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Movie review: A Place at the Table

Posted 4:48pm on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013

PG (thematic elements, brief mild language); 84 min.

America's twin ills, the swollen ranks of hungry people in the country and the national "obesity epidemic," are explained, in blunt and poignant terms, in A Place at the Table, a new documentary about "food politics." Filmmakers Lori Silverbush and Kristi Jacobson show us the faces of hunger -- the working poor of Collbran, Colo.; Jonestown, Miss.; and Philadelphia -- 50 million Americans, by the latest estimates.

They talk to plenty of experts. There are celebrity witnesses -- actor Jeff Bridges has been involved in this issue since the 1980s, Top Chef judge Tom Colicchio has become an anti-hunger activist.

And they visit the hungry themselves -- 11-year-old Rosie, in rural Colorado, a bright kid living with three generations of her family, all of them working, in a tiny house -- struggling in school because there isn't enough to eat, because school-lunch programs are decades behind inflation in their budgeting.

We learn about "food deserts," those corners of rural and urban America with no accessible supermarket that carries fresh fruits and vegetables. And there are villains, including an outdated farm subsidy program that lobbyists have engineered to serve only giant agri-businesses, which in turn focus on corn, soy and wheat, the products used in the cheap, unhealthy processed foods that they push. And then members of Congress, in Big Agra's thrall, show up to hearings about the subject and whine about the (tiny) cost of school and senior citizen breakfast and lunch programs.

It's a beautifully shot and reasonably balanced film, but one that struggles to find a hopeful note to end on. Perhaps if every member of Congress did what House member Jim McGovern attempted -- living for a week on what food stamps and food assistance programs provide -- objections to offending Big Ag and its lobbyists would turn into solutions.

Exclusive: Landmark Magnolia, Dallas; opens March 8 at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth

-- Roger Moore, McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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