A Place at the Table Review

Hot Docs - Finding North

Although it played almost a full year ago at Hot Docs under a different title the American hunger epidemic chronicled in Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush’s A Place at the Table (formerly known as Finding North) haven’t become any less relevant or dated. It might try a bit too hard to be cinematic at times instead of always sticking to the facts, but it shows some concrete and irrefutable evidence that government subsidies, obesity, and poverty all work hand in hand to make America one of the most unhealthy countries in the world. And don’t think that Canada isn’t immune to similar criticisms.

From parts of rural Colorado that are so economically depressed that the local sheriff has to hit up food banks every week to parts of the deep South where obesity rages thanks to a wealth of processed, empty calorie devices take the place of less profitable fruits and vegetables, Jacobson and Silverbush take a look at the concept of “food insecurity” as a serious form of hunger that affects over 50 million Americans on a daily basis. Their film is full of places where young mothers have to make the decision to buy cookies and chips for their kids because fruit and proteins are prohibitively expensive on tight budgets.

The culture of funding grains for processing (corn, wheat, soy) has taken an unhealthy precedence over other sorts of farming, but the focus here isn’t on sustainability, but how unhealthy and dishearteningly reliant we’ve all become on them. It’s a world where fruit, meat, and vegetable deliveries that aren’t in cans often bypass small towns in the interest of maximum delivery for a minimum cost, and not once is thought given to how poor people in such communities can’t afford to go to major metropolitan areas just to get something healthy. The problem is getting worse and community organizations are struggling to keep up themselves.

It’s a compelling and undeniably glossy look at a serious problem that needs to be paid closer attention to. While sometimes Jacobson and Silverbush are trying a bit too hard to create striking images to go along with the film (and an admittedly accomplished and well done score from T. Bone Burnett and The Civil Wars doesn’t help in this respect), the focus is widely placed on the people living through such crises rather than on a bunch of talking heads. Sure, there are a few of those – including actor Jeff Bridges who heads up the End Hunger Network and US representative James McGovern – but they are informed experts that only serve to clarify just what the film’s subjects are going through. It shows American hunger not in a harsh light that compares it to the third world, but to a dirty little secret that people seem to never want to talk about.

While results for the film might be mixed with possibly sceptical Canadian audiences, many of the problems are similar, and if anything it serves as a great starting point to think about bigger agricultural and economic issues, not to mention something that will make many take a closer look at what they’re eating and why the cost of it all is so comparably low.