Rockwell Painting Illustrates Key to Ending Hunger

11/21/2018, By Valley of the Sun United Way

By Jayson Matthews, Director of Ending Hunger

What do you see when you look at this Norman Rockwell painting?

What I see is the solution to ending hunger in the Valley.

While the painting has become the iconic illustration of Thanksgiving, Rockwell titled it, “Freedom from Want.” The painting is one of a series based on the “Four Freedoms” President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed in his State of the Union address in January 1941.Along with freedom from fear, of worship and of speech, Roosevelt cited freedom from want as a basic human right “everywhere in the world.”

In the painting, the massive turkey is the obvious focal point. But that’s not the image pointing to the solution for ending hunger. In fact hunger is not the biggest issue; food insecurity is.

Food insecurity is the stress and anxiety of not knowing where your next meal is coming from.

Underlying that anxiety can be any of a number of issues: insufficient income, unemployment, domestic violence, substance abuse, or mental illness.

Other than the turkey, very little food appears in Rockwell’s painting, and the only beverage is water. No one is eating. No one has food on their plate.

"The painting is about freedom from want, not freedom for excess, and the idea of the joy in sharing what we have with those we love." - Lennie Bennett, Art Critic, Tampa Bay Times

Most of the people around the table aren’t even giving the turkey a passing glance. They’re looking at each other. Their joy and connection to each other is the part of the image that truly captures the key to ending food insecurity: community.

The greatest root cause of hunger is the lack of community. People who experience food insecurity may feel as if they are going through it alone. We’ve made it very easy to be alone in this country, especially here in Arizona where 30-40 percent of residents come from somewhere else. Just to connect with family around a dinner table, let alone for support, means paying the cost of travel many cannot afford.

We can solve the problem of food insecurity within our community as a community.

In Maricopa County 82,000 households are food insecure. By bringing organizations together to determine and provide the specific resources needed to address hunger’s root causes within that particular community, we will see the end to hunger in Maricopa County.

When we come together as a community, we have the capacity to free each other from all forms of want, both physical and emotional. That knowledge is at the center of the fight to break the cycle of poverty at Valley of the Sun United Way.

As Roosevelt said in his 1941 speech:

“That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation .”

Join the fight to end hunger in Maricopa County today.


Jayson Matthews serves as the Director of Ending Hunger for Valley of the Sun United Way. Since 2002, he has worked in community organizations and non-profits including the City of Tempe, Tempe Community Council and United Food Bank. In his free time, Jayson enjoys spending time with his wife, Emma, and their dog, Daisy.

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