While the United States continuously extends its charitable hands to famished communities the world over, we often turn a blind eye to those in our own communities unfortunate enough to lack the means to keep a stocked pantry with affordable, healthy foods. Collaborating for the first time, directors Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush broach our little talked about hunger issue with the feeling of infomercial conviction in lieu of invasive action. Their formulaic wake up call boasts celebrities like Top Chef star Tom Colicchio and Jeff Bridges with their mutual campaigns against domestic hunger, underscoring their pleas with heart-string strumming tales of famished families tethered to a broken system in which a lack of employment and perpetual poverty are the true underlying issues. Though compositionally bland and far from impartial, A Place at the Table surely directs some much needed attention to the tummies of fellow Americans that don’t deserve such legislative neglect.
Charts and facts dressed up in wholesomely stylized flourishes back the many talking heads that all agree hunger is indeed an issue that pervades the American political landscape, reaching from the stunted development of our nation’s children to the disparaging distribution of bureaucratic clout received by the leviathans of comestible production – soy, corn, wheat and sugar – the basis for cheap, generally unhealthy foods that most impoverished people tend to lean hard on for their daily caloric intake. Hence, the bizarre but obvious correlation between obesity and hunger. As the situation is explained, we see doctors examining children stricken with corpulence, yet they haven’t been provided with a decent, well balanced meal all day. Instead, they expect to have chips for dinner. Chips.
Jacobson and Silverbush spend the majority of the feature wrangling our sympathies, sometimes with the politically grounded injustices spoken of previously or with the forthright testimony of Barbie, a struggling single mother trying to escape the stresses of meager food stamp support, but sometimes cheaply with the employment of little Rosie, a rurally located fifth grader whose education is detrimentally effected by the growling of her empty belly. Though her parents are largely absent from the film, she gives us a tour of her family’s make-shift house and shows off their weekly allotment of snacks provided to them by the local food bank. And as tragic the reality of young Rosie’s situation, her carefully cajoled confessions tie-in the theme of endowing compacted problems on to future generations, but in doing so, within the context of the greater discussion at hand, they seem more a tawdry sentiment grab than anything else.
Marketed as the next politically charged dietary docu, boasting the tagline, ‘From the people who brought you Food Inc,‘ the film’s high profile producorial pedigree should not come as a surprise, and still, thanks to the film’s questionable credo, it does. First we find Diane Weyermann, who also worked on An Inconvenient Truth and Waiting for Superman, served as one of many executive producers on the project. In the credits you’ll also see Ryan Harrington, who pushed Jesus Camp, Jeffrey Lurie and Christina Weiss, who both had their hands on Inside Job, Julie Goldman, who’s been handling many Sundance titles like Buck and Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, and even Jeff Skoll, who’s been hard at work with Hollywood monsters like Lincoln, Contagion and The Help. With such a crew on board, one should expect better.
In raising awareness about the under appreciated issue of hunger in America, A Place at the Table should prove a monumental success, but that doesn’t excuse the film from being a bland experience that asks much about why our system of food and wealth distribution hasn’t adapted to the changing economic environment without really proposing any method for realistic change itself. It’s Jeff Bridges who sums up both the situation and the film when he expresses that with the hunger problem becoming so widespread (its now estimated that 50 million people in the US don’t know where their next meal is coming from on a daily basis), at least people are bound to realize a systematic change is needed sooner rather than later. This is just one small, but deficient step in creating that breaking point.