Today's vote gives you a good reason to watch two videos: one a recent documentary on hunger in this country, one a quick and bright account of teaching kids to cook that turns unexpectedly devastating. In fact, it gives you a mandate.
I first saw A Place At The Table last summer, in a preview performance at the Aspen Ideas Festival, after which I did a Q&A with Kristi Jacobson, the film's co-director. It was hard to formulate questions fast, because I was so affected by the film, which quietly but insistently traces the stories of several people and families who struggle to get enough food. The gift of the film to make you see something under your eyes every day and, by its close attention to the particular and not the general,
to make you understand in a visceral way that hunger is all around you--and
something you need to do something about.
The film is distributed by Magnolia and Participant, which did the same for Food, Inc.; until they committed to the film, though, Jacobson explained, it was the usual documentary story of raising money piecemeal and always facing the possibility that shooting would come to a halt. Jacobson was a filmmaker and Lori Silverbush, her directing partner, a writer, who had been deeply affected by mentoring a young woman she came to understand was troubled largely because she didn't have enough to eat.
Silverbush's spouse, Tom Colicchio, who has joined his wife in devoting large amounts of his time to calling attention to hunger, told me after a screening in Washington last February, when the film opened, that he'd been raising money for hunger relief for 25 years but "the problem only got worse. It was time to understand the systemic reasons."
The film explains those reasons, and highlights the surprising role of Richard Nixon in winning an effective, early victory against hunger that successive Republicans succeeded in rolling back. And it makes selective use of several of the country's sanest commentators on this history and current state of hunger programs, particularly Marion Nestle and Janet Poppendieck, of Hunter College, and Raj Patel.
But what will stay with you are the stories, particularly two. Rosie is a Colorado fifth-grader whose natural energy and curiosity we watch being continually diffused and hampered by a lack of enough to eat. The teacher who helps her and her mother get food without losing their dignity, Leslie Nichols, reveals unexpectedly and after we watch her on her missions of mercy that she too grew up in a hungry family.
And the heroine is Barbie Izquierdo, a beautifully spoken young Philadelphia mother who dreams of a college education and swears she will never feed her children Spaghetti-O's, as her mother had to feed her. So we see her take two buses to get to the nearest market that sells fresh produce, and feel the weight of the time to wait for both and then carry back the heavy grocery bags--all to put into practice the advice that food writers and nutritionists blithely give about making sure your family eats more fresh and less processed food. The length of the trip alone would make you go head for the nearest fast-food outlet.