Who’s Your Sugar?

Cover of Fed UpFed Up, a documentary produced by Laurie David (who also produced An Inconvenient Truth), directed by Stephanie Soechtig, and narrated by Katie Couric.  Available through Amazon, YouTube, and Netflix.  All of these links are to paid services.  You can watch a trailer here on YouTube.

I owe my viewing of this documentary to the fact that I got bored watching an episode of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and started browsing.  Since Netflix knows all, the documentaries I was presented with mostly had to do with food, and this one sounded interesting.  I started watching and was completely captivated; about a week later I re-watched it, this time with Jim and Gideon.

Now, if you’re not a fan of An Inconvenient Truth the fact that this film has the same producer as that may give you pause.  I’d say, watch it on its own merits, which are considerable although not flawless. At the very least you will be forced to do some re-thinking about the processed, junk, fast, snack foods you eat.

The real stars of the film are the overweight teens who do webcam posts, allow the cameras to follow them at home and school, and share their frustrations over their inability to lose weight.  There’s a 12-year-old girl who weighs around 180 even though she swims, rows, and walks; a 16-year-old boy who is articulate and aware about what’s going on in his home.  As he says, “If you were an alcoholic, you wouldn’t be able to keep from drinking if you had a bottle of gin sitting next to you.”   There’s a truly horrifying shot of the cart his mother fills up at the grocery store.  Although that family makes a short-lived attempt to stop eating processed food and they all lose weight, their efforts don’t last long. Pretty soon the weight comes back.  There’s a 13-year-old boy whose concerned but misguided mother buys him low-fat Hot Pockets instead of regular ones.  The most tragic case is that of a 14-year-old boy whose weight is heading towards 400 pounds.  The situation is so desperate that he actually undergoes gastric bypass surgery.  He loses quite a bit of weight, but we’re told, ominously, that 30% of all bypass patients manage to overcome the effects of the surgery within the first 24 months or so afterwards.

So what’s the solution?  Here’s where the film forsakes any kind of nuanced answer for a simplistic and top-down one:  sugar is the villain, so we have to stop eating it, and our government needs  to make the big food companies stop adding it to their products so that we will stop eating it.  An explicit comparison is made between the big processed food companies of today and the big tobacco companies of the past.  We took them down (sort of), the rationale goes, so we should be able to take down Big Food.  And we’ll all go back to eating the way we did 100 years ago.  Guess what?  It ain’t gonna happen.

What we should not do is develop the attitude that if we cut down drastically on sugar and other processed foods that we’re depriving ourselves, making a sacrifice.  Thinking that way means that sooner or later we give in to temptation, and there we are, swigging down the gin.  Voluntary deprivation can only last so long before we cave in.  Instead, we have to change our minds before we can change our actions.  I now cringe whenever I see the candy displays that are in every single store. Why on earth do I need to be given the opportunity to buy candy at Home Depot, or Walgreen’s, or Office Max, or JoAnn’s?  Why do I need a package of M&M’s with my box of printer paper or my fabric?  The stores sell these items because they make huge profits on them.  They’re all JUST FLAVORED SUGAR.  Just as soft drinks are JUST FLAVORED SUGAR WATER.  (The next time you’re tempted to buy any kind of soft drink at a restaurant, just remember that the drink costs the merchant about two cents an ounce, including the cup and the ice.  So why are you paying $1.70 for it? Because that’s what the traffic will bear.)

The Fed Up website has an extremely ill-advised section:  the Fed Up Challenge:  Sugar Free for 10 Days.  Now I ask you:  What earthly good is it going to do for you to go without sugar for 10 days and then immediately go back to eating the way you did before?  There is absolutely no reason to even bother.  I know what they’re trying to accomplish here:  the hope is that if you stick it out for 10 days, maybe lose a few pounds, and feel better, you’ll be inspired to keep going.  But the whole idea has been put into the framework of a temporary, short-term fix, not a long-term, enjoyable commitment.  It’s no better than a fad diet, and will have no more effect.

Cooking and eating real, nutritious food takes time.  Even I, as someone who loves to plan menus and cook, will say sometimes when I’m really busy that I wish there were a pill I could just take instead of having to stop and prepare a meal.  My heart goes out to struggling low-income families, with both parents working long hours, who feel that they can’t do any better than swing by Taco Bell on the way to work and get everyone a Dorito Burrito. They feel trapped.  It will take some real plotting and planning for those families to manage to shop, cook and eat decent meals.  All of us have to set the right priorities, and all of us have to make individual choices.  Yes, it would help greatly to have foods clearly labeled as to how much of the recommended daily allowance of added sugars is in them, something that is not now required.  Yes, grocery stores are going to have to be willing to open branches in so-called “food deserts.”  Yes, the U.S. government should stop subsidizing corn and let market forces prevail.  (I say that as someone whose cousins are farmers, and I know what that would mean to them.  But we just can’t keep doing it.)  Yes, yes, yes.  But none of those actions will relieve us, the individual consumer, of our responsibility to know what we should do and then to do it.

Well, I guess I’ve ranted and raved enough for one post.  I would say that we had an excellent meal this evening, salmon with herbed crust, good ol’ microwaved potatoes, and cucumber salad.  The salmon was on sale for $7.99 a pound, not all that cheap when you can get boneless chicken breasts for $2.99, but a nice treat.  I’m going to say that the three of us ate a little over a pound total.  We ate about half of an 89-cent cucumber and several potatoes from a 10-pound Costco bag.  The herbs were from the garden, the mayonnaise from an almost-finished jar, and the sour cream on the cucumbers from another item in the fridge that I’m trying to use up.  (Yes, full-fat mayonnaise and sour cream.)  So I’d say that the cost of the meal was about $4.00 per person.  If I’d had less time I could have just broiled the salmon and served it with a sour cream/mayonnaise/lemon juice topping that would have taken about 30 seconds to throw together.  It was delicious, healthy, and no deprivation.  I’m very satisfied as I sit here finishing up this post.  I guess I’d better go brush my teeth so I won’t be tempted to eat anything more, but I really feel no such temptation at the moment.

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