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One nation. Underfed. Indescribable. With poverty and malnourishment for all.
In 2008, the world was greeted with, what has been called, one of the most startling and frightening documentaries ever made. It was Robert Kenner's Food, Inc., an acclaimed, highly-regarded, Academy Award nominated account of the horribly corrupt, unsanitary practices of the American food industry. It was a film that told a lot of facts, but used much of its material as an effort to scare the American public, while presenting it as a problem with no conceivable solution. Also, its own talking point, about how America should overhaul its heavily-preserved, pesticide-ridden food in favor of a greener, more organic lifestyle, was one it didn't really back up. As a documentary as a whole, it did its job (to inform me as a viewer), and I was happy to have seen it. I just wished I had seen it when it was followed by a filmmaker Q&A where I could've asked those involved how did they expect the American people who were on welfare, minimum wage, and food stamps to convert to a life predominately consisting of organic food products?
And now, we have A Place at the Table, a documentary focusing on that same group of people, which has been depressingly expanding for years on end. We open with exterior shots of various big cities in the United States, before closing in on a smaller one, Collbran, Colorado a western, rural land comprised of humble, desperate folk who are struggling to make ends meet. We see a church organization member recall how when he started serving hot meals to the public, where anyone can come and eat for free, on Wednesday night, an unprecedented eighty to one-hundred and twenty people showed up. It was a large indication that many people in Collbran were not just desperate for frivolous things, but for something they can't live without.
We then expand to other various cities, such as Jonestown, Mississippi, one of the many American towns that suffers from food insecurity. That is when the public, or its townspeople, do not know where they next meal will come from. Think long and hard about where yours will. Mine will likely be a home-cooked meal, with meat, one or two sides, a salad, and a drink. Many Americans, even children, will be lucky to get one of those things.
Another term defined in the documentary is locations ominously called "food deserts," which are areas where places that carry healthy food packing nutrition, vitamins, and necessary fulfillment don't exist for miles on end, leaving the only resources to be from local stop-and-shops that stock up on food filled with unhealthy fats and empty calories. I was raised where a salad accompanied almost every meal, seemingly by law, not by choice. Seeing young children who have likely never eaten a radish, a cucumber, lettuce, or an onion in their lives is a stunningly upsetting.
Statistics are batted off quite frequently, saying that one in two children will grow up on food stamps in the United States, 30% of people suffer from food insecurity, and currently, over fifty million people in the United States are underfed and undernourished. One of the earliest statistics seems contradictory, but will come as no surprise after a few seconds; Mississippi is the most obese state in the country and it's also the most unfed. Vegetables, again, are difficult to access in many areas, so food that stocks gas station shelves like chips, Cheetos, cupcakes, and hot dogs and sausage that spend nearly half its time on a warming tray are usually what's for dinner. It's, too, widely known that people receiving government aid and food stamps can not afford to spend much of their cash on "luxury items" such as vegetables, because it needs to get them through the month. The government has long subsidized corn, soybean, and wheat products, and has neglected to back vegetables and nourishing products with the same political commodities, we're told. "For years, we've been subsidizing the wrong foods," says Marion Nestle, a food professor.
Just a few days ago, I was talking with a friend and spoke the thought that if we lived in a perfect world, wouldn't basic necessities such as food and clothing, in their simple sense, of course, be free to the public? Wouldn't thinks like milk, bread, and corn be available on a no-cost basis to the consumer. The key words were "in a perfect world." in the world we currently inhabit, prices are sky-rocketing for the stuff we should eat and plummeting on the stuff we shouldn't. You, dear reader, reading this review, send me a picture of a sign that boasts in big, bold primary colors vegetables for an amount equivalent to the price of a two-liter bottle of soda or a bag of Lays potato chips.
A Place at the Table, again, doesn't offer many solutions to this problem, but they are quick to point out what is currently being done in the favor of stopping hunger in a country where there's more than enough healthy food to go around. Food banks, charities, and pantries, which have increased from two-hundred nationwide to a whooping 40,000 in thirty years, have been turning up to temporarily combat the problem, but a functional, long term solution is still in the works. American actor Jeff Bridges, who is responsible for founding the organization called the End Healthy Network in efforts to assist starving kids and adults, poignantly states, "if another country was doing this to our kids, we would be at war. It's just insane."
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