'A Place at the Table' review: Doc tastes good while reflecting an unhealthy society

'A Place at the Table'

'A Place at the Table' (February 26, 2013)

*** (out of four)

Sometimes Rosie, a Colorado fifth grader, imagines her teacher is a banana and her classmates are apples. It’s a cute fantasy until you put it in context.

Rosie does this because she’s one of 50 million Americans who are food insecure, meaning she doesn’t know where her next meal will come from. In the troubling doc “A Place at the Table,” Rosie struggles to focus in school because of her grumbling stomach. Overweight Mississippi second grader Tremonica demonstrates the unusual paradox of the state leading the nation in both food insecurity and obesity. And Philadelphia single mother of two Barbie strives to feed her kids, discovering the lose-lose situation that she has more food in the house with public assistance than with funds from her full-time job—which pays too much for her to receive government money and the two meals per day her children received at day care.

“Top Chef” judge Tom Colicchio executive produced “Table” and appears briefly, both as an interview subject and in his efforts to educate children and Congress about an issue that’s only grown larger since the Reagan administration. I certainly didn’t know hunger was, according to a report by Walter Cronkite, “largely eradicated” in the ’70s, and I can’t say I’ve thought much about why food costs what it costs. It’s no secret that unhealthy food is cheap, contributing to obesity problems in low-income areas. “Table” offers a useful look into the subsidies—stay with me, this matters—that drive up fruit and vegetable prices while lowering the cost of processed junk that tastes better and treats your body far worse than it treats your wallet.

It seems the major issue in reality, and consequently with the film, is the biggest thing that needs to happen is an overhaul in government and corporate operations. Yeah, not going to hold my breath on that. Without unraveling why Capitol Hill has pushed aside hunger via indifference and empty presidential chatter, “Table” captures what some citizens do to assist, including a pastor who runs a food bank and Jeff Bridges, who founded the End Hunger Network in the early ’80s and continues to put a famous face on a working-class situation.

Moving and sad as an activist effort toward awareness, “Table” shows how many average people live with below average food supplies. Rosie, for example, wishes “Extreme Home Makeover” would rescue her and her six family members who live together in a small house in Collbran, Colo. She knows they don’t have a headline-worthy story, though. They're just ordinary people, hungry and needing help.
 

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mpais@tribune.com

 

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