A Place at the Table: This Is What Hunger in America Looks Like

Krishanu Ray, The Seattle Stranger

Perhaps the most fascinating and unsettling thing about hunger in America, the subject of this new documentary from the makers of Food, Inc., is how invisible it has made itself. The social stigma around admitting an inability to provide for your family, about accepting government assistance (if it’s even available), creates a certain silence that muffles the issue. And to an ignorant viewer like myself, the hungry children featured in this film certainly don’t look very hungry. They are well-clothed, live in houses with pets, go to school, and seem like they’re getting by just fine. Some of them are even fat little kids, the kind more likely to be pegged as a bit overfed. But it takes only a bit of digging below the surface for the film to completely realign that perspective.

What the documentary exposes are the systems that perpetuate malnourishment and food insecurity while maintaining the trappings of abundance. The massive grain subsidies (which make nutrient-poor foods so accessible and affordable), the urban and rural “food deserts” that isolate people from fully stocked grocery stores, the limitations of economic safety nets: These are structural reasons why obesity, hunger, and poverty are so intertwined. A Place at the Table is not an incendiary or angry film; it presents a tangible problem that doesn’t lend itself to procrastination and equivocation the way more abstract issues like climate change seem to. Despite emphasizing the forces working to maintain the status quo, the film never makes the issue seem unsolvable or inevitable, as many cause documentaries inadvertently do, and that’s why it may well be an effective call to action.