Today, A Place At The Table is released nation-wide. I was fortunate enough to catch a sneak peek earlier this week at New America NYC, where the filmmakers were also present for a Q&A following the screening.
If you don’t read the rest of this, my main point is: go see this film.
A little background: A Place At The Table looks at the troubling issue of hunger in the US, despite our sufficient collective wealth to provide nutritious food for the entire population. Unlike the stereotype of the starving African child, hunger in this country does not look like skin and bones. On the contrary, due to high subsidies for starchy products such as wheat, corn, and soy, many malnourished people in this country are actually obese. It must nevertheless be clarified that their being overweight does not mean that they don’t suffer, quite literally, from hunger.
While the documentary is itself both moving and fascinating, the most salient point came out during the discussion following the film. (NB: The panelists included the filmmakers, Lori Silverbush and Kristi Jacobson, as well as celebrity chef Tom Colicchio, who was featured in the film.) The panelists acknowledged that this documentary would largely appeal to left-leaning people for ‘ethical reasons.’ However, they also pointed out that there are convincing arguments for people of all political backgrounds to support changes in our food and farm policies, specifically those surrounding SNAP (or, food stamps).
The first motivation is economic. The right does not generally support higher taxes — particularly those that go toward social programs that benefit the poor. Yet programs like food stamps, in economic terms, are actually cheaper in the long-run.
The second is relating to security. A military official is quoted in the film as saying that obesity harms the ability of persons in the US to enlist and perform in the military. With a rising obesity rate, this could undoubtedly harm the strength of our military, and consequently, our national security.
The third is relating to our competitiveness. The United States is one of the richest and most powerful countries in the world. Yet each day our strength is threatened by the growth of other countries. In order to maintain our competitiveness on an international level, our entire population must be healthy in order to continue to perform and excel in everything we do.
Ultimately, the filmmakers created this documentary not only to raise awareness of the epidemic of hunger in the United States, but also to encourage people to take action. They noted that in many cases it can take as little as six phone calls to motivate politicians to work toward changes in our legislation. If sequestration takes effect today, and if the farm bill fails in November, a lot of social programs that help impoverished people to get the little sustenance they do will be cut. Therefore, the first step is to encourage legislators to support these programs. The more long-term goal is to change the nature of our food subsidies. If produce were subsidized, this would bring down the cost of healthier food options. In turn, low-income families would be saved from having to make the choice between four Big Macs that can feed the whole family and one watermelon (which is significantly lower in calories, and therefore fills you less).
So I’ve rambled enough by now, but I want to leave you with one quote from the film that particularly stood out to me from the film:
"America has a big stigma of the family eating together at the table. But they don’t talk about what it takes to get there or what’s there when you are." - Barbie