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Ever wonder why obesity is a bigger problem among the poor in this country than malnutrition? Did you know that 49 million people go hungry in the U.S. each day despite our having the means to provide nutritious, affordable food for all? What are “food desserts”?  What is “food insecurity”? A PLACE AT THE TABLE is an alarming new documentary about hunger in America that answers all of these questions through a series of statistics, first-person testimonials, animated infographics, and talking heads. “Food deserts” are areas, mostly in inner cities, where mass-produced chips and sugary sweets crowd the shelves of every store, but where fruits and vegetables are in short supply while “food insecurity” is simply a new term to describe not having enough to eat on a regular basis. Now you know. Directed by Lori Silverbush and Kristi Jacobson, A PLACE AT THE TABLE puts a human face on the hunger problem by focusing on a group of individuals and families around a small Colorado town to illustrate how so many Americans aren’t getting enough to eat on a regular basis. Barbie, a black single mom struggles daily to put food on the table for her children. When she finally gets a full-time job, her circumstances worsen because she’s lost some of her eligibility for food stamps. Tremonica, a 9-year old, has a horribly unhealthy diet of junk food. When her teacher hands her a honeydew melon, her eyes widen as it’s clearly something she never seen or tasted before. Rosie, a fifth-grader is so hungry, she can’t focus in school and begins to hallucinate that her classmates are food while her teacher points out that the food that is donated to the poor is usually the cheapest and least nourishing.  Many others are interviewed, including actor Jeff Bridges, whose pet cause this is. They provide articulate reasons why one in six Americans has to survive on food stamps. The charitable works of many are illustrated, such as Pastor Bob Wilson, who picks up food for the hungry in his community by driving to a distant food bank. He speaks of having to deliver many times more food today than just a few years ago.

Other documentaries have touched on similar concerns, such as SUPER SIZE ME which was more satirical, and FOOD INC., which took jabs at Agribusiness corporations, especially St. Louis-based Monsanto.  A PLACE AT THE TABLE is not very political, but may have been livelier if it had been. At just 80 minutes, it does not go into much depth and plays more like an infomercial, relaying the facts behind the overall problems while not offering much in terms of answers. Much of the dilemma is blamed on a shift in governmental priorities (massive subsidies to corporations) yet the filmmaker’s desired solution seems to be even more government spending and intervention. I found it telling that Barbie, the subject who gets the most screen time, has two small kids yet their father is never mentioned, as if the breakdown in the family unit has nothing to do with the crisis. It’s not a great documentary but A PLACE AT THE TABLE does a good job raising serious issues about our commitment to helping the least fortunate and it is recommended. T Bone Burnett is the film’s music supervisor and he provides a memorable soundtrack featuring songs by the Civil Wars.

3 1/2 of 5 Stars

A PLACE AT THE TABLE opens in St. Louis March 1st at Landmark’s Tivoli Theater


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