Movie Night: A Place at the Table

Place at the TableWhen we hear about the hundreds of millions of people throughout the world who do not have access to clean water and suffer from the diseases of unclean sources, in places like Bolivia and Rwanda, we are saddened, but no longer surprised. Because of the news coverage, images, and social interconnectivity the Internet provides, we are no longer ignorant in the United States and other “more developed countries” of the maladies in other places of the world. But it is likely surprising to most people in those same “developed” countries to find out that in the States—occasionally and absurdly referred to as “the greatest nation on earth”—there are nearly 50 million people who are hungry. They are sometimes referred to as “food insecure,” not knowing where their next meal will come from.

This is the subject of the powerful recent documentary A Place at the Table. Following the daily lives of a few families in different places throughout the country, the perils of socio-economic inequality, the commoditization, industrialization, and commercialization of food, and lack of meaningful governmental policy and action are embodied in the struggles they face. For one Colorado family, their daughter suffers from vision and attention issues, and thereby in her school classroom, because of undernourishment and lack of proper nutrients. Others are seen trying to make the limited value they receive in food stamps stretch out by purchasing heavily processed, nutritionally imbalanced foods like sodas, chips, instant noodle soups, and canned meats. It’s absolutely heart-wrenching to watch parents go without eating so that their children can have something, and to see some families plagued by obesity because their entire diet— when they can eat—consists of the kinds of things that should only be a small treat once in a long while.
Because this is a film about awareness, it is not heavy on constructive steps forward to remedy the massive, institutional forces that have enabled this situation for millions. The film harkens back to the government-funded programs of the 1960s and 70s that “nearly solved” the problem of hunger in America. But since then, shortsighted policy, corporate consolidation, and financial interests have led to a lack of focus and vigor in our national policy. One of the subplots of the film is the recent roadblocks and impasse of trying to reform child nutrition programs to provide more, healthful meals to young students. But this, ironically and depressingly, pitted agribusiness interests against nutrition, and little progress was achieved for the latter. “You fund your priorities,” says Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in one of the clips from the Senate hearing. Right now, nutrition is low on the national priority list. In a country as supposedly affluent and developed as the United States is thought to be, no one should be worrying about not having a next meal—let alone 50 million people. A Place at the Table shows in an impactful way the need for more attention and action to meet one of the most basic necessities of life: healthful, satiating meals for everyone. We should have been able to check that one off the list by now. Two&Too

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