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June 30, 2015

A Place at the Table

by Franz Patrick


Place at the Table, A (2012)
★★★ / ★★★★

I was told by my parents that there was a time when we barely had food to put on the table. I would be given one small fish to eat with rice and my mother and father would share a dish of watery rice so they could feel full faster. Hearing that piece of the past for the first time, I recall being very surprised because I have not one memory of my family ever not having enough food to eat; there was always food on the table or in the refrigerator, enough for us to have a choice of eating between healthy and unhealthy food.

It is easy to forget that it is not like that in every household. “A Place at the Table,” directed by Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush, reminds us of the fifty million Americans (and rising) who experience food insecurity, a state in which obtaining food is an every day challenge, and how so many people who are hungry affects us as a nation. In addition, it takes a look at what the future might hold for us since children of today are physically unfit, mentally drained, and psychologically scarred due to what is and what is not available for them eat. I strongly believe in the saying that a nation is only as good as the way it treats its elderly and youth.

The documentary’s scope is quite large and all sorts of information are presented quickly though these are clear enough for a layman to get the gist. It uses animation, charts, and graphs to highlight trends. This is especially effective in discussing the subject of subsidized food. Food that have been subsidized are bought cheaply and so stores sell them at a lower price. It explains why junk food like chips are significantly less expensive—and therefore more appealing to households on a very tight budget—than healthier, low-calorie fruits and vegetables.

The difficulty of a household being eligible for food assistance is also touched upon. Barbie Izquierdo, a single mother of two children, is barely able to scrape by. Without a full-time job, she is qualified for food stamps and her kids get enough to eat. However, after she gets a job, the help from the government is no longer available. Because money is so tight, her kids go back to eating non-nutritious food, one of whom is exhibiting effects of long-term nutritional deprivation. Barbie’s children are not more than five years of age.

Images of several families having a shortage of food are touching and maddening, but a child describing directly to camera how she feels because she is so hungry in class is something else entirely. Rosie, a fifth-grader, tells us that even though she wants to learn and focus on what is being taught that day, she just cannot will herself to do it. Rosie looks at her teacher and her mind sees a banana; she looks at her classmates and her mind sees apples or oranges. One person being interviewed makes a great point that since so many young people are starving, and few get relief, potential is wasted. We will never know if that starving child would have been a great scientist or a military strategist if only he or she would have had something as basic as a reliable food source.

The film might have been stronger if it had more information about adults with food insecurity. While it is able to capture the mental stresses of having to provide for their young ones, it does not show enough longer-term, health-related repercussions. I can remember only one man that is admitted to the hospital for having a swollen leg—which is related to his weight. Furthermore, during the first twenty minutes, the soundtrack by The Civil Wars is often misplaced. When certain images are presented, the singing distracts from information we are supposed to process. It is challenging enough to draw inferences without having to actively separate the music from the facts.

“A Place at the Table” strives to make a difference. It puts the spotlight on a marginalized population of America by dispelling the perception that starving people have to look like skeletons. On the contrary, they can be your overweight neighbor. Lastly, I was surprised to have learned that in some places, people are required to drive over fifty miles to get to a store that sells fruit and vegetables. Would you drive forty miles to buy healthy food? Thirty? Twenty? What if you don’t even have enough money for gas?

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