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Fed Up

2014-10-31 11:34

What it's about:

A documentary about how people eat too much sugar and how the food industry contributes to this unhealthy habit.

What we thought:

Fed Up is a movie that has something very important to say about our diets, our understanding on health and weight-loss and about how the international food industry is not necessarily working in the best interests of the public. Unfortunately, it's also a movie that uses shock sensationalism to make its point and the picture it paints is so dire that rather than having the intended effect of having its audience want to change their dietary habits, it's bound to leave them dejected and demoralised with an overall sense of powerlessness to make any real change in their lives.

On the positive side, what we have here is a film that deals quite extensively with what is clearly a very real problem that affects the daily lives of billions of people. Whether it exaggerates its point or not, it is clearly a very well researched and well reasoned examination of how human beings are currently consuming far more sugar than their bodies know what to do with.

Scientists, health care professionals and former presidents are extensively interviewed on their views of the so-called “sugar pandemic” and Fed Up takes a look at everything from school lunches to processed food to try and understand what it is we're dealing with here. Perhaps most importantly, it also takes a long, hard look at how the seemingly endless political and economic power of the food industry basically allows it to do whatever they want – and what they want, far more than anything else, certainly far more than insuring the health of their customers, is to make as much money as is humanly possible.         
There's no doubting the veracity of much of what the film has to say – the staggering obesity and obesity-related-illness rates kind of speak for themselves – and you certainly can't fault its intentions but, unfortunately, Fed Up often undermines itself, both through some of the points it makes and as a piece of filmmaking.

It's interesting that John Oliver in his brilliant HBO series, Last Week Tonight, dealt with the very subject of the “sugar pandemic” this very week (it will show this upcoming weekend on DSTV and is available now on YouTube) but his sixteen-odd-minute feature packed the sort of scabrously funny punch that Fed Up desperately needed but sadly lacked. Unfortunately, there is a certain dryness about Stephanie Soechting's presentation of these same facts that make Fed Up a bit of a chore to sit through at times – and this is especially a problem considering how sensitive its subject so obviously is.

But that leads us to the film's biggest problem by far. Presumably the point of Fed Up is to elicit change in its audience to how they approach their diet but it undercuts this first by first placing much of the blame on outside forces (the food industry, schools, politicians) and then by showing how little the average person can actually do about this. Sugar is everywhere and as long as you buy anything but the freshest produce, you're never going to escape it!

It does, in its final section, present a radical shift from processed food to homemade cooking as a solution to much of the problems that it raises in the film but unfortunately it really is too little, too late. Considering how radical a change this would be for most people – especially those living in the highly pressurised Western World of the 21st century – it doesn't spend nearly enough time dealing with what a shift away from all processed food actually means and this entire “solution” is presented so off-handedly that it makes next to no impact in the face of the shocking horrors that precedes it.

Unfortunately, though it is undoubtedly worth becoming acquainted with the subjects that Fed Up deals with, the film itself may not ultimately be the way to do so. Its heart is very clearly in the right place but it unfortunately seems destined to scare away people from the very thing it's driving them towards.

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