A Place at the Table. Dir. Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush. Perf. Jeff Bridges, Tom Colicchio, Ken Cook. Participant Media, 2012. Film.
Made by Participant Media, the same company that produced 2008 film Food, Inc., A Place at the Table creates a clear picture of hunger and food insecurity as it exists today in America. It investigates a handful of today’s 50 million incidents of food insecurity, working to dispel the myth that hunger is reserved for those who are literally starving, and proposes solutions which center around government and policy changes.
The film is similar to Food, Inc. in that its main drive is in-depth storytelling of individuals and families. Unlike Food Inc., however, it is not broken up into themed chapters. Instead, these individuals and families reappear in a non-linear fashion, contributing to each others’ stories in order to add to themes which weave throughout. These characters include Barbie Izquierdo, Philadelphia single mother of two (one of whom has various health problems) who depends on SNAP and struggles to find a job, only to lose her benefits when she finally finds a job; Colorado 5th grader Rosie, who cannot focus in school because she often goes hungry, relies on community resources, and hopes her kids will have a better life than she; and Tremonica, an obese, asthmatic, and diabetic Mississippi child who embodies the effects of her state’s notoriously calorie-dense, nutrient-deficient diet. The film follows these characters throughout the country to reveal food insecurity’s main causes (lack of access, lack of money, lack of education and prohibitive or counterproductive government policies) and effects (hunger, malnutrition, stress, depression, humiliation, obesity, learning disabilities, diabetes).
Other characters are highlighted to convince the viewer that government intervention is necessary, by highlighting that these characters can only do so much, and especially within a system that works against them. Barbie’s confidant, as well as doctor and fellow “Witnesses to Hunger” advocate, Mariana Chilton, brings Barbie to Washington, explaining “these guys are the ones who make it happen.” Rosie’s Pastor Bob Wilson runs a soup kitchen, yet sees that the need is greater than what he is able to supply. Finally, Tremonica’s teacher Odessa Cherry teaches her enthusiastic 2nd graders about fruits and vegetables, but cannot help parents who work with a limited budget and whose dollars go further when buying junk food than produce.
Narration, info-graphics, and commentary add to the film’s message that alternative aids are meant to be emergency resources, and that government and policy change are the only realistic means for ending food insecurity. Occasional narration guides and offers clarification or shocking facts when necessary (example: 23.5 Americans live in food deserts, 75% of which are urban; 70% of USDA subsidies go to 10% of its beneficiaries, and only 4% are for fruits and vegetables). Interjections by authors, activists, politicians, doctors, chef Tom Colicchio and actor Jeff Bridges offer insight on characters’ first-hand experiences, often allowing the viewer to gain greater meaning from them (Ex: One commentator explains that 85% of poor Americans have at least one job). Animated info-graphics offer a timeline of hunger in America, revealing to the viewer that hunger, obesity, and food insecurity is not a new problem, but that it was almost solved in the 1970s until Reagan’s tax cuts and military spending.
A Place at the Table creatively traces the leading causes of food insecurity, examines the health-related repercussions and emotional toll of such food insecurity, and is able to convince the viewer that food insecurity is a serious problem which can, must and should be remedied through government aid. The film does a good job of finding people throughout the country with shockingly similar stories and revealing the ubiquitous nature of food insecurity. It is not overly laden with facts, but is mainly story-based. Yet it still presents a clear and credible case.
A Place at the Table had a few shortcomings. The film had a clear focus on the effects of food insecurity on children. As a result, it mostly neglected the elderly, disabled, homeless, and unemployed. This may be because it is easiest to argue that children deserve food no matter what, especially when marketing to Americans who, as one commentator explains, “have a love-hate relationship with the poor.” It was also a fairly one-sided narrative, with most commentators sharing extremely similar opinions and merely working to seamlessly reinforce each others’ views. The film left it up for no debate that governmental action is the only solution to systemic food insecurity.
Finally, my biggest problem with the film was that while it was able to draw viewers in and convince them that consumer interest and power is necessary to get legislators to act, there were no clear action steps prescribed! After empowering viewers to be the change, the film basically says “this is wrong–do something.” The final moment of the film encapsulated this perfectly, as it revealed a screen with the words “Everyone Deserves a Place at the Table” and then a number to text in order to donate $10. There was no mention of Participant Media’s website “Take Part,” which has created advocacy and education opportunities, and no simple advocacy steps to leave with. While effective in conveying a complicated issue in a compelling and easy-to-follow manner, A Place at the Table left me sad, angry, energized, and ready to fight hunger, yet without any outlet for this inspiration.
The garden looked absolutely beautiful today! Someone had already watered when I got to the garden this afternoon, but a lot of the beds and perimeter plants were already drying out so I re-watered them.
The blueberry bushes have tons of flowers on them:
So does the orange tree:
Like someone mentioned in a previous post, a lot of the cabbage, lettuce, and other plants on the perimeter of the garden look like they are struggling, perhaps because the water cannot drain. They are flooded with murky water & thick (gunky) mud, so I dumped some of the water, leaves and gunk from a few. But we may want to do something more about this. Here’s an example:
The purple basil is starting to sprout:
That’s all for today.
When I got to the garden I saw that someone else had already watered it, but the beds already looked a little dry– it was so hot today! Anyway, here’s some things I noticed while watering/clearing out debris:
Lettuce is definitely starting to bolt, like David King explained it would:
I was wondering where the guava tree is going to go? One had fallen off, and another is still on the tree:
Some of the blueberry bushes’ leaves are starting to turn brown:
The beets and kale are starting to sprout in the bed with the big beets sign!:
There’s a plant with little white flowers growing at the side of one of the beds. It’s really pretty and I’m wondering what it is:
See you all tomorrow at the garden!
Much like CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture), the farm-hopping described in this article on Good.is combines small-scale farming with community support and crowdfunding. I thought this was an interesting alternative to urban gardens and farms that we discuss and read about in class, as it relies heavily on the fact that these farms are specialized and rural, not urban or DIY-ready. I’m curious to know what you all think about this, whether it seems impractical or a great way to encourage small farmers; whether it seems sustainable; whether the carbon footprint effect of having to send products from all over the world seems like a discouraging factor; etc.
I was reading Take Part (an awesome blog/organization btw!) and saw this video, which uses the same narration as the original ad, but as explained in the accompanying article, responds to the fact that “for an industry so dependent on immigrant farm labor, Ram’s representation is far, far too white.” The article also writes the interesting fact that “according to the most recent National Agricultural Workers Survey, 68 percent of workers were born in Mexico.”
Here’s the article: http://www.takepart.com/video/clip-day-so-god-made-latino-farmer
As Ellen explains in the post below, we both visited the garden today, helping build the beds and water plants. I’ll be writing about the plants here:
1. There were pine needles and leaves covering all the beds, so we cleared them off.
2. The bed with all cabbages looked a little wilted, some were brown on the edges and bottom, with dead leaves hanging on that I picked off.
3. Buckwheat and radishes are sprouting!
4. We added some extra soil to some. Even though it rained and they seemed watered enough at 11:30, by 3pm they were drier so we watered them a bit.
5. We planted another cabbage because it was sitting in a plastic pot thing without any drainage.
6. The pomello tree doesn’t look wilted anymore, at least to my eye, like a previous blogger posted. There are 2 yellow pomellos and a few green ones growing on the tree right now.
7. Carrots and onions are starting to come up!