You are what you eat. That is the simple message from Stephanie Soechting’s new documentary about the food we produce / consume and the correlation with the ‘global obesity epidemic’ that we have been hearing for the last few decades. Fed Up explores two parallel ideas: that the amount of sugar we ingest is more important than the levels of fat or calories (or even exercise); and that multinational food companies and corporate lobbyists have spent decades feeding us misinformation about how to live healthy lives and exploiting our ignorance for vast profits.
The film divides itself between the emotional personal journeys of a number of obese youngsters trying to lose weight, and more factual sections of historical and political analysis of the processed food industry and how it has gained such dominance in American culture. At certain points, watching Fed Up is worse than sitting through a horror film. Horror films work by confronting characters with symbolic external threats (vampire; disaster; psychotic killers etc.), which make audiences empathise and reflect on their own axietites. Fed Up makes you reflect about the long-term internal threat that audiences are doing to their own bodies by eating such dangerous levels of sugar. The sugar in my tea suddenly felt obscene and frightening….
The documentary sets the tone with a classic media moral-panic montage from the familiar faces on Fox News, CNN, MNSBC, ABC and the rest – so already the stage is set for an attack on the insane rhetoric that emanates from the American broadcast news and clouds the public discourse. These shows are an easy target and Soechting could be accused of selective editing to make them seem more ridiculous, yet if you watch TV broadcast news (or read British Newspapers) for any period of time then you will know that this is exactly what they’re like: loud, contradictory pro-business and mostly anti-science.
Everyone knows that statistics are easy to manipulate, and are often just confusing, but some of the numbers in the film are hard to ignore: in 30 years the number of cases of type 2 diabetes in young people has risen to 57,000 from the previous figure of 0; 80% of the 600,000 products in an average supermarket contain added sugar; children as young as 8 years old are now having strokes and heart attacks due to junk food.
Yet beyond the facts and figures, some of the most insidious information is just plain fact: health insurances companies buy stocks in fast food companies in order to make profits from unhealthy customers; the U.S. congress were lobbied to reclassify pizza and fries as “vegetables” in order to keep them on high-school menus; Pepsi spokespeople make statements under oath claiming that there is no link between soda products and health problems… these are the truly shocking moments in the film and are fairly indefensible.
At times, the use of terrified obese children crying in to the camera can feel uncomfortably exploitative, but then without the human stories then the film could have just been too abstract with discussions of select committees and molecular biology.
The film ends with a simple healthy-eating manifesto that tries to promote simple rules, such as: don’t eat food that doesn’t look like it came from nature; or don’t eat food that contains ingredients that you don’t recognize – both much easier said than done. Fed Up is the sort of film that should be projected onto the side of every KFC and go viral across every social network. Whilst politicians across the world discuss national deficits, defence budgets and voting reform their populations are killing themselves due to the corrosive influence of junk food companies, and as is stated clearly within the film – and army of unhealthy children will grow up to leave a huge shortfall of soldiers, fireman and police and cost the countries billions in extra healthcare.
We need to all admit we are Fed Up and try and change the imbalance of power with these companies and feel better about who we are and what we eat.