Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A Place at the Table (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

A Place at the Table

"A Place at the Table" is an unsettling but necessary documentary by Lori Silverbush and Kristi Jacobson tackling the disturbing but very very real issue of hunger in America (and why nourishing and affordable food isn't available for everyone in our nation, which happens to be the richest in the world.

We are treated at first to some poetic and crisp images: deep green cornfields blaze at us with the richness of a Spielberg film. Creamy espresso-brown fields mellow upon the eyes, but all is not well in Americana, and the realization of this will startle you more than a surrealist David Lynch mystery.

There is Rosie, a small town Colorado fifth grader, as cute and spunky as a young Mattie in "True Grit", who says in matter of fact low tones that her stomach growls and she is often aching because of a lack of food.  She looks into the camera and admits she "doesn't know what to do." Then there is Tremonica, a Mississippi second grader who is obese with serious asthma. She is also malnourished due to being hungry.

The causes are manifold. First, these two alarming examples (and there are more throughout the film) are somewhat due to living in 'food deserts'. That is, in remote small towns where big grocery stores are either extremely difficult or impossible (by the daily grind of gas costs) to get to. Worse, because of the economy  many middle class and low  income Americans can not afford healthy balanced foods when they do eat and become obese by the consumption of high starched fructose-rich foods and snacks, thereby contributing to our obesity. All the examples in the film are termed to suffer from "food insecurity". In simple terms, these hardworking and  honest families frankly cannot say where their next meal will come from. They resort to charitable food banks and churches to sustain them. At first glance, we might think we are seeing a dystopian science fiction story, but the awful and sincerely unappetizing reality is that this is actually happening right now.

In 1980 there were 200 food banks. Now there are thousands. The very fact that this is occurring at all is offense to our country.

According to the film, food subsidies are a major culprit. Windfalls of money go into the production of corn and soy crops (making cheap, empty-calorie foods) while very little incentives are given to fruits and vegetables, the very ingredients that would greatly contribute to the health of adults, let alone our kids.

In one telling scene, school age children actually prefer fruits for breakfast once they become informed. A honeydew melon becomes as exotic  as an orb  from Oz but far from being out of reach, this melon is very attainable. Desire, as the catalyst for change is all that is necessary.

Once in the 1970's, as a result of a CBS News report about hungry kids in America, President Richard Nixon himself, instituted a free and reduced lunch program for needy children. Now forty years later, this blight is striking again. The scourge rose again like a selfish phoenix,in part, due to the 1980 rise in defense spending and tax cuts. Recently programs are in place, yet they are paid for by cuts in Medicaid. Mothers have mobilized, (with the addition of a startling photo-essay) but the budget allotment is grossly underfunded, only adding up to a mere four cent increase per kid. As a legislator says in the film, more expense goes into a Starbucks gourmet coffee than a school lunch.

For those who need any other convincing on the issue, we see Rooster Cogburn himself, Jeff Bridges, who says childhood hunger is a matter of American Patriotism with one in four kids or roughly fifty million in the USA without food to sustain them : "In any other country, this would be war." He flatly states.

"A Place at the Table" puts the utensil of awareness in our hand.

As always though once we feel it in our fingers with a poke in the pit of our stomachs, it is up to us what we do with it.

Write Ian at redtv_2005@yahoo.com

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