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Friday, 01 March 2013 12:00

'A Place at the Table' invites a look at hunger in America

'A Place at the Table' invites a look at hunger in America magpictures.com
Written by Martha K. Baker
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  • Director: Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush
  • Dates: Through March 2013

Forty-nine million Americans exist without enough to eat. It would be nice if it were enough for a thousand points of light to feed people one at a time. It would be nice if each food pantry fed all the hungry people so everyone else could gorge without shame. But hunger in America is not nice -- and it's not going away because these methods simply do not work. These sorry facts are highlighted in "A Place at the Table," a finely wrought documentary about what it will take to feed the hungry who live in food-rich America.

The film directors Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush do not try any pyrotechnics to glamorize their report. They do not produce a documentary that changes the genre. In fact, they do what most documentarians do: they interview experts, passionate supporters, and innocent victims. They offer charts and graphs, including a map from a small town to the nearest grocery story with fresh fruit. They define terms, especially "food insecurity," the condition of not knowing where your next meal is coming from. They travel from Colorado to Philadelphia to the Mississippi Delta, in the state with the highest rate of food insecurity in the nation. They show wheat fields and rivers. They sprinkle crowd scenes with scenes of one person, a talking head, staring into their cameras.

The most famous face in the film is Jeff Bridges, who began his End Hunger campaign in 1983. He says hunger is a problem our government is afraid of acknowledging. Less familiar faces belong to Mariana Chilton, Tom Colicchio, and Raj Patel, among the experts. Patel addresses the paradoxical issues in America of hunger and obesity. Among the even less familiar is a teacher, hungry herself as a girl, who hauls food sacks to families, including the family of Rosie, one of her pupils. Rosie describes how she tries to focus as her teacher admonishes, but all she can do is imagine her teacher is a banana and her classmates, apples. A speech delivered by a single mother named Barbie Izquierdo is also moving.

"A Place at the Table" follows in the path forded by many recent food documentaries, such as "Food Inc." and "Corn," films about food in America. It is especially convincing when considering government subsidies to agri-businesses as a continuation of what was to be emergency subsidies during the Great Depression. The companies still profit while Americans are famished.

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