Tag Archives: local food

Fed Up Film Review

My review of Fed Up

In recent years, a number of powerful food documentaries have set out to pull the proverbial wool from our eyes and expose big agriculture and the Monsanto monster for what it is. Despite the glut of information available, however, making sense of the piecemeal data can be confounding. Fed Up, directed by Stephanie Soechtig and narrated by Katie Couric, is a rather cogent contribution despite covering some familiar ground.
Fed Up focuses on childhood obesity and its concomitant illnesses: Type 2 Diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Type 2 Diabetes amongst adolescents has gone from being non-existent in the ’80s to a staggering number of 57,638 cases today. The film follows three teenagers as they struggle to lose weight.
The film does an admirable job of definitively hammering the nail into the coffin of the “eat less, exercise more” myth of weight loss that has permeated public consciousness for so long. The fallacy of “all calories are the same” is conclusively laid to rest here as well, using the example of a soft drink vs. almonds, the fiber in which causes them to be digested qualitatively differently and cause much less of a spike in blood sugar and insulin levels. Similarly to sodas, juices also have no fiber, and the film argues that they’re essentially the same (makes you want to toss your Odwallas, huh?). With that, Fed Up also aims to squarely take on the personal responsibility model of obesity and supplant it by the disease model of drug addiction. “Food addiction is a biological fact,” states one of the many pundits in the film. In the same way that drugs can hijack neural pathways, so can hyper palatable foods (the study of the cocaine-addicted rats who consistently chose sugar water over cocaine is referenced).

So, what is making us fat? Fed Up points the finger at sugar, while also addressing the other co-variables. In 1977, the McGovern Report, strongly cautioned against the consumption of refined sugars. The sugar lobby fought vehemently against these standards, in the end succeeding in their removal from the report. The 1980s saw the rise of America’s obsession with a low-fat diet. The fat, predictably, was replaced with sugar. Since 1977, daily consumption of sugar has doubled. There are currently 600,000 products in the marketplace with sugar in them. The pundits in the movie do bring up a very hotly-contested topic — namely, they argue that a sugar calorie *is* a sugar calorie. Essentially, honey is just as bad as high-fructose corn syrup, they argue. While not exactly scientifically confirmed beyond doubt, this is certainly food for thought. Another fallout of the low-fat fixation: the explosion of the cheese industry. Once all the fat was removed from milk to make it skim, the dairy industry, in a stroke of Machiavellian genius, ramped up its cheese production, and spun cheese into the new “protein food,” causing a huge spike in cheese sales.
Fed Up argues that while the food lobby is incredibly powerful, the sugar lobby is especially so because with the creation of cheap additives like high-fructose corn syrup, the companies had a vested interested in keeping America (and especially its children) sugar-addicted. One of the scariest statistics in the film (and there were quite a few) is that we should be consuming between 6-9 teaspoons of sugar a day, and most American easily eat 4 times that amount. When the World Health Organization released its 916 TRS report in 2002, it unequivocally identified sugar as the cause of most metabolic diseases and set the limit to 10 percent of calories as sugar consumption. By the time (surprise) the food lobby was done with this, the WHO was forced to amend that to the alarmingly high 25 percent.
Fed Up also thoroughly explores the inherent conflict of interest facing the USDA: they must safeguard public health yet promote the food industry. It also delves into the bigger structural forces at play: how budget cuts in the National School Lunch Program during the Reagan era caused most school cafeterias to purchase their meals from fast food companies and not prepare food themselves. Fed Up takes a hard look at Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign, which while well-intentioned, just did not have the teeth to stand up to the food company lobby which quickly cried out with reductionistic “Nanny State” objections. By focusing mostly on one half of the problem, exercise, it largely ignored just how badly the deck is stacked against children’s ability to make sensible food choices. As one speaker put it rather succinctly, “Junk is still junk even if it is less junky.” The companies paid only so much lip service to improving their products, the film argues. Junk food marketing, especially to children, remained egregiously non-curtailed.
Not every data point in Fed Up is ground-breaking, but its focus on sugar certainly is. Ultimately, the film argues that as long as we allow private profit to be in charge of public health, we are in trouble, but knowing the facts about what one is eating is a sure first step in revolutionizing food industry and our role in it.

Hipper Than Thou–The Ever-So-Elusive Search For “The Authentic” In A Cleverly-Consuming World

My first post for The Ministers Of Design Blog:
The search for “the authentic” has become one of the most dominant spiritual, moral, and consumerist quests of our time, states Andrew Potter, the author of The Authenticity Hoax and The Rebel Sell. Too bad that it is about as elusive as the Abominable Snowman—the author argues that there is no such thing as authenticity. Before you go hi-fiving your college cultural studies professor for teaching you that in the first place and leafing through your Cultural Studies Reader, let’s hash out the argument.
The obsession with “keeping it real” and “keeping it underground” has been a veritable mother lode of satire-worthy material, creating a whole new genre, the consumption critique, and launching Portlandia and Stuff White People Like into the popularity stratosphere.
But isn’t Look At This Hipster hilarious precisely because it is the ultimate [and very meta] hipster thing to laugh at other “poser hipsters”? With all this meaning upon meaning, and layers of meta upon meta, how is one to parse out what is happening?
Let’s start with the concept of selling out. How does one express one’s individuality without “selling out” to the man or the machine or some permutation thereof? Potter defines this “eternal trope of American life” as the idea that “once you had principles that were dear to you and you have given them up in exchange for comfort, material wealth, a job, etc.” It seems that the ultimate litmus test of a band “selling out,” for example, is when their music is used to shill some product for a corporation. So if consumerism is anathema, then why has the response to the “corporate” smacked of consumerism with no less intensity? Are these values we are giving up genuine values or were they a front for status seeking in the first place? This is the question posited by The Authenticity Hoax.
Take the organic/local food movement–clever consumption has become the new keeping up with the Joneses, argues Potter. As he explains, the in thing du jour has shifted from eating organic, to eating local, and then even further, eating artisanal, ramping up the exclusivity factor.
Ultimately, this quest for the real, the authentic has become no less corporatized than anything “commercial.” Begs the question–is there nothing real under the sun anymore?
One of the most seminal counter-cultural parables Fight Club and others of its ilk (Matrix, even) posit this idea that society is a land of falseness and illusion and that all one needs to do is wake up to this fact to escape its evil spell.
But how does one go about escaping this? Our culture is undeniably a countercultural culture and corporations have become incredibly good at selling rebellion to us. Potter argues that a common and very prevalent misconception is that capitalism requires conformity. As he explains, “capitalism relies on the concept of the constant churning of desires among consumers. It simply does not require conformity at all—quite the opposite.”
Consumerism (and more specifically clever consumerism) has become the hallmark and the vehicle for social status expression. In the decades of yore, one would argue there were more opportunities for standing out and finding one’s place in the social hierarchy. With the dwindling opportunities, social status is currently negotiated by consuming and displaying what you have found to be “authentic.” This “clever consumption” is the yard stick at present—why? Because consuming something different, something obscure grants one an especially coveted social status cache.
So now that the proverbial curtain has been pulled from your eyes, what is your take on this? Is it a case of “I faked it so real, I am beyond fake?” Do you agree that clever consumption is the new social ladder climbing? Comment and let us know your thoughts.