Open a magazine or browse through blogs these days and you’ll see that most stories about food are tales of excess. Americans love to eat, and whether that means visiting the hottest new restaurant, participating in the local food movement or being the first of your Facebook friends to try the new Doritos taco, it is clear that for many people, food has become a hobby and a status symbol. In this day and age, when everyone seems to be an epicure, it can be easy to forget that so many Americans don’t get enough to eat.
Participant Media’s documentary, “A Place at the Table,” released Friday in theaters and on iTunes, aims to shed some light on the issue of hunger in America. By sharing the stories of several people, the film shows how the lives of those dealing with food insecurity differ from one another, and from many people’s expectations of what hunger looks like. “There is this perception that it’s a tiny marginalized group of people who are facing it, but at this point we’re looking at 50 million Americans,” producer and director Lori Silverbush said in an interview with Reuters.
“I think when people hear the term ‘hunger,’ they still imagine a skinny, undernourished human being. They see the pictures of famine victims from sub-Saharan Africa. That’s the image we carry around,” Janet Poppendieck, author of “Sweet Charity?,” said in the film.
“A Place at the Table” illustrates that hunger is an issue that reaches far and wide, from the single mom in Philadelphia who tries to make ends meet when she can’t qualify for food stamps, to the elementary school student whose food bank-supplemented diet made up largely of processed snacks often leaves her hungry and unable to focus.
As actor and anti-hunger activist Jeff Bridges explains in the film, the problem of hunger in the U.S. is made especially difficult because so many people are ashamed to admit they suffer with food insecurity, and the food available to those most in need rarely provides adequate nutrition. We live in a time when hunger and obesity often exist side by side. Mississippi, the state with the highest rate of food insecurity, also has the highest obesity rate in the nation. “I think it’s really important to think about hunger and obesity as opposite sides of the same coin,” said Bill Shore, CEO and founder of Share Our Strength.
While the film doesn’t do much in the way of addressing the disparity between the nation’s worsening hunger problem among the poor and the growing fervor for gourmet food among the middle- and upper-class, it does shine a brief spotlight on celebrity chef Tom Colicchio, who advocates a change in the country’s food system.
Colicchio, who is married to Silverbush, stressed the importance of teaching children about healthy food and making it available to families at all income levels. In an interview with Time magazine, he said Americans’ growing interest in food could cause them to become more invested in the fight against hunger.
“It’s great that people are aware of food, especially when they’re concerned with health. And I think it could possibly be because of that focus on food that they actually look at it and say, ‘If I can afford healthy food, why can’t someone who’s on public assistance? What do we have to do to make healthy food less expensive?’ ”
For more information about the film or its companion social media-based action campaign, visit www.takepart.com/place-at-the-table.