Sesame Street Tackles Hunger Issues: Lily the "Food Insecure" Muppet

New Muppet Lily with Brad Paisley and Elmo
New Muppet Lily with Brad Paisley and Elmo
2011 Sesame Workshop. Photo by: Gil Vaknin

Cookie Monster probably is going to rethink those cookies: on Sunday, Sesame Street will air a primetime special, Growing Hope Against Hunger, in which the Sesame Street residents learn about hunger issues in the United States. As part of the special, Elmo, Grover, and special celebrity guest Brad Paisley meet a new Muppet, Lily, whose family is "food insecure", the polite political term for those whose access to their next meal is uncertain.

According to The New York Times, Lily represents "one of the 17 million American children that the Department of Agriculture estimates are 'food insecure." As the Sesame Street team has done with other Muppet characters, all aspects of Lily's personality were considered to "make her realistic but empathetic to young viewer," from the way they dressed her to "her tendency to look down at her feet rather than make eye contact when she is speaking to other characters." For now, Lily presumably lives a few blocks away from Sesame Street, as the creators plan for her to appear only on the special.

In addition to meeting Lily, Elmo and his friends learn about the importance of community gardens and food drives. The special also features several mini-documentaries focusing on the personal stories of a few children who have experienced hunger.

This is, of course, not the first time Sesame Street has taken on social issues. As the fascinating The World According to Sesame Street taught us - a wonderful documentary about the difficulties of adapting Sesame Street in other countries - the Sesame Workshop team ardently believes in the program's power to break down heady issues and create space for parents to discuss them with their children. Recently, for example, Elmo's mom was laid off, and Elmo experienced the effects of his parent's unemployment firsthand.

Growing Hope Against Hunger airs on Sunday night at 7 p.m. on PBS.


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