Film Review: ‘A Place at the Table’ examines hunger in America

A low income family tries to afford healthy food in "A Place at the Table" Credit: Magnolia Films
A low income family tries to afford healthy food in “A Place at the Table”
Credit: Magnolia Films

The filmmakers behind the “food insecurity” doc “A Place at the Table” have cited as inspiration “Hunger in America,” a 1968 CBS news program that successfully shocked a nation into bugging the institution that could conceivably attack the problem best: the government. The show makes a prominent appearance early in “Place,” whose presentation is no less blunt and message-first. Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush’s aesthetically modest doc seeks only one thing: to alert the populace to the unsightly proliferation of “food insecurity” that, despite the activism of yesteryear, today leaves more than 50 million Americans suffering from hunger. This is coupled with skyrocketing obesity rates, revealing that when those of low income can buy food they’re often buying the worst, often because that’s all there is.

Fitting to a tight structure — right down to the guest stars (Jeff Bridges, Tom Colicchio) — “Place” journeys both around the country and around the various facets of the issue. We learn about how 23½ million Americans live in “food deserts” — areas, both rural and urban, that lack healthy food or even a supermarket. We learn about the demonized-by-conservatives food stamps and how they’re often not enough to get most families through a month’s worth of food. School lunches are unhealthy, in part because they’re drastically underfunded, and even when a movement arose to fix to balloon their funds, the bill wound up whittled down to just shy of nothing, buttressed by funds stolen from food stamps. And if you’re a limited-government type who believes in self-sufficiency and hates being told to eat healthily, then guess what? By doing nothing, hunger costs us $167 billion a year.

It’s sobering stuff, and “Place” is intended to shock you into doing something. Despite its pedigree, this purely informational — yet stirring — doc lacks the relative entertainment value of “An Inconvenient Truth,” which, despite its dry description, proved oddly engaging. But given the severity of the film’s issue, pointing to its modest flaws as a piece of filmmaking and as a piece of “entertainment,” deficiencies they may be, seems a touch uncouth. (3 out of 5 Globes)


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