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Originally published February 28, 2013 at 3:25 PM | Page modified February 28, 2013 at 3:25 PM

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‘A Place at the Table’: a haunting look at hunger in the U.S.

“A Place at the Table” documents the largely unknown epidemic of hunger in the U.S.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie Review 3.5 stars

“A Place at the Table,” a documentary directed by Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush. 84 minutes. Rated PG for thematic elements and brief mild language. Varsity.

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So many of the words spoken in Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush’s moving documentary about hunger in the U.S., “A Place at the Table,” will haunt you long after the film is over.

Barbie, a young Philadelphia single mother, says, “I know what it’s like to have your children look at you and tell you that they’re hungry, and you have to force them to go to sleep, as if they did something wrong.” Rosie, a sweet-faced fifth grader in Colorado, matter-of-factly says, “Sometimes we run out of food,” and describes how it’s hard to concentrate in school because she’s so hungry. A law-enforcement official, collecting a box from a food bank, says that accepting such help is “humiliating,” then, correcting himself, calls it “grounding.” Actor Jeff Bridges, founder of the End Hunger Network, notes that “If another country was doing this to our kids, we’d be at war.”

The statistics, piling up in this film, are shocking. One in two American children will be on food assistance at some point in their childhood. In 1980, this country had about 200 food banks; now there are more than 40,000. As many as 50 million Americans rely on food assistance to some extent. And “A Place at the Table” explains the seemingly confounding fact that hunger and obesity, in this country, often go hand in hand: In recent decades, the cost of fresh fruits and vegetables has gone up, while simultaneously the cost of processed foods has gone down. With limited money for groceries, it’s hard not to choose more-filling carbohydrates and snacks — which also tend to make up the majority of what’s available from food banks.

“A Place at the Table” is full of statistics and facts, but it wisely focuses on people: Barbie, whose strength and determination jump off the screen; Rosie, dreaming that “Extreme Makeover” might come to solve her problems; a Mississippi second-grade teacher determined to teach her students about nutrition; a small-town pastor who runs an ever-growing food bank; experts who movingly attest to a crisis. It leaves you angry — as the best rabble-
rousing documentaries do — at how a country so rich could let so many people fall through the cracks. “Are you aware that I exist?” asks Barbie quietly, in a speech she gives through the Witness to Hunger program. Now we are.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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