How Hunger Persists in a Rich Country Like America

Beyond the pandemic emergency, there is a food crisis hidden in plain sight: Millions struggling for years to feed their families.

Barbara Broomall (right) and her children sharing a room in a hotel-turned-shelter in Menands, N.Y.Credit…Brenda Ann Kenneally for The New York Times

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By Adrian Nicole LeBlanc

In March, the photographer Brenda Ann Kenneally was visiting Troy, N.Y., when the coronavirus pandemic hit the East Coast. She grew up in the area, bouncing among friends and group homes after her mother kicked her out when she was 12. Kenneally has spent decades immersed in the intimate lives of a group of upstate families who share her legacy, using images to explore the way economic forces ravage people’s lives for generations. “I knew every single layer of disadvantage they lived on a daily basis would be exacerbated by Covid,” she says.

As April unfolded, Kenneally checked on friends in crowded apartments and shelters in and around Troy, and for weeks she was the only person wearing a mask. Stressors were so common — evictions, unemployment, isolation — that Covid-19 hadn’t yet struck many of them as particularly significant. But as jobs continued to disappear in New York and around the country, Kenneally knew that millions of Americans were now being thrown into the kind of precarity that the people she knew had long endured. “It was the moment to connect the root causes of all the things that people could be shamed for with what you see in front of the camera,” she says. “The situations that define a life of scarcity were becoming democratized.”

She returned to Queens, where she lives, packed up her pull camper and enlisted Rafael Gonzalez, the father of her 26-year-old son, beginning what would become a 92-day trip across the country documenting food insecurity. She and Gonzalez met as homeless teenagers working for a carnival, so they knew the road.

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