Starvation is a three-step process. In Stage One, several hours after your last meal, your body starts raiding its pantry, metabolizing fatty acids that it stored up but (in this modern age of abundance) never expected to have to use. Over a few days, as your body enters the Stage Two process, called autophagy (the self-cannibalization of muscle), the rumbling stomach shrinks, and pain subsides. At Stage Three, a month or so after your last meal, organs break down, and eventually one of them gives out — usually the heart.
The documentary A Place at the Table, which was nominated for a Grand Jury Prize at Sundance last year, follows the lives of a few Americans in Stage One and several in what we might call Stage Zero, a pre-hunger state known as “food insecurity.” Of the millions of people on this planet who are in the second and third stages — these include the kids with distended bellies and bony torsos — approximately zero live in the United States. Stage 2–3 hunger was eradicated in this country over 30 years ago.