Please excuse Judge Patrick Naugle as he polishes off his box of Twinkies.
One nation. Underfed.
My wife and I watched A Place at the Table with mounting dread; how quick we are stay in our bubble and how slow we are to recognize the ills of our world? When people think of hunger they often picture children in a third world desert, flies around them, waiting to be fed. While that is a sad reality, another reality is right around the corner; the United States has over 50 million citizens who don't know where their next meal will be coming from. For many of us—my wife and I included—this is thankfully not an issue we have to deal with. Yet, at 50 million people, it's a reality for many of our brothers and sisters. How did this happen, and what can we, as a nation, do about it?
Unfortunately, as a nation we haven't fixed this problem at all, and that is where A Place at the Table comes in. This informative, probing documentary, by Participant Media (they also made Food, Inc.) and directed by Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush (On the Outs), A Place at the Table is a real eye opener as to what's going on with hunger in America. The value in the film is that it doesn't look at its subjects from afar; the problems these people face are right in front of us, begging to be solved. The saddest part? As a nation, as a people, and as a world, solving the hunger crisis is within our grasps. We just need to ante up and make it happen.
My eyes were opened wide by the fact that there is a correlation between hunger and the obesity epidemic. One of the larger issues is farm subsidies, which allow the agriculture business to create such unhealthy foods that are sold at a dirt cheap price. Instead of buying things they need—fruits, vegetables, and other nutritious products—those who are in need spend their money on empty or detrimental calories. As noted in the film, if you have the option of buying a lot of calories (even if they are unhealthy) vs. low calorie food (even if it's good for you), people with little resources will always choose the first option.
A Place at the Table features interviews with varying experts, including End Hunger Network founder Jeff Bridges (yes, that Jeff Bridges), TV celebrity chef Tom Colicchio, nutritionist Dr. Mariana Chilton, and author Raj Patel. They take a probing look at what has happened to our nation, how Americans—especially many children—aren't getting the right kind of nutritional calories to help them succeed. A Place at the Table lingers on three underprivileged families struggling to make it on only dollars a day. This forces the families to buy foods that are cheap but contain little nutrition; candy bars, canned ravioli, and sugared drinks. Witnessing each family's struggles is heartbreaking; one of the children divulges what it's like to not know if she will eat that day or not. At school, the kids are often failing and unfocused, which is understandable when all you end up thinking about is where your next meal is coming from.
Where A Place at the Table really becomes important is in trying to figure out how to break the cycle of poverty and hunger, two words that go hand-in-hand. The conclusion seems to be that food banks—while certainly serving a purpose when used properly—are not the answer, as they only allow for an extended crutch. One answer is to put funds into our school lunch programs, which are terrible at best and detrimental at worst. Another is education in both food and nutrition. A third option? Hold our government and farmers responsible for what they put out into the world. A Place at the Table may not have all the answers, but at least it's got the nerve to try and ask some important questions. This film comes highly recommended.
A Place at the Table is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen in 1080p high definition. Overall this documentary looks serviceable, but not overly exciting in terms of picture quality. It's clear that while there was money behind the scenes, this wasn't a fifty million dollar feature film. There are some softer moments in the transfer, as well as a few minor imperfections. Overall this isn't a great transfer, but it works well for the film. The soundtrack is presented in DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio in English and comes in loud and clear. The original music is by The Civil Wars and T Bone Burnett, which adds greatly to the audio experience. The music, effects, and dialogue (mostly talking head interviews and narration) is all well recorded and easily distinguishable. Also included are English and Spanish subtitles.
Bonus features include an audio commentary from directors Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush, and producer Tom Colicchio; thirteen minutes of deleted scenes; some deleted interviews; interviews with the cast and crew; a short featurette on the making of the film; a couple of promos for the film; and a theatrical trailer.
A must see for those who want to see hunger stopped dead in its tracks.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
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