San Francisco Chronicle
A Place at the Table presents a shameful truth that should leave viewers dismayed and angry: This nation has more than enough food for all of its people, yet millions of them are hungry.
The film bolsters its case with plenty of facts, charts and expert testimony — evidence typical of this sort of advocacy documentary. But what makes the movie compelling is its focus on a handful of victims, who make the statistics painfully real.
There’s Rosie, for example, a small-town Colorado girl who has trouble concentrating in her fifth-grade class because she is hungry. She says she sometimes pictures her fellow students and teacher as pieces of fruit. And Barbie, a North Philadelphia mother of two, is dismayed to learn that, when she finally finds a low-paying job, she is disqualified for today’s equivalent of food stamps (called SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).
Among the film’s many talking heads are celebrity chef Tom Colicchio, seen testifying before Congress; author and activist Raj Patel; nutrition writer Marion Nestle; and sociologist Janet Poppendieck, author of Free for All: Fixing School Food in America.
We also hear from individuals who are making heroic efforts, including Rosie’s teacher, Leslie Nichols, who suffered hunger as a child and now delivers food to needy families, and a Colorado pastor, Bob Wilson, who over the years has had to significantly increase the loads he drives to the local food bank.
Filmmakers Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush make it clear that the issue isn’t simply one of insufficient food. A Place at the Table looks at how important reforms are hampered by Washington politics, and how our agricultural subsidy system results in cheap junk food, which means that poor people can be both “food insecure” (to use the currently fashionable term) and obese.
At the same time, fresh and healthful foods have become more costly, leading to the existence of “food deserts” — where supermarkets are few and poorly stocked — in low-income neighborhoods. In one sad sequence, a teacher in a classroom holds up a spherical object and asks the kids if they know what it is. Many shake their heads. It’s a honeydew melon.
Actor Jeff Bridges, a veteran in the fight against hunger who pops up several times in the film, opines that making sure all Americans have enough to eat is a patriotic issue. That nails it.