BOOK REVIEW: 'A Place at the Table: America's Hunger Problem, How It Came About, Some Suggestions on How to Solve It' Companion to Participant Media Documentary Film

By David M. Kinchen
BOOK REVIEW: 'A Place at the Table: America's Hunger Problem, How It Came About, Some Suggestions on How to Solve It' Companion to Participant Media Documentary Film
    The U.S. at one and the same time is afflicted with an obesity crisis of monumental proportions, and, according to Peter Pringle, editor of "A Place at the Table: The Crisis of 49 Million Hungry Americans and How to Solve It" (PublicAffairs, Participant Media Guide, 288 pages, notes, index,  $15.95) we have a problem with hunger that  makes no sense in  the richest nation in the world -- a nation with a  permanent massive surplus of food.

 

From Participant Media, the people who  brought you "Food, Inc"  and Waiting for "Superman" the documentary, scheduled for March 1 release and the companion Participant Guide offer  an eye-opening exploration of how we can end hunger in America, maybe even before the 2015 date set by President Barack Obama. The book is based on the documentary but it can be read as a stand-alone look at the hunger problem.

 

Forty-nine million people — including one in four children — go hungry in the U.S every day, despite our having the means to provide nutritious, affordable food for all. "A Place at the Table"  examines this issue by interweaving the stories of three people who are struggling with food insecurity with insights from food experts and activists. The Los Angeles Times called it "moving… [it] forcefully makes the case that hunger has serious economic, social, and cultural implications for the nation."


Expanding on the film's themes, the Participant Guide  "A Place at the Table" includes essays from more than a dozen food and hunger activists and reformers, outlining how to get involved now in innovative ways to reshape the American welfare system. Ultimately, it shows us how hunger poses a deep threat to our nation, and how it can be solved once and for all, if the American public decides — as they have in the past with eliminating epidemic diseases like cholera and yellow fever — that making healthy food available and affordable is in the best interest of us all.

 

Contributor Sarah Newman (pages 145-6) argues that the "industrial food system" is part of the problem: "... how can we tolerate an industrial food system out of sync with our faith traditions that leaves 49 million Americans hungry? More than one-third of all Americans are obese. They include rural and urban residents, children and elderly, all of who are subsisting on unhealthy processed foods laden with salts and sugars. They are food insecure and unable to access the sustainable food systems available to millions of other Americans at their supermarkets, local farmers' markets and community supported agriculture (CSA) programs."

 

In Chapter 14, "Getting Off the Anti-Hunger Treadmil", contributor Andy Fisher argues (Page 184) that "Food bankers are like hamsters on a treadmill. They have been running faster and faster just to keep up with demand over the past thirty years. To get more food to feed more hunry people, they have had to compromise their values by partnering with corporations, some of which, such as Wal-Mart, are causing hunger through their labor problems."

 

In Chapter 15, "Childhood Hunger: A Battle That Can Be Won", Bill Shore makes the point (Page 195)  that "All successful movements -- from civil rights to the environment -- succeed when they are able to cross over and appeal to a broader constituency than their original passionate but small base. Children represent one of America's few areas of common ground, where Democrats and Republicans, liberal advocates and conservative corporations, can all be found. In today's bitterly divided political landscape, such common ground becomes sacred ground....Private efforts can't take the place of vital public policy, but engaged and active citizens who put people ahead of politics can show Washington the way."

 

In Chapter 16, Beyond the Charity Myth, Joel Berg, argues (pages 199 ff) that "U.S. history proves that major societal problems can only be  solved by massive, coordinated, society-wide action, led by the only entity capable of organizing such action: the government. Yes, the government. I'm perfectly aware that, in today's political climate, it's downright shocking to claim that government must take the leading role in solving a major social problem such as domestic hunger, but history proves that claim is demonstrably true."   I'm quoting the experts above to show what a provocative, eye-opening book this Participant guide is. Even if you don't see the documentary film, read this book.

 

About the Editor
Peter Pringle is the author and coauthor of ten books on science and politics, including the New York Times Notable Book, Food Inc., the bestselling Those Are Real Bullets: Bloody Sunday, Derry, 1972, and a mystery-thriller about food and patents, Day of the Dandelion. For thirty years, he was a foreign correspondent for British newspapers, including the Sunday Times, the Observer and the Independent. He lives in New York City.


 Editor's note
: here's the partial text of the press release on the documentary:
  On March 1st Take Your Place In the Fight To End Hunger in America.

In theaters, iTunes and On Demand everywhere.

 

One Nation. Underfed.

Fifty million people in the U.S.—including one in five children—don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Directors Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush examine the issue of hunger in America through the lens of three people struggling with food insecurity: Barbie, a single Philadelphia mother who grew up in poverty and is trying to provide a better life for her two kids; Rosie, a Colorado fifth-grader who often has to depend on friends and neighbors to feed her and has trouble concentrating in school; and Tremonica, a Mississippi second-grader whose asthma and health issues are exacerbated by the largely empty calories her hardworking mother can afford.

 

Ultimately, A Place at the Table shows us how hunger poses serious economic, social and cultural implications for our nation, and that it could be solved once and for all, if the American public decides – as they have in the past – that making healthy food available and affordable is in the best interest of us all.

What You Can Do

For A Place at the Table, Participant Media will convene a consortium of leading nonprofit organizations, experts and companies working to relieve the immediate urgency of hunger, as well as those working to solve the tough, complex issues that contribute to food insecurity in America.  On March 1, the social action campaign will be launching a first-of-its-kind, national action center with the most important national and local actions from NGOs on the front lines of ending hunger in America.

In the meantime, we invite you to join the conversation on Facebook andTwitter. And on March 1, come back and Take Your Place in the fight to end hunger!

For screening and festival inquiries, please contact Sanaz Alesafar:salesafar@participantmedia.com

Mobile Source: Data sent via our mobile campaign is from Feeding America's Map the Meal Gap.

 

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