Fed Up

“So how was the film?” was the first question posed to me by my girlfriend when I spoke to her after the screening. My response: “Tonight we need to look at all of the boxes and cans we have in the pantry to see what the sugar content is.”

Fed Up, which premiered in theaters on May 9th, is the latest entry in the world of curated dystopian shock-umentaries which focus on how our eating habits are eventually going to turn us into the lazy floating blob-people from Pixar’s WALL-E. That description might sound somewhat critical, but here’s the thing: they got it right. They got it so, so right.

It’s safe to say that about 30% of Fed Up speaks to how shockingly terrible sugar is for you, with the remaining 70% explaining how a combination of ineptitude, laziness, lobby-based colluding, and blatantly obvious governmental greed and corruption have been responsible for the stunning increase in sugar in the processed food we eat. Bear in mind that by “processed” they don’t just mean “boxed macaroni and cheese where the cheese is bright enough to signal an airplane from a life raft,” but virtually any vegetable, grain, or animal product that isn’t raw when you purchase it.

Did I mention that the sugar in question been added specifically because it’s designed to make you become addicted to the food being sold to you? And that this began because of the short-sighted boondoggle that was the 1977 McGovern Report on dietary guidelines, which was heavily, heavily influenced by the lobbyists trying to sell you unhealthy food? Oh, and that these same food producers (who replaced the fat in foods with highly addictive sugar) who now profit from the fact that you’re addicted (making you hungrier) also deliberately send out a message that it’s your fault you’re fat (why aren’t you at the gym right now?).

Unlike the sugar which occurs in food naturally (the harm of which is offset primarily by natural fiber), artificially-added sugar is converted into body fat so quickly you could work out every day of the week and still not overcome the harm being done to you. It’s the influence of food lobbyists that sugar is expressed on packaging in grams and not as a daily intake percentage, because they’re counting on the fact that you don’t know how much sugar you’re supposed to have (24 grams per day according to the World Health Organization) and that you won’t do the math to convert it into a useful number (roughly 4 grams per teaspoon, so 6 teaspoons per day).

Please don’t look behind the curtain.

Fed Up might not be the first of this type of film, but it’s definitely one of the best. Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me was wonderful because of its approachability, its novelty (at the time), and its cartoon-like delivery of frightening raw data. Fast Food Nation was frankly terrifying in its fictional but reality-based Upton Sinclair-esque narrative about the terrors of the modern meat industry. Fed Up benefits from having come after both of these films because it seems to have learned from their mistakes. Where Super Size Me had charm to spare because of Spurlock’s everyman approach to film making, it lacked elements of the journalistic rigor that Fed Up brings to the table. Fed Up also is able to deliver information that is equally disillusioning as that presented by Fast Food Nation, while avoiding the over-the-top grossness and fiction-based drama present within that film.

Fed Up’s pedigree is nothing to scoff at: executive produced and narrated by Katie Couric, (who does a fine job but is overly and unnecessarily injected into the film at the introduction and conclusion) and Laurie David (of An Inconvenient Truth) and directed by Stephanie Soechtig (Tapped), the people responsible for its production clearly knew what they were doing.

Fed Up is definitely worth the watch. Its delivery is excellent, the production value is high, and its data is well-sourced. It’s also the first film of its kind that truly highlights how people with good intentions, who take the time to be conscientious about what they eat and who truly try to be more active and healthy, are being secretly poisoned by the same companies claiming that they are helping people be healthier. Scary stuff.