‘A Place at the Table’ highlights America’s struggle to feed itself

Leslie Nichols in a scene from 'A Place at the Table' — Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures
Leslie Nichols in a scene from ‘A Place at the Table’ — Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

The United States is often characterized as a country of morbid obesity. Statistics appear about the salty and sugary food that frequent our grocery stores and cupboards at home. Much of this information is accurate. Everyone, not just Americans, needs to eat healthier, constantly looking at ingredients and trying to balance diets. Exercise doesn’t hurt either.

But there’s another side to this food equation that sometimes falls out of the public spotlight. Although some people may believe America’s roads are still paved with gold, the truth is much different. The gap between the rich and poor is widening, and many (too many) people find themselves classified as “food insecure.” They don’t know where their next meal will come from, and many of these Americans go to sleep hungry.

A Place at the Table, a moving and frightening documentary from co-directors Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush, details the ongoing crisis of food insecurity in the United States. Presenting easy-to-understand statistics and impassioned pleas from experts, the film should serve as a wakeup call to all Americans: This is not OK.

In the movie, which is now available on DVD, we follow several personal stories that highlight the struggle of average families trying to keep food on the table. There’s a young mother in the Philadelphia area who can’t find gainful employment or a grocery store that sells healthy fruits and vegetables. Food stamps don’t cover her costs, and her children suffer the consequences.

Another family in Colorado has a daughter who can’t focus at school, perhaps related to her lack of food at home. She’s a dedicated student and somebody who always seems to have a smile on her face, but her reality is difficult to bear. Her family needs help from local charities to even keep unhealthy food in the kitchen.

Coupled with these personal narratives are testimonies from activists, including actor Jeff Bridges, who are trying to instigate the federal government to do something about this crisis.

Jeff Bridges in 'A Place at the Table,' a documentary that looks at American food insecurity — Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures
Jeff Bridges in ‘A Place at the Table,’ a documentary that looks at American food insecurity — Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

They have simple, yet profound, questions: Why can’t such a wealthy nation feed its own people? Why is the food stamp program so underfunded? Why do school lunches feature unhealthy food? Why are Washington lawmakers continuing with broken policies? What is the influence and role of large agriculture companies in this problem?

There are numerous questions that circulate the documentary, and it can become overwhelming. So many statistics pop up on the screen that holding on to any individual bit of research can prove difficult. The message, however, is clear. Something needs to happen to solve this issue of food insecurity.

The food stamp program, in particular, comes under the spotlight for its lack of funding. The average dollar amounts that needy families live on is impossible to comprehend, and sometimes the only food they can afford is high in sugar or salt. Fast-food chains look attractive with their $1 hamburgers and fries, and maybe that’s why it comes off as a revelation in the film when a school teacher holds up a honeydew melon to her students. The kids look up at the piece of fruit with wonderment, and after they bite into its succulent flavors, they are amazed by the taste.

A Place at the Table is an important American film about a problem plaguing America. More should be done to solve food insecurity, and charities can’t solely make up the slack. Government intervention and, yes, tax dollars need to be put in place for an equitable and reasonable program that helps poor people living in this country.

The beautiful visuals of the American landscape and T Bone Burnett’s evocative music help the viewer see the value in preserving this country’s dignity and sense of responsibility. The movie depicts a horrible wrong, and yet it simultaneously captures the beauty of the American spirit.

Jacobson and Silverbush, co-directors of this project, have done a great service to many people. They remind us that words like breakfast, lunch, dinner, organic, vegetables and fruits should not feel luxurious and exotic.

Message received.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

  • A Place at the Table

  • 2012

  • Directed by Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush

  • Featuring Jeff Bridges

  • Running time: 85 minutes

  • Rated PG for thematic elements and brief mild language

  • Rating: ★★★★

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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