A Place at the Table

A Place at the Table is a powerful documentary using personal stories that illuminate the plight of the 49 million Americans struggling with food insecurity. It is a startling fact that millions of people don’t know where their next meal is coming from in the US (15% of 316 million population). Food insecurity is an invisible but very real problem in this country. Of the developed world, the US ranks 23 in food security. Hunger in America had almost been eliminated by how well the government programs started in the 70s worked in just a few years — before being cut back by Reagan-era legislation. But now hunger has returned, and this film looks at several individuals, all basically members of the working poor, and their struggles to provide their families with good nutritious meals. All the families profiled are hard-working and trying their best to just barely keep their heads above water. Their poor kids didn’t choose to be born into such adversity. Of these 49 million Americans struggling with food insecurity, many millions are children, and many millions are infants. Hungry infants do not develop normally, and as a result are permanently disabled. Hungry kids do not do well in school and have less chance to pull themselves out of poverty. Tears came to my eyes when a hungry little girl hallucinates and sees her teacher as a banana. Wow! One out of two children in the USA will be on food stamps at some time. President Obama was once on food stamps. This documentary covers hunger, school lunches, and food politics. The facts are spelled out concisely and with clarity by articulate victims of the problem, as well as scholars, physicians and activists like Jeff Bridges and Tom Colicchio of “Top Chef” fame. The tone is more pleading than angry, as it spends more time on the plight of the hungry than on low minimum wages and the corrupt politics of agricultural subsidies. The film focuses on misplaced priorities of government, while emphasizing social injustice. Each year fifteen billion dollars of our taxes go to farm subsidies, of which 84% goes to corn, soy, wheat, rice, & cotton, 15% goes to dairy & livestock, and 1% goes to fruits & vegetables. Thus a hamburger is cheaper than a peach. I quote from the film: “Since the 1970’s the cost of fresh produce and fruits has risen by 40% and the price of junk food chips and candy has come down by 40%”. One excellent scene shows a teacher teaching her class to choose honeydew melon over chips at the grocery store. Three dollars per day is the maximum that a person on food stamps (SNAP) is allocated. But if a person only has $3 per day for food, they can buy 3000 calories of junk food or 350 calories of fresh produce and fruit. It is impressive that one political leader was willing to actually try to live on $3 per day, which many poor people are expected to live off of daily! I wish that members of the House and Senate could be forced to live on $3/day for food for a week before they vote on Dept. of Agriculture issues. America has enough food to feed the hungry, as this film makes very clear, but the downtrodden have the cards stacked against them. One single mother, after years of food stamp use, finally lands a job. She is making only slightly more than her income on public assistance, but thus is no longer eligible for food stamps. She’s right back to square one. Congressional legislation resulting in enormous farm subsidies (many billions of dollars) to agribusinesses is the overriding issue here. Farm subsidies go to Monsanto and other big agribusiness farms out west, not to small farms and orchards that subsidies were originally designed to help during the Depression. This legislation is resulting in the middle and lower middle classes not having access to affordable fruits and vegetables and other nutritious foods that should be subsidized –instead of corn, soy, wheat, etc. that go into junk foods. This legislation combined with the recession that destroyed the economy since 2008 is resulting in hunger and debilitating illnesses such as diabetes across the country. Our country has a lot people who are both fat and undernourished. I have always wondered about the obesity epidemic in our country. Obesity results from hungry people eating cheap low-nutrient foods of empty calories. What the filmmakers attempt to point out is the link between obesity (which believe it or not is a sign of poverty in some), the disparity in subsidies provided to monopoly-farms vs. smaller vegetable-producing farms that directly affect the prices of fruits and vegetables, and how this is all linked to the common problem of hunger. Food insecurity and proper nutrition are major issues in the United States. When it comes to feeding families most Americans are aware that broccoli and asparagus contain more nutritional value than boxed macaroni and cheese — but guess what? Boxed Mac and Cheese is a quick and much cheaper financially feasible fix. A McDonald’s value menu is much more feasible on the poor budget than baked chicken, fresh string beans, corn on the cob (not canned), and yams. It’s not that poor parents want to feed their children less-nutritious food, it’s that they have to feed them something affordable or nothing at all. This is a very real problem in America. So the current state of affairs is poverty with unhealthy and insufficient diets in this wealthy but often morally bereft nation (witness the recent brutal cutback in food stamps). Since government stopped helping the poor people adequately, charities have had to step it to fill the gap. After watching this film one viewer said, “Our donations to the El Caldito Soup Kitchen have just increased!” The food banks are funded by charity but are passing out crap (chips, cookies, canned spaghetti, hydrogenated fats & GMOs, etc.). But it is not enough to count on charities and churches — we cannot and should not rely on a string of charities to feed the poor. As Jeff Bridges points out: “We don’t fund the Department of Defense with charity” & “If another nation did this to our children, we’d be at war”). If there is ever an area of life that the government should be involved in, it is making sure that our citizens are at least fed. (The ancient Roman government was famous for feeding the population, giving them “Bread and Games”, partly to keep them from revolting.) The worst part of this is that nothing will change due to agro-corporate lobbyists lining the pockets of politicians. Many of these huge agribusiness “farms” are paid not to produce. They call it subsidies, but we all know that it is corporate welfare. This film is an excellent introduction for the unaware. I have been there. I’m a single father raising a seven year old alone without anyone’s help. Until a week ago I had never applied for assistance. It is very much a pride thing that drove me to not take that step. But a year ago I was hurt at work with a severely damaged back and forced out of work and treated like a liability at every turn. It’s one thing to be hungry yourself, but knowing you have to feed your child and you don’t know how you’re going to do it is a terrifying reality check, especially when a few months before it was not an issue because you had a good job. I have had no choice but to ask for help. Don’t judge someone unless you have been in the situation yourself. Hunger is so much more than being hungry — it’s desperation, depression, loss of identity, and loss of the feeling of stability. I feel this documentary does a very good job of presenting that. It just goes to show that childhood obesity and the daily struggle to provide is a social problem, due to the inefficiencies of society. This movie gave me an idea why there are families having such an unhealthy lifestyle and children starving. Excellent activist interviewees were Raj Patel (“Politicians think that the price of hunger is what they spend on food stamps, but it is far higher–reaching into lost productivity, lost potential, chronic health problems”), Marion Nestle (“Our priorities are all wrong. We’re subsidizing unhealthy foods when we could spend far less to subsidize healthy ones.”), and Dr. Mariana Chilton (“85% of the food insecure have at least one family member employed full-time, so we need a living wage. Government & corporations must take responsibility to provide living wages.”) Truly an eye opener!!! Very well done, great statistics. This is an incredibly insightful documentary about very REAL hunger in this country. Sad, just sad. This is a well-made movie that cannot help but affect all but the hardest-hearted businessman or politician. Just watch this documentary and weep. I recommend this movie for everyone to see. This film should be required viewing for Civics and Political Science classes. This film should be mandatory viewing for all members of Congress and local legislative bodies, not to mention every one of us who is blessed with the ability to afford to eat nutritiously. This is an important film and should be seen alongside “Food, Inc.”, which examines the American food system that is dependent on corn. Documentary 2012 PG 1hr 24m.

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