Years ago, a friend of mine who immigrated from Iraq told me that one of the biggest shocks in arriving wasn’t how people behaved, but the overabundance of choices, in of all places, a supermarket. The fact that she would be nearly paralyzed by the amount of choices made me appreciate the “super” in supermarket. The dark side to all those choices and why a nation should be ashamed is featured in the poverty documentary A Place at the Table.
Directed by Lori Silverbush and Kristi Jacobson, A Place at the Table opens brilliantly, quickly tackling possible stereotypes by featuring Rosie, a white fifth grader in Colorado who has to depend on charity from friends and neighbors to have enough to eat. Not only does she have to deal with a growling tummy, but she has to deal with failing grades caused by that growling tummy. Her teacher, herself a part of the hunger cycle in the past, tries to help and has some success. The problem is we learn there’s millions of Rosies out there. How many? Try 1 in 4 American children.
It turns out that hunger in the U.S. doesn’t stop with children, although they are a significant part of the nearly 50 million who are undernourished or don’t know where their next meal comes from. The film goes on to show that even in the land of plenty, hunger manages to cross geographical, racial and generational boundaries. Highlighting best this broken step in the American dream is Barbie, a single mother of two in Philadelphia. She not only has to deal with the pain of knowing that she can barely feed her kids, but when she can that it’s more often than not junk food or the next best thing. The “two steps forward, one step back” is in full force as the newly employed Barbie finds herself struggling even more.
A Place at the Table doesn’t just show a collection of families struggling with hunger; it also shows how they band together with others to spur action from politicians. However, as with most issues, politicians have the uncanny ability to turn victory into defeat. The film doesn’t go too deep into the government’s perpetually failed policies regarding the agribusiness machine. (For that, check out Food Inc.) Nevertheless, A Place at the Table does educate the audience on how food can be in short supply in a land of record obesity, and on the harm that scarcity causes to this and future generations.
Just as with so many good movies, the people featured in A Place at the Table never lose hope. And though the film shows plenty of good people in bad circumstances, it doesn’t do so to an extent that leaves the audience mired in hopelessness. In fact, as the film itself informs us, this is not the nation’s first battle with hunger—and the first time, the problem was actually eradicated relatively quickly.
In the end, whether one believes that there are generational and moral repercussions from starving our neighbors, or agrees with Jeff Bridges, national chairman of the Share Our Strength/No Kid Hungry campaign, when he says that hunger is a national security crisis, A Place at the Table makes a strong case that hunger for one is a problem for all.
Directors: Kristi Jacobson, Lori Silverbush
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Tom Colicchio, Ken Cook
Release Date: Mar. 1, 2013