It seems incongruous during a rampant obesity epidemic in the United States, the notion of around 49 million Americans suffering from “food insecurity” — not knowing where either their next meal will come from, or the money to purchase it. But the smart and poignantly argued new documentary A Place at the Table, in assaying governmental farm subsidy policies and other social welfare assistance, casts hunger and obesity as neighbors, not distant and exclusive conditions separated by a yawning chasm. Engorged with feeling, this nonfiction tale leads with its heart, and successfully makes a persuasive case for social investments that offset future “up-stream” societal costs across a wide range of arenas.
Against a backdrop which has seen a 40 percent rise in the cost of fruits and vegetables over the past three decades, versus a 40 percent decrease in the price of processed foods, A Place at the Table puts in its crosshairs agricultural policies (including $250 billion in USDA subsidies since 1995) that underwrite the massive production of in particular corn, wheat, rice, soy and sugar — the basic ingredients in many high-fat, high-sodium processed foods — but not other staple crops, or whole grains. It does this mostly by polite cajoling, though, rather than heated hectoring.
The film’s rhythms sometimes tip toward the sedate, and while co-directors Lori Silverbush and Kristi Jacobson succeed in finding articulate and compelling interview subjects, they sometimes have trouble picking effective editorial pivot points and sharpening the spear tip of their arguments, making full sense of their case subjects’ situations. Still, with original music by T Bone Burnett and the Civil Wars, A Place at the Table aims to be a movie with more emotional punching power, which isn’t to say that it’s shoddily researched, just sensitive (perhaps a little too much so) to charges of wonky factorial overkill. Not unlike Food, Inc., though, it shines a light on just the dispiriting degree to which so many — and especially so many children — are prisoners of a system in which the vast majority of the scope of their diet lies outside of reasonably expected mechanisms of their own control.
A Place at the Table comes to Blu-ray presented in a 1080p high definition 1.78:1 widescreen transfer, with English SDH and Spanish subtitles, and an English language DTS-HD 5.1 master audio track that more than adequately handles the title’s rather straightforward aural needs. A heartening slate of supplemental features anchors the release. In addition to deleted scenes and extra, excised cast and crew interviews, there’s a nice feature-length audio commentary track with co-directors Silverbush and Jacobson and executive producer Tom Colicchio that spotlights various production challenges. There’s also a behind-the-scenes featurette and the movie’s theatrical trailer. To purchase the Blu-ray via Half, click here. B (Movie) B+ (Disc)