When we talk about hunger, most people’s first thought would be to the images of bone thin children in third world countries regularly broadcast by charities looking for donations. Most people don’t think about the hunger problem that’s happening right here in North America because it’s simply not as talked about nor are its visual markers the same as we’re used to seeing. In reality, more than 50 million Americans are going hungry on a regular basis – many of them children who do not have access to fresh fruits and vegetables or who rely on their severely underfunded school lunch programme for their one hot meal of the day. This is especially scary because in the ’70s, the heyday of social programmes aimed at helping lower income families get on their feet, hunger in the United States was virtually eradicated. But as those programmes lost more and more funding over the last three decades, the problem has resurfaced and once more one of the richest countries in the world has dropped to the bottom of the list of places that are working to assist people who don’t have the means to help themselves.

A Place at the Table gives us a glimpse into the lives of those who are most affected by this problem–a young single mother of two who lands a full time job but loses her access to food stamps for making $2 over the limit, a little girl whose hunger pains cause her to lose concentration at school, families who live too far off the beaten path for food trucks to deliver fruits and vegetables–and at the people who are valiantly attempting to make a change that will have a real impact on the next generation, many of whom will have lasting health issues due to malnourishment at a young age. The most staggering realization is that most of the people profiled in the film are working yet still don’t make enough to buy groceries to last them the month due to the rising cost of healthy food in a country where there’s more than enough healthy food to go around. As a result, many families rely on low cost, low nutrition food that affects their weight (who would think that the obesity epidemic could be related to hunger?) or they just don’t eat more than once a day.

Directors Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush have done a great job of laying out all of the information–causes, results, personal stories–in a way that’s easy to understand and not manipulative or exploitive in showing those dealing with the issue. For me, it was the first time I really understood the scope of the problem and just how many people suffer from “food insecurity” a.k.a. not knowing where their next meal was going to come from. Living in a large city, it’s easy to take our access to fresh and organic food for granted and as someone who’s never gone hungry, it’s hard to imagine having that worry. A Place at the Table doesn’t offer up a lot of solutions, but they do show the stopgaps that have cropped up as the need has become greater. Food banks, charities, and pantries, which have increased from two-hundred nationwide to a whopping 40,000 in a mere three decades, have been turning up to temporarily combat the problem, but a functional, long term solution is still in the works. Actor Jeff Bridges, founder of the End Hunger Network, pretty much sums up the issue thusly, “if another country was doing this to our kids, we would be at war. It’s just insane.”

Is A Place at the Table Opening Weekend Worthy?

You betcha. This is a well-made doc that’s of the “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down” variety – it’s both interesting and informational. What’s more, if the film inspires you to look into the hunger issue that also exists here in Canada, you can do so by checking out FoodShare, a national organization focused on issues of food policy, that’s co-presenting the film when it opens on Friday, April 5, 2013 at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema.

A Place at the Table Trailer

A Place at the Table Production Stills