Filmmaker Kristi Jacobson recently spoke with Phoenix Movie Examiner about her new documentary “A Place at the Table.”
In “A Place at the Table,” which opens Friday, March 8 exclusively at Harkins Camelview 5, Jacobson and her fellow filmmaker Lori Silverbush investigate incidents of hunger experienced by millions of Americans as well as proposed solutions to the problem.
Question: What did the idea for this documentary come from? In other words, what fueled this film?
Answer: I have a passion for telling the stories that are not being told. I am doing that through film. This particular subject came to me by way of my co-director Lori, who had a personal experience in that she was mentoring a young girl in New York and started to realize how hunger was affecting every aspect of her life. As Lori herself sort of gave her some food each day and tried to alleviate hunger on any given day, it would be there for her and her family the next day. People in this country are going hungry and struggling to put food on the table every single day. We have got some Band-Aids in place- we have a terrific network of food banks and charitable organizations that are trying to meet the needs - but it is a really big problem that requires some government leadership and action.
Q: I volunteer for a food ministry and have found that the source that supplies said ministry seems to look down on our efforts. Did you find this to be the case across the board or is my situation unique?
A: I think there is a great amount of misinformation and misunderstanding out there about those who are essentially forced to rely on the charity of food banks. As a result, there is great shame and stigma for people who are experiencing food insecurity. We didn’t come across anyone over the 3 years making of the film who want to be going to a food bank to help feed their family. Most people want to be paid enough to go to the store like everybody else. But that is not what's happening in this country.
Q: One of the things that you touch on in the movie is how processed foods are often cheaper and therefore more accessible than healthy fruits and vegetables. Can you comment on how that is contributing to the overall problem of food insecurity?
A: We found that there are way too many people who have easy access to processed foods and don't have access to healthy fruits and vegetables. If you don't have a lot of money in your pocket and you are trying to get to the end of the month, those foods are out of the price range. And that is largely a result of how we subsidize our food. People would like to say that people are just making bad choices. If you don't have a choice then you're not making a bad choice.
Q: Thus America’s healthcare crisis. However, physical health is not the only consequence of food insecurity, though, is it?
A: One of the things that is not working about the food safety net is that that if you make a little bit extra one week, you are suddenly completely knocked off and find yourself struggling even more to get food on the table. We have a public health crisis - hunger, malnutrition and obesity. All of these are contributing to this crisis - not just medically but also emotionally. We’re talking about shame and feelings of humiliation that people carry with them for a lifetime. It is time to really look at these programs and fund them adequately. We don't need to be penalizing people for trying to get up out of poverty. If these programs were better designed, people would be getting off the programs and staying off them.
Q: Finally, when all is said and done, what is your hope for this film? In other words, what message do you hope the movie relays to viewers and what impact would you like it to have?
A: We didn't want to make a film that simply showed who is going hungry in America - but why. It is not that we don't have the food. It's not that we don't have the programs. It’s that we as a people are not making it a priority and therefore those that represent us in Washington DC are not making it a priority. That has got to change. I think that part of the why has to do with the fact that you can't see this problem. It’s invisible. It sometimes hides in the bodies of an obese person or of a person that, if you see them walking down the street, you wouldn’t necessarily know that they are struggling with this. And then there is also the shame that keeps people quiet about it and keeps it hidden. Our hope with this film is that by bringing these stories out of the shadows, it will no longer be invisible and will therefore no longer be a problem that we, as ordinary citizens or our politicians, can ignore. I think that the most important thing is for people to see it because it will move you, it will surprise you and I think that it will get you up out of your seat and clicking, texting, tweeting - whatever your mode to get involved.