© 2014 Nancy Appleton Ph.D & G.N. Jacobs
We might have reached the tipping point in combatting the excessive sugar in the American diet that increasingly leads to diabetes, heart disease, cancer and a whole lot of ways to commit suicide (blatant plug). Veteran newswoman, Katie Couric, just released her documentary Fed Upthat may finally be the first real shot at curbing the abuses of the Processed Food industry. The Climate Change camp had An Inconvenient Truth that changed the nature of the discussion that most of the opposition couldn’t deny Climate Change, but rather assert – It’s a natural process and human industrial activity has nothing to do with it. We have Fed Up. And, yes, you really should see the movie. Ms. Couric and her team carefully researched the recent history of how Big Food fought tooth and nail (possibly even harder than Big Tobacco) to prevent anything like sensible legislation concerning the food we eat. The industry jumped on Senator George S. McGovern and his committee, The Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs, in 1977. Once he’d failed to enact a dietary target of 10-percent of calories coming from sugar and similar substances instead of the Food Lobby’s 25-percent proposal, the bloodletting wasn’t done. Somebody abolished the committee within weeks of the hearing (not depicted in the movie). We have no word whether the Food Industry pulled levers with Congress and/or the Carter Administration to kill the committee or if Sen. McGovern did it himself to save political capital for the next fight. Speaking of Food Industry victories, we have to toss this firecracker – the government mandated food label has never listed a number for sugar in terms of a Recommended Daily Percentage. Yes, the label tells you how much total sugar in grams, but did not render that number into a percentage so the consumer can tell how much sugar to eat in a day. It is claimed that there is no scientific consensus on sugar, but both the filmmakers and us have cited the American Heart Association’s targets of 6-9 Teaspoons per Day (less than one soda) with nauseating regularity. The label will soon change to make a distinction between naturally occurring sugar and added sugar, but there will still not be a percentage on the label. These two incidents are signposts in a decades long process where we thought (or believed the Food Industry lie? We need to see internal company documents in discovery for a lawsuit) that fat causes obesity. However, the competing opinion with quite a bit more science behind it says that sugar causes obesity, diabetes, heart disease and even cancer. And we have the intervening 37 years of our own eyeball evidence that more people in general and children specifically, who have all eaten lean, are just a lot fatter than they used to be. Robert Lustig M.D (interviewed in the film) has long asserted that when the Food Industry agreed to cut fat in the 1980s from their processed foods it meant that the industry had to add sugar, mostly fructose, (asserted to have doubled in many foods with the new recipes) because foods with fat removed suddenly taste like cardboard. Sugar can get the consumer to eat anything, even a massively salty drink like Gatorade. He and the other speakers confidently paint a picture of an industry that uses the same playbook of deny, deny, deny, call Government regulation an example of The Nanny State and then throw all kinds of money at key legislators. And like it says on the shampoo label repeat as necessary. The experts all made the point that the Agriculture Department has spent the last 37 years caught between two diametrically opposed missions: promote the sale of American foodstuffs and regulate the American diet, especially for kids. The filmmakers also include the Federal Trade Commission and its failure to regulate food advertising on children’s TV shows making the point that kids see ads and may become customers for life to an industry that only cares about selling more food. The filmmakers used a visual bludgeon to make their point, showing clips from many ads. And they made a comparison to the general success of the anti-smoking lobby that progressively banned cigarette TV ads and then decades later won a landmark judgment in court. Ms. Couric pointedly asked what would happen if a celebrity that pitched for Coke and Pepsi also had to do a pro whole foods PSA on an equal time basis? She asked if a warning label reading Warning: this product is addictive and has been linked to diseases like… Meanwhile, Ms. Couric and team chose to highlight four kids from four seemingly typical American families who are amazingly obese. They went on the yo-yo of lose some gain it all back or even more within six months. They cried on camera. More importantly, they led us to their school cafeteria’s which happened to be ones that have succumbed to the national trend where school food has been outsourced to food companies serving ready made treats (the film really went after pizza) that can be heated up instead of cooked on site. And the filmmakers made a point of showing every Coke vending machine on each campus they could find. Sugar is everywhere at school. The four families and their obese kids ended up being a microcosm of the obesity epidemic. The parents were all fat. One bit the bullet and got a gastric bypass at 13. Another lost a lot…and then gained it all back a few months after the cameras stopped rolling. The other two seemed to be doing better. But, we the viewers may not have gotten the full skinny on the addiction elements of the obesity problem; we (the staff of Nancy Appleton Books) felt that while the addictive properties of the modern diet needed as much of a bludgeon that Ms. Couric used on the policy side of the film. We’re just not sure how we would’ve done it without treating four obese kids like a certain Soviet Ambassador to the UN during the Missile Crisis – “Don’t wait for the translation…” So maybe Fed Up is exactly what it needs to be. All of the experts and children serve to make one simple point – most of the problem goes away if we find the time and basic nutritional knowledge to resume cooking real food at home! Real food comes out of the ground or (vegans should put their fingers in their ears and hum, now) meat from the closest thing possible to a freshly killed free-range animal. The film showed at the end that at a local level some change is happening, a local school principal will toss Coke and Pepsi off campus and parents with knowledge have fought with letter campaigns to make changes in the cafeteria. There is hope.