative research on food and housing insecurity in higher education, having led the five largest national studies on the subject, and for her work on making public higher education free. She is the recipient of the William T. Grant Foundation’s Faculty Scholars Award, the American Educational Research Association’s Early Career Award, and the Carnegie Fellowship. In 2016 POLITICO magazine named her one of the top 50 people shaping American politics and she is ranked 7th in the nation among education scholars according to Education Week. Her latest book, Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream, won the 2018 Grawemeyer Award, and was featured on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. The Chronicle of Higher Education calls Sara “a defender of impoverished students and a scholar of their struggles,” an accurate description of her life’s work.

Virginia Ali, Owner, Ben’s Chili Bowl

In 1958, newlyweds Ben and Virginia Ali used $5,000 to begin renovating a building at 1213 U Street. Built in 1910, it first housed a silent movie house called the Minnehaha Theater. Later, Harry Beckley, one of D.C.’s first Black police detectives, converted it into a pool hall. On August 22, 1958, Ben’s Chili Bowl opened for business. The street (U Street) was then known nationally as “Black Broadway” and Washington D.C. was still segregated. But all were always welcome at Ben’s. From the burning and looting of the 1968 race riots to the tough times in the 70’s and 80’s and finally to the revitalization of the U Street Corridor beginning in the 90’s, Ben’s has seen and survived it all. Thousands attended our 50th anniversary celebration in August 2008 and our 60th in August 2018. And just ten days before his inauguration on January 10, 2009, President-Elect Barack Obama visited and ate lunch here. After a 61 plus year journey, the Ben’s brand is red hot and is a must-visit restaurant for anyone visiting Washington. Ben’s has also expanded by opening its first new restaurant and bar called Ben’s Next Door in 2008, in addition to outposts at the Nationals baseball Stadium and FedEx Field. In 2014, we opened our third location in Rosslyn, VA, and one year later opened a Ben’s Chili Bowl on H ST in NE and also at Reagan National Airport. Just recently we opened a Ben’s Chili Bowl at Capital One Arena.

Danielle Nierenberg, Co-founder and President, Food Tank

In 2013, Danielle Nierenberg co-founded Food Tank with Bernard Pollack, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization focused on building a global community for safe, healthy, nourished eaters. Food Tank is a global convener, research organization, and non-biased creator of original research impacting the food system. Danielle is the recipient of the 2020 Julia Child Award. She has an M.S. in Agriculture, Food, and Environment from the Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and spent two years volunteering for the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic.

Content from FRAC

Not Enough to Eat: Federal Nutrition Programs Respond to America’s Deepening Hunger Crisis

An unprecedented number of struggling individuals are turning to the federal nutrition programs for assistance in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The latest research commissioned by the Food Research & Action Center finds that between 26-29 million adults, or 11 percent, have reported that members of their households sometimes or often did not have enough to eat in the months following the onset of the pandemic. Black and Latinx households have been hit even harder, with no idea how they will put their next meal on the table. Federal nutrition programs are our nation’s best defense against food insecurity and hunger. Since the onset of COVID-19, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has helped millions more households put food on the table. Summer Nutrition Programs have been extended to help fill the nutrition gap due to school closures. And a new program, Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT), has provided critical support for families with children missing out on school meals. Greater investment in these proven programs are critical if the nation is to flatten the curve on hunger and stimulate the economy as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold.

(This content was produced and paid for by a Washington Post Live event sponsor. The Washington Post newsroom was not involved in the production of this content.)

Luis Guardia

President, Food Research and Action Center (FRAC)

Luis Guardia serves as president of the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC), the leading national nonprofit organization working to eradicate poverty-related hunger and undernutrition in the United States. Prior to FRAC, Guardia served in top leadership roles in global philanthropy and international development organizations including Global Impact, The ONE Campaign, and the International Center for Research on Women. Guardia began his nonprofit career in arts and media organizations such as NPR, CPB, the Guggenheim Collection, and the Phillips Collection. Guardia also serves on the Boards of ActionAid, PAI, and Kalanidhi Dance. He received his M.S. in Systems Engineering from George Washington University, his MBA from the Anderson School at UCLA, and his undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia.

Interviewed by Ray Suarez

Host, WorldAffairs

Ray Suarez is a host of the radio and podcast series WorldAffairs, heard on KQED San Francisco and public radio stations around the country, and a Washington reporter for Euronews. He recently completed an appointment as the McCloy Visiting Professor of American Studies at Amherst College. Suarez hosted Inside Story, a daily news program on Al Jazeera America, until the network ceased operation in 2016. Suarez joined the PBS NewsHour in 1999 and was a senior correspondent for the evening news program until 2013. He hosted the NPR’s Talk of the Nation from 1993-1999. In more than 40 years in the news business, he has worked as a reporter in London and Rome, as a Los Angeles correspondent for CNN, and for the NBC-owned station WMAQ-TV in Chicago. Suarez is the author of three books: Latino Americans: The 500 Year Legacy That Shaped a Nation (Penguin, 2013), The Old Neighborhood: What We Lost in the Great Suburban Migration: 1966-1999, reporting on the causes of the destitution found in the inner city, andThe Holy Vote: The Politics of Faith in America, examining how organized religion and politics intersect in America. His next work, on immigration, political, demographic, and cultural change, will appear in 2022. He is a contributor to the Oxford Companion to American Politics (June 2012), and many other books, including How I Learned English, Brooklyn: A State of Mind, Saving America’s Treasures, and About Men. He’s been published in The New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Chicago Tribune.