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Next Food Inc. previewed at Aspen

ASPEN, Colo. — A new film on hunger in America that the producers hope will have the impact of “Food, Inc.” was previewed here for attendees of the Aspen Ideas Festival, as former Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman said it is bound to be controversial.

Produced by Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush of Catalyst Films, the production is currently titled “Finding North,” a reference to finding a moral compass, but will be retitled “A Place at the Table,” before its release by Magnolia Pictures in February, Jacobson said after the screening.

The new title refers to whether the hungry can find a place at the dining table and whether they can be represented at tables of decision makers in Washington, Jacobson said. Magnolia also released Food, Inc., she noted, giving the producers hope that their film will also be widely viewed.

It was also previewed at the Sundance Film Festival and was backed by Participant Media, a film company that believes entertainment can create social change. Participant also backed “Food, Inc.” and former Vice President Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth.

Starting from “the premise that 49 million Americans, including one in four children, don’t know where their next meal is coming from,” the film tells the story of three people struggling with food insecurity:

Barbie, a single Philadelphia mother who is trying to provide a better life for her children
Rosie, a Colorado second grader who says her “stomach growls” when she’s trying to concentrate in school, and
Tremonica, a Mississippi second-grader who suffers from asthma and other health issues brought on by obesity
It also tells the story of a pastor who has established a food bank in the Colorado town where Rosie lives.

The film features interviews with New York University professor Marion Nestle, Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook, Bread for the World President David Beckmann and others who criticize farm subsidies. It concentrates on interviews with Mariana Chilton, the associate professor of public health at Drexel University in Philadelphia, who has founded Witnesses to Hunger, a group that attempts to increase women’s participation in the dialogue on hunger and poverty.

The film is beautifully produced and tells the struggles of the three main figures in detail. It also discusses the nation’s main food aid programs — the supplemental nutrition assistance program known as SNAP or food stamps, the special nutrition program for women, infants and children known as WIC, and school meals — but ultimately blames general poverty for the wide range of problems that the main characters are experiencing.

It does not offer solutions.

Jacobson said in a panel discussion after the film was shown that a famed CBS news report on hunger in the 1960s did not offer solutions, but that she believes it led to the creation of the food stamp program.

Dan Glickman
Dan Glickman
Glickman, a former president of the Motion Picture Association of America, said during the discussion that while he recognizes that all documentaries have to have a “point of view,” the film will be controversial because it does not note that the food stamp program was established as a joint effort by the farm community and anti-hunger advocates.

Glickman is chairman of the Food Research and Action Center, a group that has not generally criticized farm subsidies, and has worked with farm groups to ensure passage of farm bills for many years. Although FRAC employees can be seen in the background of events during the film and Jacobson said its staff have been helpful to her, FRAC’s views are not featured in the film.

During the discussion, Glickman noted that former Sens. George McGovern, D-S.D., and Bob Dole, R-Kan., had worked together on the food stamp program, and that the attitude between the farmers and the anti-hunger advocates was “We will support you if you will support us.”

“Some people in the farm community are going to say you are pretty much against farmers,” Glickman added. He also said, “As bad as it is, we have the most developed food assistance program in the world.”

Kristi Jacobson
Kristi Jacobson
Jacobson replied that during the filming she had learned “these kinds of deals are necessary” during policy making in Washington. She said she hopes the film will lead to the food safety net being modernized and funded properly.

The film also quoted Nestle saying that processed foods are cheap because corn and other commodities are subsidized while fruits and vegetables are expensive because they have not been subsidized. But Glickman said he wanted to be sure the audience realized that only a few cents worth of corn go into a bag of Cheetos.

“I don’t want anyone to think [it is because] the farm bill is so generous that these foods are so cheap,” Glickman said.

The overall message that poverty is to blame for food insecurity raises very complicated issues, he said.

“The real problem is the structural increase in poverty. It has to do with the loss of manufacturing and globalization,” Glickman said. There had been much more discussion at the Aspen festival of American competitiveness than of how to fight general poverty, he noted.

Although the film suggests that voters should make food insecurity a top political issue, Glickman said he doubts food insecurity will become a campaign issue.

“Middle class voters don’t vote on these issues,” he said. “People who vote have a lot of things on their minds.” Corporations and the faith-based communities need to get involved” in campaigns to fight food insecurity,” he concluded.

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