‘A Place at the Table’ directors Kristi Jacobson (left) and Lori Silverbush. (Photo: Getty Images)
For decades, American mythology has dictated that if you don’t have enough food to eat, it’s because you’re not working hard enough. But for 50 million Americans—that’s one in six people—food insecurity has become an ever-present fact of life, making it clear that hunger is no longer an issue that can be shrugged off as the simple effect of idleness.
With skyrocketing unemployment, a minimum wage that’s far below a livable wage, and government subsidies that render only the least nutritious foods affordable, it’s no wonder food insecurity has officially become everyone’s problem. But it’s also a solvable one, according to Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush, the filmmakers behind A Place at the Table, a moving portrait of America’s food insecure.
The A Place at the Table, which debuts March 1, follows the lives of three hardworking families living with the consequences of a food system that’s flawed to a disturbing degree—one where even full-time employment provides no protection against hunger, and the assistance to remedy the problem is all too meager.
Jacobson says that once she and Silverbush understood how widespread hunger in America was, they were inspired to tell its story. “For me, the thing as a filmmaker that prevented me from being able to look away or walk away, was once I understood the real, devastating, life-long consequences it has on children, and what a critical part of our nation and our future that is,” she tells TakePart.
Lori Silverbush adds, “There is no area that’s exempt from this; by definition that means that white people, black people, people of every demographic group. We were very surprised to learn that it was also a rural issue, not just an urban issue,” she says. “We were very shocked to find that the vast majority of families who have to avail themselves of food stamps and food banks have working adults at home.”
But before our nation can solve hunger, we have to acknowledge it—no easy feat considering our current cultural views.
Lori Silverbush explains, “We’ve learned in making A Place at the Table that as a nation...one of our favorite cultural myths or fairy tales is about pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, this very John Wayne, American concept," she says. “And the implication is if you’re not succeeding, you must be doing something wrong.”
She adds, “But one of the things that we learned is that the game is a little rigged. And there’s a lot of people in the country who are actually abiding by the usual contract—that you get up, take care of your kids, you go to work—and they still can’t make it. And we were really mystified by that and wanted to explore it and say 'Well, how’s that possible?'”
That’s why the filmmakers chose to use their storytelling skills to not only address the problem of hunger, but highlight the economic injustice that lies underneath it. A Place at the Table illustrates the need for fair pay, a living wage and funding for programs like SNAP. If our country adopted these models, they believe, as do many others, that as pervasive as hunger is, it’s still a solvable issue—one that could be remedied within years, not lifetimes.
Still, A Place at the Table is about much more than politics. It's a moving and often heartbreaking story, one that the filmmakers hope has a deep emotional resonance with viewers. Kristi Jacobson says, “I believe that if you impact one person, if you open their minds and move them to see something differently, than they have previously seen it, you have impact,” she says. “This film will have a political impact, but I think it will open people’s eyes, showing them something they haven’t seen before, helping them understand a person, a place, a situation, whatever they haven’t previously understood or cared to understand. I think that in and of itself is important.”
And while both agree it’s easy to rail at “the system” for not remedying food insecurity, the filmmakers believe the power lies within all of us to change it.
Lori Silverbush says, “You can’t really be angry that the government hasn’t fixed this if we haven’t gotten together to tell them it’s a priority. [Through the film] we’re going to give people a way to connect with the issue and get their voices heard and only in doing that, will we fix hunger. I believe that.”
A Bay Area native, Andri Antoniades previously worked as a fashion industry journalist and medical writer. In addition to reporting the weekend news on TakePart, she volunteers as a web editor for locally based nonprofits and works as a freelance feature writer for TimeOutLA.com.Email Andri | @andritweets | TakePart.com