When I think about the problems America has with food, I generally think of the fact that we're eating ourselves to death through obesity, diabetes, and heart disease by eating highly processed, high-calorie garbage. What I almost never think of is how many Americans, particularly children, are hungry in America, especially since we now live in a bizarro world where the highest calorie foods are also the cheapest. But every day in the U.S., 50 million people -- including one in four children -- are food insecure, meaning they don't know where their next meal is coming from. The documentary A Place at the Table attempts to put a face on this issue while explaining the consequences hunger has on our economy, our souls, and our children's futures. Watch the trailer for A Place at the Table below.
The film follows three people suffering from food insecurity. Rosie, a fifth-grader from Colorado often relies on charities and neighbors for food, as her growling belly makes it impossible for her to concentrate at school. Barbie, an unemployed single mom in Philadelphia, is trying her best to feed her two small children using the money she gets from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (also known as SNAP, or food stamps). But since the checks are too small and with no grocery store nearby, Barbie often ends up feeding her kids food she knows isn't good for them, skipping meals so her kids can eat -- or, when times are really bad, simply sending her kids to bed on empty stomachs. Last is Tremonica, a second-grader in Mississippi whose health problems are exacerbated by the processed food that represents the best value for her mom's limited dollars.
A Place at the Table is produced by Participant Media, which has a history of making slickly-produced documentaries that take on large issues, and this film is no different as it touches on multiple topics like subsidies for industrial farms, the social stigma of accepting food donations, the effects hunger has on early childhood development, school meal programs and the pathetic amount the government allots per child per meal, and a lot more, featuring interviews with people like food activist Marion Nestle, Top Chef's Tom Colicchio, Witness to Hunger's Mariana Chilton, and actor Jeff Bridges, who's the founder of the End Hunger Network.
As was true with other Participant documentaries like Food, Inc. and Countdown to Zero, A Place at the Table is meant to give you a general overview of a complex, multi-faceted issue. A lot of topics get touched on, many of which could probably be the subject of their own film, so if you're looking for a lot of detail or in-depth investigative work, you won't necessarily find it here. But what you will get, which I think a lot of people (including myself) need, is a general overview of how bad the hunger and nutrition problem is in America and why our system is so screwed up.
The film also raises questions that must be asked and answered. For instance, why does the U.S. government give more in subsidies to giant industrial farms that feed the processed food industry than it does to small farms that grow fruits and vegetables? Why does the richest country in the world allow so many of its citizens, particularly children, to go hungry? Why do we allow republicans to paint programs like food stamps and school meals as government handouts to the lazy when they're actually an investment, since America's future and economy will only succeed if we're able to produce healthy, attentive kids who will become the educated workforce modern industries require?
As is often the case, even with a challenge as big as hunger, awareness and legislation are the key, and A Place at the Table is a great way to spread awareness about food insecurity and to start the discussion on ending hunger in America. After all, if we accept the fact that too many Americans suffer from food insecurity, and that the US is both the richest and the fattest country in world history, is it really asking too much that our government, not a patchwork of overextended charities, should ensure that all Americans, especially children, have enough to eat?
A Place at the Table is currently in select theaters, iTunes, and VOD. To learn more about the film, get help with food assistance, learn how you can help end hunger in America, or find out if/when A Place at the Table will playing near you, go here.