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Fed Up | Review

David vs. Goliath: Soechtig Takes on the Food Industry with Child Obesity Exposé that Begs to Differ on the Pizza as Vegetable Issue

Fed Up Stephanie Soechtig posterIt’s no secret that in the last couple decades the number of overweight children in the United States has grown at an alarming rate. The statistics are shocking. Not long ago, one in twenty kids may have had an issue with weight, but now, one in every five faces obesity and the long list of unpleasant consequences that come with it. With the rise of personal fitness and calorie cutting processed foods, how could this be? As the question ominously looms over the American public at large, famed television journalist Katie Couric and seasoned issue-doc director Stephanie Soechtig have teamed up, put together an all-star cast and crew of medical and political experts who aim to expose the ugly truths within the answer. Bolstered by the presence of executive producer Laurie David on board, Fed Up aims to be the food industry equivalent to what An Inconvenient Truth was to the environmental movement. This is not a sugar covered wake-up call, but a cold shower of horrifying facts and sound advice, all masterfully interwoven with heart wrenching first person stories from kids suffering the consequences of a life sustaining industry with an insufferably apathetic, monstrously deep-seated corporate greed.

Soechtig and the gang are going big here. Even at a lean 92 minutes, their film is a densely layered concoction that spans decades of history yet feels brisk with the help of countless news clips and slick and intuitive animated charts that boil down unwieldy studies into bite sized infobits. Stylish sliding scales set archival dates and mountains of animated sugar are counted out throughout a day’s food intake, each making the weighty arguments of former president Bill Clinton, author Michael Pollan, senator Tom Harkin and a long list of medical researchers and political heavyweights easily digestible.

Their argument begins by contextualizing the food industry PR myth that a healthy weight can be maintained by following the simple idiom ‘calories in/calories out’, meaning that one should burn enough calories any given day to reciprocate the calories one has consumed that same day. Recent studies show that this balance of eating and exercise does not account for the physiologic impact of our chosen foods’ nutritional makeup. So, in essence, the food industry, and complicitly, the government, has been pushing the message that drinking a coke or eating a bowl of sugar-filled cereal will physiologically cause the same effects as, say, eating an apple and preparing a home cooked meal. Anyone with any common sense would know this suggestion is ridiculous, but Soechtig goes deeper, scientifically  managing to convincingly cast sugar as the fat inducing culprit. It seems the sweet substance is added to just about every conceivable processed food, and horrifyingly, is literally more addictive than its powdery white doppelganger cocaine (8 times more in fact).

Most astonishing, the big whigs atop the corporate food chain are proven to be sketchier than your local drug dealer. Not only have lobbyists on capitol hill successfully pressured the likes of Michelle Obama and her Let’s Move program into changing their message from eating better to exercising more and somehow managed to change the legal definition of a school lunch vegetable to pizza, but at one point the USDA basically extorted the World Health Organization, threatening to withhold cash if they didn’t scrap a report that suggested that a healthy intake of sugar is significantly lower than an average American’s.

With Fed Up, Soechtig is taking up arms, shouting to the hills and hoping the American public responds with the same sense of disgust as when cigarettes were proven to cause cancer. Marketed with the same sense of cool, but to generations far too young to know any better, sugar is everywhere, in everything, and threatening our very lives with a smile and a wink. As is usual, knowledge is power, and Soechtig graciously presents plenty, reminding all along that no one is looking out for us but ourselves. If change is to happen, it will be by our own will, policy be damned.


Reviewed on April 30th at 2014 Hot Docs Film Festival – Special Presentations Program – 92 mins

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