Title: A PLACE AT THE TABLE
Director: Kristi Jacobson, Lori Silverbush
Screenwriter: Kristi Jacobson, Lori Silverbush
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Tom Colicchio, Raj Patel, Janet Poppendieck, Barbie Izquierdo, Ken Cook, James McGovern, Mariana Chilton
Screened at: Park Ave., NYC, 2/7/12
Opens: March 1, 2013
There’s a big billboard sign on Flatbush Avenue Extension in Brooklyn that shows a bottle of a prescription drug with a cover that states, “Push down, turn left, and go hungry. One out of seven New Yorkers must choose between taking a drug important for health and buying food.” Could this be true in the world’s richest country? Is America no longer the world’s breadbasket? Truth to tell, there is enough food grown here to feed not only every American citizen and resident and then some for the rest of the world, but some people are simply to poor to pay for nutritious items. Many indigents live in areas so poor that supermarkets see no profit in locating there, leaving the job for small bodegas or Seven-Elevens and other convenience stores that stock plenty of chips and soda but no fruits and vegetables. Even in areas that do have supermarkets, the price of fresh vegetables has gone up in general forty percent since 1980 while the costs of packaged junk foods have gone down, making the choice obvious if you’ve got just enough money to survive.
“A Place at the Table,” Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush’s heartfelt doc about the scandal of hungry and malnourished Americans, is a shocker even for those of us in a potential audience that think they’ve heard everything about poverty amidst plenty. Liberals might ironically latch on to Ronald Reagan’s statement, “Government is not a solution to our problems; government is the problem.” As the doc points out, our Congress refuses to change a formula that provides corporate welfare to agribusiness, the giant food production corporations that have all but chased away small farmers, producing corn and soy and other raw materials that go into junk foods. This is one area that Jacobson and Silverbush should have punctuated. Instead, the filmmakers simply make the point, implying their personal disagreement with the policy, but they never follow up by interviewing members of the agribusiness lobby or members of Congress to get at their rationale for the presumably wasteful and unnecessary subsidy.
Quite a few people are interviewed, doling out comprehensive and articulate responses to the shortage of money that has led some forty-nine million Americans to survive on food stamps—which provide on average three dollars a day per family thereby forcing these unfortunate people to buy the cheapest junk in the market. And if you make a bare living for a family of four, just over $28,000 a year, you lose eligibility for any such help.
Among the subjects who are incensed about the problem of hunger in a land of plenty is Jeff Bridges, who cites the security issue in that we cannot afford a population with malnutrition. And yes, many of the estimated 2/3 of the country who are overweight, particularly the 1/3 of the U.S. that are obese are actually starving—for good nutrition.
The works of many good people are cited, such as Pastor Bob Wilson, who picks up food for the hungry in his community by driving to The Food Bank of the Rockies. However, a Leslie Nichols, a fifth-grade teacher points out, the food that is donated if often the cheapest and least nourishing—junk. Some of children in the lower grades of school in poor communities have never even seen a honeydew melon. When handed samples and asked to vote, “What would you rather buy: melon or chips?” almost all kids raised their hands for the former, though the film cameras may have had something to do with that hard-to-believe ballot result.
Other commentators include Marion Nestle, in my book the leading authority in America on nutrition; chef Com Colicchio, and several folks both black and white, young and old, announcing their views on a subject that should appeal to anyone who eats. The film follows the pattern of the 2008 movie “Food Inc.,” whose antipathy toward the practices and politics of the giants of agribusiness is in your face—and justifiably so.
Unrated. 84minutes © 2013 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B
Acting – B
Technical – B
Overall – B