News icon Katie Couric presents Fed Up, a new documentary taking on a controversial subject: the spread of obesity in America (particularly among children) and the alleged role of the food industry in turning the nation’s food supply into a cesspool of harmful (often addictive) substances meant to generate profits, rather than provide us with good, healthy sustenance.
Gathering a group of medical experts, food industry representatives, lobbyists and some general talking head pundits, Couric attempts to delve into the heart of the matter in regards to our food and nutrition. Meanwhile, director Stephanie Soechtig attempts to tie the larger implications of food industry policy and practice to the more personal story of some young obese Americans, who are earnestly trying to take the battle with their health and weight into their own hands.
Fed Up does to the issue of obesity and the food industry what Super-Size Me did to the fast food industry, and Inside Job did to the financial services industry: it takes on a controversial modern dilemma in a (mostly) objective and easily palatable way, resulting in an important, timely and informative documentary that has the potential to really change minds – maybe even lives.
The construction of the movie is straightforward, easy to follow and interesting. It posits the assertion that the for the last few decades, we’ve basically been fed poison in the form of sugar, on a mass scale, with a mass PR cover up to prevent the dire reality of our diet from coming to light. Couric makes the wise move of removing herself from most of the proceedings, almost always conducting her interviews off camera, allowing viewers to examine and assess the subjects without being distracted by her celebrity, while using her years of interview experience to guide us through the necessary talking points with even-handed poise, yet firmness and focus as well. With an able captain steering the ship, the interviews become intriguing conversations that manage to focus in on real issues – sometimes reaching startling or disturbing reveals, no matter the response from the subject (see: conversations with food industry lobbyists).
Similarly, Soechtig cuts the film together into a seamless and logical narrative that weaves between the story of the youth subjects and the more clinical and informative interview segments. Fed Up excels at building its case one block at a time, starting with the question of why so many American children are reaching obesity at such a young age, and then investigating that question from their home life, to the food they consume in school, and if/how advertising affects their eating and nutritional behaviors. Once a disturbing pattern emerges in that intimate setting, the film is able to transition the discussion into a much larger examination of how this state of affairs came to be – and why it continues to be.
The real accomplishment of the film is that once the discussion opens up into something wider – about the food industry, accompanying politics, years of misinformation, and actual nutritional study – the core of the film (the personal story of overweight children) is still never lost or marginalized. Fed Up starts off by making its point relevant to our current daily lives, and maintains that focus and connection throughout, resulting in a lot of troubling discoveries – and yet, some hopeful and informative solutions to go with them.
The cast of “characters” includes a mashup of nutritionists, scientists, doctors, politicians, lobbyists and business people (see the list below); it’s a fair mix where no one is on a “good” side and any agendas (political, PR, or otherwise) are cleaved away to get at the basic facts of the issue in regards to what it is we are eating.
- Kelly D. Brownell, Ph.D
- Pres. Bill Clinton
- Senator Tom Harkin
- Dr. Mark Hyman (The best in the bunch, no doubt.)
- Dr. David Kessler
- Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
- Dr. Robert Lustig
- Michael Pollan
- Margo Wootan, The Center for Science in the Public Interest
The bottom line is that Fed Up is imperative viewing for just about anyone in America who is currently eating food. In a culture that is fixated on fitness and health issues like diabetes and obesity, the illusions and realities of nutrition are something that many dollars have been spent to skew – and this film seemingly attempts to cut through all that noise in order to present a discourse not really heard that often – and certainly not presented in such a digestible way. It’s must-see viewing; I can say that I will literally never look at what I eat the same way again – and am better for it.
Fed Up is now playing in limited release. It is 92 minutes long and is Rated PG for thematic elements including smoking images, and brief mild language. For information about availability, visit the documentary’s official website.