A Place at the Table

This latest Participant Media agitprop should be easy for us food-utopians to swallow: It’s about how messed up it is that the rest of the country can’t eat as well as we do. Yes, even as we load our larders with fussily sourced organics and calibrate our special menus for boutique allergen avoidance, more than a few American families must scramble in search of a next meal whose only certainty is negative nutritional value. Directors Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush want their film to counteract a national epidemic of food insecurity, and maybe it can, although not by reinventing the documentary wheel. With the requisite animated infographics shepherding us through a brisk primer on farm policy and USDA history, we learn how an ill-managed agribusiness boom has compromised the availability and affordability of healthy sustenance. We learn the consequences of that compromise by meeting poor hungry folks in Mississippi, Pennsylvania, and Colorado. Also there are experts, and concerned, persuasive famous people: Top Chef ballbuster Tom Colicchio challenges his show’s contestants to work with emaciated school-lunch budgets, then has a word about budgets with Congress, too; hunger-awareness activist Jeff Bridges, with typical Dude-ish serenity, underscores the point that nowadays food banks just aren’t cutting it: “We don’t fund our Department of Defense through charity, you know?” Well, that is true. The film takes care to make fresh vegetables look more appealing than Funyuns, but the real problem, its directors understand, is making them more accessible.