Equity & Diversity

Poor People, Poor Food: Screening ‘A Place at the Table’

By Ross Brenneman — March 14, 2013 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A new documentary, “A Place at the Table,” recently premiered. Produced by Magnolia Films, the company behind “Food, Inc.” and “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,” “A Place at the Table” looks broadly at food insecurity and poverty.

Much of it covers old ground for those of you who read Education Week regularly, but it has the emotional punch of film. Heartstrings, prepare thyselves for tugging.

Let’s take a detailed look:

Most importantly: Is there an adorable child?

Is the new pope Catholic? The primary focus is Rosie, a young Coloradan who can’t focus at school because she can’t get a proper meal. Her family starts receiving food packages, but they contain mostly snack food—filling stuff but without substance. There’s also Tremonica, a 2nd grader with obesity issues, as well as other children with nutritional problems.

Remind me, how come children can be poor and overweight?

The United States is home to many food deserts, areas where fresh produce is scarce or expensive. (Like real deserts, but, sadly, fewer camels.) See, America produces a lot of food, oodles and oodles of it. The United States is, as of 2011, the largest producer of corn, strawberries, milk, beef, chicken, soybeans, and turkey. It’s second in pork, lettuce, oranges, apples, nuts, and eggs. It’s number three in wheat, tomatoes, and potatoes. But food doesn’t always go where it’s most needed. And, in place of retailers of healthy food, fast food and convenience stores spring up.

These people can’t get fruit and vegetables? Aren’t those everywhere?

Fresh fruit and vegetables are available in many places, but they’re not cheap in the same way corn is cheap. Heck, Honeycrisp apples can reach $4.50 a pound. But potatoes? Bread? Those are cheaper than tickets to a community theater production of “Herbie: Fully Loaded.”

What other problems does this movie feature?

Lack of nutritional value in school food. The benefits and limits of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act and its attempt to improve nutritional value in school food. The fact that the HHFKA cut money to SNAP. Congress.

Why haven’t churches and charities solved these problems?

There are a number of groups that give greatly and freely across the United States, but the point of “A Place at the Table” is that charity is not a solution to hunger either in principle or in practice. Philosophically, the film says, it is the government’s duty to help the downtrodden.

And in execution, the work those charities and groups do is not enough. First, there’s the sheer amount of people that need feeding. But, second, think about the prevalence of ramen noodles among donated foods; it’s cheap and sodium-rich. A lot of food that gets donated isn’t freshly pulled from the earth; it’s canned or processed and nutritionally lacking. That’s not to say donated food isn’t helpful—an empty stomach is usually more distracting than empty calories—but there are limits.

So what kind of political solutions does the movie suggest?

The directors look at raising the minimum wage as one idea, an idea that economists are not unified on. President Barack Obama called for a minimum-wage increase in his most recent State of the Union address. Here’s a piece by Christina Romer, former member of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, against the minimum wage, as well as a rebuttal by Harold Meyerson, the editor-at-large of The American Prospect.

What about other solutions? What are schools doing to improve nutrition?

Here’s the Rules for Engagement nutrition archive, which will save us all some time. But the condensed version is that schools are:

1. Increasing the amount of school breakfasts served.
2. Not illegally diverting millions of dollars from their federal school meal funds.
3. Opening school food pantries.
4. Altering their designs to create a motivating environment for eating healthy.

Is this movie just going to depress me?

This is not a portrait kind of movie, where the directors stand back passively. It’s pointed—which is fine. There aren’t a lot of pro-children-dying-of-malnourishment people out there. But just so you know.

In tone, it’s more “An Inconvenient Truth” than it is a Sarah McLachlan ASPCA commercial. You’re not seeing kids with their ribs showing or anything outright traumatizing, so much as the slow, dull body blows of poverty.

So maybe go with a small popcorn instead of a big one?

Bring an emergency salad.

“A Place at the Table” is playing in limited release at inconveniently located theaters. It will probably be available for Netflix streaming in a couple months.

Follow Rules for Engagement on Twitter @Rulz4Engagement.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
What’s Next for Teaching and Learning? Key Trends for the New School Year
The past 18 months changed the face of education forever, leaving teachers, students, and families to adapt to unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning. As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Equity & Diversity Reported Essay What the Indian Caste System Taught Me About Racism in American Schools
Born and raised in India, reporter Eesha Pendharkar isn’t convinced that America’s anti-racist efforts are enough to make students of color feel like they belong.
7 min read
Conceptual Illustration
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
Equity & Diversity Reported Essay Our Student Homeless Numbers Are Staggering. Schools Can Be a Bridge to a Solution
The pandemic has only made the student homelessness situation more volatile. Schools don’t have to go it alone.
5 min read
Conceptual illustration
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
Equity & Diversity How Have the Debates Over Critical Race Theory Affected You? Share Your Story
We want to hear how new constraints on teaching about racism have affected your schools.
1 min read
Illustrations.
Mary Hassdyk for Education Week
Equity & Diversity Opinion When Educational Equity Descends Into Educational Nihilism
Schools need to buckle down to engage and educate kids—not lower (or eliminate) expectations in the name of “equity.”
3 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty