“Are you aware that I exist?” is one of the last—and most uncomfortable—lines uttered in A Place At The Table, which arrived in movie theaters, iTunes, and Amazon on March 1. Spoken by Barbie Izquierdo, one of the advocates trained by Witnesses to Hunger, a group that organizes low-income women to tell their own stories to policymakers, it’s a reminder of how invisible food insecurity is in American life and American policy-making, a state of affairs that A Place At The Table tries to correct. Watch an exclusive clip of the movie here:
The movie does what good documentaries are supposed to do. It attaches faces to the statistics, giving humanity to the 50 million Americans living with food insecurity. A Place At The Table features testimony from a mother in a northern city who relies on food stamps, still can’t help make ends meet, and wonders if hunger was the cause of her son’s developmental delays; a family in Colorado that includes an elementary school-aged child who can’t concentrate in school because she is hungry and fantasizing about food; and a child in a Mississippi family suffering from obesity and related health problems while her family struggles to purchase food.
But A Place at the Table isn’t just trying to score sympathy points. It’s full of experts, like Center for American Progress fellow Joel Berg, who tease out the issues that have left its subjects short of food. Some of these policy decisions are simply bad math, like the gap between benefits levels and what families actually need to meet their food needs, or insufficient investments in school meals. And others are larger cultural decisions, like agribusiness subsidies that incentivize the production of unhealthy crops, and Reagan-era budget cuts that increased reliance on overstretched charities, a response that resembles individual citizens showing up to a blazing fire with buckets of water. .
These issues, and Barbie’s question, are particularly salient at this moment, when the sequester is literally taking food from people’s mouths: 600,000 people will be cut from the Women Infants and Children (WIC) food program in FY 2013. And a pending reauthorization could take at least another $4.5 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps.
The team behind A Place At The Table has goals beyond simply getting the film in theaters. They’re holding screenings for stakeholders on food security issues. And the filmmakers have also partnered with the nation’s major food organizations, including Bread for the World, Feeding America, the Food Research and Action Center, and Share Our Strength. When individuals seek more information about the film online, they are provided with an avenue to “take action” which adds them to the email list of the food organizations, offers a hotline number that will help them to connect to their member of Congress, and provides information about locations where they can volunteer in their community. Rather than those individual citizens showing up with buckets, A Place At The Table is trying to turn its audience into a fire brigade.
Joy Moses is a Senior Policy Analyst with the Poverty and Prosperity program at American Progress.