America's twin ills, the swollen ranks of hungry people in the country and the national "obesity epidemic" are explained, in blunt and poignant terms, in "A Place at the Table," a new documentary about "food politics" and the forces that let "Hunger in America" make a comeback.
Filmmakers Lori Silverbush and Kristi Jacobson show us the face of hunger -- the working poor of Collbran, Colo., Jonestown, Miss., and Philadelphia, 50 million Americans, by the latest estimates. They talk to plenty of experts -- researchers and authors who have written on the subject, a congressman from Massachusetts for whom this is a favorite issue. There are celebrity witnesses -- Jeff Bridges has been involved in this issue since the 1980s; "Top Chef" Tom Colicchio has become an anti-hunger activist.
And they visit the hungry -- 11-year-old Rosie, in rural Colorado, a bright kid living with three generations of her family, all of them working, in a tiny house -- struggling in school because there isn't enough to eat, because school lunch programs are decades behind inflation in their budgeting.
Her teacher is sympathetic, because she, too, endured this sort of childhood.
"It messes with you," the teacher says. She volunteers in a local food bank run by the righteous Pastor Bob Wilson of Plateau Valley Assembly of God, a man whose ever-expanding feed-the-hungry ministry cannot keep up with the needs of his tiny community.
We learn about "food
And there are villains, an outdated farm subsidy program that Congress has engineered to serve only giant agribusinesses, which in turn focus on corn, soy and wheat, the products used in the vast array of inexpensive, unhealthy processed foods that they push. Congress members, those who show up to hearings about the subject, whine about the tiny cost of school and senior citizen breakfast and lunch programs.
Colicchio's "Top Chef" show had its contestants try to prepare meals based on the money allocated per student for such lunch programs. They couldn't.
It's a beautifully shot and reasonably balanced film, but one that struggles to find a hopeful note to end on. Perhaps if every member of Congress did what House member Jim McGovern attempted -- living for a week on what Food Stamps and food assistance programs provide -- objections to offending Big Ag and its lobbyists would turn into solutions.
'a place at the table'
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Rating: PG (for thematic elements)
Directors: Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush
Running time: 1 hour,