Just back from seeing one of the most important films of our time: Fed Up, about how the American food industry is behind the obesity epidemic, a health crisis the like of which the world has never seen. It’s a profound documentary that brought me to tears of rage and empathy – rage, with footage of food industry executives openly lying to a toothless Congress – “There is no connection between sugary drinks and obesity,” says the food exec with righteous indignation, and the film cross-cuts to a tobacco executive years ago saying the same thing about tobacco and cancer.
Soft drinks and junk food are the tobacco of our time, just as addictive and just as bad for the health, and they are marketed even more viciously to children.
And empathy, because the children in the film are heartbreaking – 11, 12-year olds weighing over 200 pounds, addicted to sugar and fast food, with overweight parents and helpless against the onslaught. Once gas stations only sold gas; now they sell fast food and candy. Even office supply stores sell candy, right there by the cash. The cost to the health care system of the resulting heart disease, diabetes and many other preventable illnesses will be catastrophic. This is the first generation, we learn, that will have a shorter lifespan than its parents, thanks to obesity and related diseases. How can we not rage and grieve?
I saw the film with Anna who’s in the front lines, as her son will watch the commercials on TV, will be there in the supermarket clamouring for the products, laden with sugar and fat, that have the superheroes on the boxes and the prizes inside. The schools! The fast food industries run the school lunch programs in the U.S. and have resisted every effort to change that. It even shows how Michelle Obama, who began so fervently to talk about diet change and exercise, has been co-opted by the big food companies and now talks almost exclusively about exercise.
This groundbreaking film is a volley in the war to save our own lives and those of our kids.
My main criticism is that I wish they’d gone to France and shown a country that is changing, yes, which has discovered fast food, but still, children are given three course hot meals in school, families sit together to eat, people buy fresh food and cook. That’s the main solution explored in the film – to cook. The key is not to restrict calories and eat low fat and low sugar and to exercise. It’s to buy, cook and eat real food. How simple can a message be?
And yet, as Anna said as we left, in most families, both parents are working, and no one wants to come home at six and start cooking a meal.
I have to say this is one area of parenting I do not have to feel guilty about. I started making a list yesterday of my regrets. I thought if I made a list, put all those regrets down on paper, they would stop haunting me at 4 a.m. And as I wrote, I realized that almost all of them concern my kids. I don’t have that many regrets about my own life, I was surprised to see, but I have tons about the way I parented my kids. I feel guilty about the divorce, about being a jellyfish parent, not providing enough discipline and structure.
But I never had pop in the house, and they almost always ate real meals. Thanks to my own parents, especially my mother, who grew up in an English village and didn’t comprehend, let alone buy, prepared food. Cake mixes? I’d never even held one till I needed to make cupcakes for thirty-five kids for birthday parties at school. My kids are both foodies now, good cooks who appreciate good food. That doesn’t mean they don’t have issues with food; they live in this crazy world.
But at least I can’t blame myself for the way they were fed. Thank you, Lord. One small blessing. Which this film has just shown me is not so small, after all.