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A Place at the Table(2012)
A Place at the Table examines the shocking paradox of hunger in the wealthiest nation on earth, through the stories of three Americans who face food insecurity daily.
For more about A Place at the Table and the A Place at the Table Blu-ray release, see A Place at the Table Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on June 25, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Directors: Kristi Jacobson, Lori Silverbush
» See full cast & crew
A Place at the Table Blu-ray Review
"The answer is widespread governmental programs focused on the human being."
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, June 25, 2013
If you ask a random person on the street to list some of the biggest issues in contemporary American life, you'll likely get the usual woes: the economy, national defense, terrorism, health care, maybe even gun rights or abortion policy, depending on the individual and their socio-political leanings. It's doubtful anyone would mention hunger in their top-10. I mean, this is the United States we're talking about, not sub-Saharan Africa. But that only goes to show just how underreported and glossed over the problem of hunger in the U.S. really is. The actual numbers are staggering, with 50 million Americans unsure how and when they'll get their next meal, a situation nutrition experts refer to as "food insecurity." Even more surprising, food insecurity rates have risen sharply since the 1980s, even adjusted for population growth.
This isn't a problem we've fixed, it's one we've let fester, largely ignored by the media and given only lip service by politicians. It wasn't always so. In 1968, CBS News Hour ran the influential, Edward R. Murrow-directed documentary Hunger in America, which opened with a shot of a premature baby dying of malnutrition—literally dying, right there onscreen—and went on to galvanize political interest in ending hunger. With their documentary A Place at the Table—produced by Participant Media, the same company that brought us Food, Inc.—directors Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush are hoping to have the same kind of effect.
What they lack in visual impact—no low-blow shots of dying infants here—they make up in terrifying facts and well-reasoned arguments, presented by a host of talking heads, from nutrition researcher Dr. Mariana Chilton and Stuffed and Starved author Raj Patel, to Top Chef cohost Tom Colicchio and actor Jeff Bridges, founder of the End Hunger Network. Collectively, the filmmakers and their assembled experts take a comprehensive look at the problem, turning it over and examining it from all sides.
The first facet is the seemingly contradictory correlation between hunger and obesity. "They're both signs of having insufficient funds," says Patel, and this ties in to the larger issue of the governmental farming subsidies that were initially enacted during the Great Depression to help struggling family farmers. The assistance programs were never rescinded, however, and now they fund the large scale agribusiness corporations that produce the artificially cheap wheat and corn that ends up in the artificially cheap processed foods that poor people tend to buy over more expensive—and healthier —fruits and vegetables. Patel notes the irony: "There's this weird paradox, where welfare for the poor is scorned but corporate welfare—as it's known— is heartily endorsed."
A single graph shows us everything we need to know; while processed foods have gone down in cost 40% since 1980, fresh produce has gone up a nearly identical percentage. Thus, you have poor children who are massively overweight from carbs and sugars but also starving because they're not getting the nutrients they need to develop normally. We learn the stomach-churning fact that one in three children born in the year 2000 will develop type-2 diabetes, and this is only the beginning of the mental and physical problems that the one-two punch of hunger and obesity can cause. "It's just appalling," Bridges says. "If another country were doing this to our kids, we'd be at war."
To put real-world faces on the issues of food insecurity and malnutrition, which might be reduced to overwhelming abstractions otherwise, Jacobson and Silverbush follow three underprivileged families—in backcountry Colorado, rural Mississippi, and urban Philadelphia—to see exactly what it takes to get by week-to-week. Considering the average food stamp benefit is only $3 per day—and one of the families doesn't even qualify for assistance—it basically amounts to buying the absolute cheapest, least-healthy food in the supermarket and relying on the help of friends and non-profit organizations whenever possible.
The film wants to shatter the two-fold, distinctly American myth that a.) poor people somehow deserve to be hungry, and b.) that charities can solve hunger better than the government. This isn't to demean the work done by charities at all. A Place at the Table shows the good that can come out of community food banks and church meal programs, but the numbers don't lie. Charities are overwhelmed. In 1980, there were only 200 food banks in the U.S. Now, there are over 40,000, but the hunger problem is only getting worse. Dr. Chilton sees food banks as a quick fix: "We call it emergency food? It's no longer emergency food. This is called the chronic use of a broken system for which people cannot be held accountable."
What's the solution? On a broad scale, the film suggests that we need to reconsider many of our national priorities—why spend so much on the military and so little on public school lunches, for instance—and ultimately realize as a society that having healthy, affordable food benefits us all. Though this "for the greater good" sentiment obviously doesn't sit well with certain groups—the agriculture industry, namely, as well as those who think it smacks of socialism—A Place at the Table wants to raise awareness so that public interest might eventually outweigh corporate concerns when it comes to affecting legislation and policy. In its last fifteen minutes, the film perhaps bites off more than it can chew when it shifts the topic from "Why are people hungry?" to "Why are people poor?," but this does leave us thinking about living wages, income inequality, and what some would derogatorily call "class warfare." I think Jacobson and Silverbush might already have the topic for their next film.
A Place at the Table Blu-ray, Video Quality
A Place at the Table takes a seat on Blu-ray with a 1080p/AVC-encoded presentation that's true to source, although those sources can differ drastically throughout the film. The locked-down interview segments look best—decently sharp and detailed—while some of the handheld material following the three families can be much softer and flatter. (At times, it even looks upscaled, with fuzzy edges and muddled textures.) And then there's the occasional stock footage, which is mostly in high definition, although there are a few noticeably standard definition shots in there as well. (Can we finally stop calling standard definition "standard," seeing as how it's not the standard anymore?) Overall, the documentary is very watchable, although you will spot lots of the usual low-budget, shot-on-inexpensive-video quirks—some blown-out highlights, some light banding, some macroblocking, etc. There's no reason to try and pick this one apart; you're not really watching A Place at the Table for the visuals.
A Place at the Table Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Likewise, the film's front-heavy DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track does exactly what it needs to do. The most important thing here is that the interviewees' voices come through cleanly and clearly—they do—and so everything else is just a bonus. The rear speakers are used only sparsely for ambience, but the soundfield is filled every few minutes with songs by The Civil Wars and T-Bone Burnett. (Expect lots of picked acoustic guitars and plaintive singing.) The disc includes optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles, which appear in easy-to-read white lettering. No issues here whatsoever.
A Place at the Table Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
A Place at the Table Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
One of the most poignant shots in the film is of a Paula Dean billboard in Mississippi that simply reads "Hungry Ya'll?" as one of the experts describes how the state is is #1 in the U.S. for both obesity and food insecurity. That really says it all. We've got a systemic hunger/nutrition issue in America, and it's going to take intense pressure from average joe citizens to sway politicians away from the agricultural special interest groups who have made unhealthy processed foods unreasonably cheap and fresh produce irrationally expensive. The first step, of course, is realizing that there is a problem, and that's what A Place at the Table sets out to do—raise awareness. If Food, Inc. made you simmer, this one will bring you to a boil. Highly recommended!
A Place at the Table Blu-ray, News and Updates
• A Place at the Table Blu-ray - May 17, 2013
Magnolia Pictures has detailed its upcoming Blu-ray release of Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush's documentary A Place at the Table (2012). Nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at last year's Sundance Film Festival, A Place at the Table will be available for purchase ...
A Place at the Table Blu-ray, Forum Discussions
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