A Place at the Table
Rated PG for thematic elements and brief mild language. One hour, 25 minutes.
Publication date: Publication Date Mar. 1, 2013
Review by Peter Canavese
Directed by Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush, "A Place in the Table" looks at food insecurity, an existential state in which an individual or family may not know where the next meal is coming from, or if it will provide sufficient nutrition. Millions of Americans live hand to mouth, and millions more make do on diets of processed foods that will inevitably prove devastating to their health.
The hallucinating fifth-grader hails from Collbrun, Colo., described by one resident as "close-knit, caring and yet almost desperate." In other words, it's a place where having to make resources "stretch" is a common daily struggle. The film provides plenty of credibly damning statistics (though, touching off a pet peeve of mine, they're rarely sourced), one of the key ones being that 30 percent of U.S. families are food-insecure. Jacobson and Silverbush identify as ground zero Mississippi, the state with the highest rate of food insecurity and the highest rate of obesity, twin indicators of low income.
While the film provides plenty of moving case studies, it's most useful for its prismatic look at the problem of American hunger, examining the problem's recent history, its root causes (principally poverty, but also farm subsidies that determine the marketplace by making processed foods cheaper and more accessible than fresh produce), and its inextricability from other national crises: how the hunger problem multiplies the healthcare problem and the education problem, as well as their attendant costs.
The film approximates that 23.5 million Americans live in so-called "food deserts" born of the shipping principle "maximum delivery, minimum cost." It looks at the disproportionate impact on children who, because they are undernourished, have a diminished capacity to learn. Jacobson and Silverbush also briefly exhume the relevant news story of U.S. Rep. James McGovern, D-Massachusetts, who discusses his experimental one-week "food-stamp diet" (during which he learned the average food-stamp benefit is $3 a day).
It's a challenge getting butts in seats for a film like "A Place in the Table" -- after all, it's hardly a date movie -- so it's understandable that the filmmakers recruited a Special Guest Star in Jeff Bridges. He's the actor who has made the End Hunger Network one of his primary causes, producing a TV movie, excerpted here, on the subject of domestic hunger: "Hidden in America." Bridges lends his engagingly folksy voice of reason, pointing out how the U.S. is currently "in denial" about a problem that well-funded government programs once had in check.