Clips of wide-eyed, malnourished children followed by hollow pleas to help fight hunger in Africa are mainstays of prime-time television in the US. A campaign called Great Nations Eat is using these tropes to urge Americans to confront the hunger plaguing people in their own country.
The ads, which debuted in recent weeks and will run on US cable and network TV channels throughout the fall, turn on its head the notion that the US should view itself as a uniquely rich, well-fed country. By having narrator-actors play wealthy foreigners, and using slogans such as “Slovenia must help America today,” the ads draw attention to the fact that the US has a greater share of undernourished people than China, Slovenia, and Germany.
For example, one ad spoken in Chinese (with English subtitles) shows an actor playing a slick-suited Chinese businessman walking the aisles of an American convenience store stocked with food, explaining that, “In this nation with a surplus of food, there are 49 million Americans impacted by hunger.”
“It’s the shock factor: A lot of people are shocked by the fact that the US is doing so poorly compared to other countries,” a Great Nations Eat spokesperson tells Quartz.
According to 2012 estimates from Pew, 24% of Americans said they couldn’t afford food at some point over the previous 12 months—compared to roughly 9% in China and 10% in Germany. And although hunger in the world at large is improving, it’s happening at different rates. Eastern Asia is making the greatest gains.