In the course of covering food policy, we've seen a lot of films about improving the food supply or pointing out the faults of those who supply food. Most of the films fall into the category of helpful but naive.
To be clear, we enjoy these films. Seeing them every so often is a great reminder that we can and should do a better job with our food supply, especially in the United States.
In August 2014, we wrote about a pair of films that had the appearance of being noteworthy films but ran into a few problems. "Farmland" was released from Big Food and its praise, at least in my Facebook feed, looked to be misguided at best.
"Fed Up" had a more sincere purpose but had credibility issues with the significant presence of Katie Couric. We did something we rarely do on this blog: we came to conclusions based on not having seen the film. Our conclusions came from the trailer and information we read about the project. But we hadn't seen the film.
The premise of "Fed Up" is rather good: the food industry tries to trick people into eating food based on questionable claims. This is not a shocker by any means. "The USDA is more about promoting U.S. food than about healthy food!?" Anyone who has seen any of these films know this to be true: this is literally not news.
How would the film deliver on this message and did the film actually meet the low standards we assigned to the film in August 2014?
So we saw the film recently and we now can tell the whole story of "Fed Up."
The film goes back and forth between examples of the food industry's practices, strong political lobbying in Washington, and actual teenagers who are rather obese.
However, we never get a sense of the flow of the film. We know there are problems in companies and politics. We know that teenagers are becoming larger on average. But there is no fluidity between any of the segments.
Couric's "journalism" sense is usually lazy, self-serving, and anti-Democratic Party. You can find TV journalists that are anti-Democratic Party and anti-Republican Party, but Couric never seems to understand what journalism actually does.
The film is obsessed over the McGovern Report from 1978 and how its findings were changed to satisfy the food industry. This is an actual theme of the film. But the film never mentions Earl Butz, the Secretary of Agriculture under Richard M. Nixon, who started the growing policies that has led to cheap corn and high-fructose corn syrup.
Everything about the McGovern Report is likely true, but it's a tiny part of the story. Typical Couric journalism.
Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) is attacked in the film for supporting a frozen pizza manufacturer that supplies school lunches over the tomato paste being a vegetable issue. Again, everything in the situation is true, but a tiny part of the tomato paste story.
A bipartisan example is given that involved Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) and Sen. John Breaux (D-LA). Mentioning a senator from each major party might technically be bipartisan, but Breaux was one of the more conservative Democratic senators at the time. Touting Craig is more hilarious, given how his Senate career ended.
Bill Clinton is in the film, and Couric asks him defensive questions that are very shallow and vague. Politicians of all stripes have certainly contributed to this mess. Watching Couric try to pin this on Clinton is rather hilarious. After all, the problem is very huge yet one person can turn things around. Barack Obama and Michelle Obama have done more than anyone else in power, though we can debate whether Michelle Obama has any real power, and look at the small impact they have had. Couric criticizes Michelle Obama for her actions in the film.
The film mentions the 6¢ increase in school lunches without pointing out that it was the first non-inflationary increase in school lunch funding since 1974. the film also doesn't point out that Republicans and conservative Democratic politicians watered down that increase to 6¢.
"Fed Up" spends little time on high-fructose corn syrup even as it rails against the food industry. Dr. Robert Lustig is the expert used in the film to diminish the impact of high-fructose corn syrup, even if that contradicts his own findings. Michael Pollan gives the issue some serious attention but only for the few seconds he is on screen.
Enough about the politics: what about the children. We see the teenagers who are struggling with their weight, their home lives aren't helping as the problems are often generational. One kid talks about the Southern food heritage and how it can't be overcome.
One kid ends up getting lap band surgery since there are apparently no other options for this person.
Watching these kids in "Fed Up" is like the Sally Struthers commercials where people are starving except they leave out the part on how you can help. And that is a serious problem with this film. We see things are bad but don't get a way to help the situation.
We watch as this young person gets lap band surgery but little about what happens after the surgery. Another kid loses some weight and gains it back again. Yes, this is reality but the film exploits these young people without making their segments meaningful.
Given the low expectations of this film, we were not surprised that the film was even worse than our expectations. If you woke up from a 40-year coma and wanted to learn about what has happened to the food supply, there are parts of the film where you will learn something.
For those in a serious fight to do something about the food supply, "Fed Up" is mostly whining, exploitation, and incomplete on a number of key subjects. We honestly feel bad for the other people who worked on this film; their talents would have been better off in a separate film where no one gave directions to Katie Couric.
video credit: YouTube/RADiUS