A young Philadelphia mother of two takes pains to make her food stamps stretch to that barren fourth month, when even cans of ravioli are scarce.
An elementary school student in an idyllic but economically battered town in Colorado gets so hungry she envisions her teacher and classmates as food items. A Mississippi mom with an obese second-grader has to drive 45 miles one way to buy fresh vegetables, as the three tiny grocery stores in their town only stock canned ones. Such is the state of America in Lori Silverbush’s and Kristi Jacobson’s eye-opening and infuriating documentary A Place at the Table.
Anyone who’s ever complained about the price of steak or lobster needs to walk in the shoes of one of the 50 million Americans called “food insecure” – that is, being unsure where the next day’s meals will come from. Another new term has popped up as a result of the issue of hungry Americans – “food desert,” entire neighborhoods or town where fresh produce isn’t readily available yet whose shelves are full of processed chips, cookies, and colas. Those who live on the three dollar a day food stamp allotment quickly discover that that amount can fill you with either 3,767 calories in salty snacks and sugary sodas or 312 calories in fruits and vegetables. A growling stomach doesn’t distinguish; the more you put in it, the quieter it gets.
The film puts hunger in historical perspective, including a brief stop in the Depression of the early 20th Century. But it’s in the most recent decades where the filmmakers find the most drastic changes. For example, in 1980 there were approximately 200 food banks; today, there are around 40,000 food banks and food pantries, many of them run from the community rooms of benevolent churches. One congregation started serving a hot dinner on Wednesday nights and was soon packed to the rafters. And thanks to the ubiquitous marketing of high calorie, high fat, high sugar items, many children are unfamiliar with alternatives, including a second-grade class that touch and taste their first honeydew melon.
Silverbush and Jacobson are skilled filmmakers and, like most documentarians, have a strong agenda. Their wrath is well-earned and reserved for mean-spirited government red tape that, in one mother’s case, cuts her off of food stamps because she makes two dollars more per week than the limit allows. Churches, chefs and community groups are sharing some of the burden but there’s one villain in the piece and it resides as a collective block in Congress.
A Place at the Table | 1:24 | Dir. Lori Silverbush | Click here for theater show times.