The food industry's "Inconvenient Truth"?

Photo: Fed Up press kit.

Photo: Fed Up press kit.

A new documentary that showed at Sundance last weekend accuses the food industry of being the 21st century's Big Tobacco – fueling a health epidemic while waging "a decades-long misinformation campaign" about it. Here's what the makers of Fed Up say in their promotional material:

Fed Up blows the lid off everything we thought we knew about food and weight loss, revealing a 30-year campaign by the food industry, aided by the U.S. government, to mislead and confuse the American public, resulting in one of the largest health epidemics in history.

The documentary follows a group of children for two years who are struggling with obesity and trying to eat healthier and exercise more.

One of Fed Up's producers is the woman behind Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth, which shifted the public debate landscape in America about climate change. Katie Couric is also a producer and conducts some of the interviews in the doc. Big time leaders, including former President Bill Clinton, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, and former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg are interviewed.

One major figure who's not in the film – at least, not in person – is First Lady Michelle Obama, whose Lets Move! initiative has been the Obama administration's most public vehicle for tacking the obesity epidemic. According to Politico, Mrs. Obama is not portrayed in a favorable light in Fed Up:

Michelle Obama declined to be interviewed for the project and “is portrayed as a patsy,” according to one review of the film. The creators contend the first lady’s Let’s Move! campaign has been co-opted by the food industry and crippled by lobbying despite her good intentions. The East Wing did not respond to a request for comment.

The food industry is taking the documentary seriously enough that the Grocery Manufacturers Association quickly issued a response to the film, in which VP of communications Sean McBride said:

“Whether it is new packaging or new ways to prepare our products, or introducing low sodium, low fat and organic foods, we are constantly working to provide the products that empower all consumers to make the choices that are right for them and their families.

“America’s food and beverage companies enthusiastically support First Lady Michelle Obama’s goal of solving childhood obesity within a generation, and recognize that the challenge of reducing obesity is one that requires everyone to do their part.  For the food and beverage industry, this means constantly working to increase transparency and provide consumers—especially parents—with healthier options and the information they need to maintain a healthy diet and active lifestyle.”

GMA answers a series of questions posed in the documentary in that link above.

There's been a flood of documentaries in the last decade about the fast-food and processed food industries, from Food Inc (which is showing Saturday at Nature's Storehouse in Canton, BTW) to King Corn to the pretty hilarious Supersize MeI'm not sure any of them have moved the needle on the American consciousness regarding processed foods and obesity as much as Inconvenient Truth did on climate change.

But I'm not sure it has to, either. The local food movement, concerns about E Coli, pink slime, and other food safety issues have penetrated to the water-cooler level of conversation. The issue is, of course, much more personal and immediate than climate change. It'll be interesting to see if American audiences are as intrigued with Fed Up as they were with Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth.


OK, to the First Lady's defense, I have to add this video of her dunking a basketball with the Miami Heat, as a part of the Let's Move! campaign:

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  1. "tacking the obesity epidemic". I think you mean tackling.

  2. The video of Mrs. Obama and Heat players has zero to do with the focus of the article.

  3. "…constantly working to increase transparency…"? Seriously? This from the GMA who contributed $7.2 million to defeat the GMO labeling proposition in Washington State?