Movie Review: A Place at the Table
Austin360.com | Austin American-Statesman
The new documentary “A Place at the Table” has an agenda — arguing for an end to child hunger in the United States — and that seems like a reasonably honorable goal. After all, children need food in order to develop into healthy young adults and contributing members of society. But as the documentary makes clear, ending child hunger doesn’t appear to be at the top of our social and political agendas.
Directors Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush explore the surprisingly difficult obstacles to ending a situation where about 1 child out of 4 faces insecurity over where to get a meal. At the same time, some of these children are obese — mainly because they eat unhealthy foods that are high in fat.
The directors — and the people they interview — contend that U.S. agricultural policy is partly to blame because it subsidizes crops that go into processed foods but does little to help the average vegetable and fruit grower. As a result, processed junk foods become more affordable as the prices for vegetables and fruits become higher.
Then there’s the issue of availability. Many inner-city groceries simply don’t carry fresh fruit and vegetables, partly because of costs and partly because of a shorter shelf life.
And then there’s the problem of cutbacks to food stamp programs and other federal aid. As the documentary shows, many churches and charitable groups have stepped up in recent years to help those who are hungry. But nearly everyone involved acknowledges that not enough is being done.
It’s almost impossible, however, to watch “A Place at the Table” without thinking of various conservative arguments against what easily can be attacked as a bleeding-heart liberal film. Race and class issues simmer beneath the surface.
One of most prominent stories deals with an African-American single mother, Barbie, who lives in Philadelphia and is trying to provide for her two kids. She was unable to feed her son adequately during his earliest years, and this led to his having developmental disabilities. Even after she gets a job, her situation doesn’t improve. Her meager salary puts her slightly beyond food-stamp eligibility, and she still struggles to put food on the table.
Then there’s Rosie, a fifth-grader who has trouble focusing in school. A caring teacher, Leslie Nichols, finally figures out that Rosie isn’t getting enough to eat and begins to take food to Rosie’s parents. But the teacher realizes that the food she’s providing isn’t the most nutritious.
One of the most surprising stories involves a rancher who works from 5 a.m. to 3 p.m. tending cattle, only to work a second shift as a school janitor from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. While he manages to keep his children fed, he rarely ever sees them.
“A Place at the Table” doesn’t end on an upbeat note. Instead, it makes a call for action, using a common-sense notion that keeping our children fed is not only the moral thing to do but also the most economically sensible long-term approach.