Fed Up: Talking Sugar, False Advertising, and the Food You Thought Was Healthy

Fed Up – it’s a documentary that will ensure you never look at the inside of your fridge the same way again. Director Stephanie Soechtig and executive producers Laurie David and Heather Reisman teamed with journalist Katie Couric to undertake an in-depth exploration of the role sugar plays in the global obesity epidemic, and how the “Big Food” lobby continually does its best to change the conversation.

What they found is startling – the deadly toll excess sugar is taking on us, a political system where food lobbies bully the World Health Organization into submission, a society where schools are sponsored by fast food companies, and a world where pizza is officially considered a vegetable.

RELATED: Fed Up Film Review

“We said we need a film,” Soechtig told me, “that will do for the food movement what An Inconvenient Truth did for climate change.”

I recently sat down with Stephanie Soechtig, Laurie David, and Heather Reisman to discuss Fed Up and the perils of sugar, misleading advertising, food lobbies, and snacks you thought were healthy.

MIKE CRISOLAGO: The subject matter of this film, exploring the threats and consequences of the food we eat – a lot of which we’re very ignorant about – is genuinely terrifying. Was it as scary for the three of you making it as it was for us watching it?

LAURIE DAVID: I think so. Honestly, there wasn’t a stage of making this movie where I wouldn’t get riled up, fed up, crazy. I could not wait for us to finish it because I felt like we were holding on to information that everybody needed to get.

HEATHER REISMAN: I think the movie was illuminating to action. You see it, you learn something while you’re being engaged in the movie, and it makes you want to do something – whether it’s for yourself, or to try and get a bigger movement going.

MC: Did you know how deep this subject went before you started the film?

HR: I think I was compelled by what people were writing, and then you cross a certain age threshold and you realize how easy it is not to be healthy. So I was already there but, boy, the amount I learned from this – we all say we’ll never eat the same way again. It is fundamental and transformational.

MC: I’ve read books like Fast Food Nation and seen films like Super Size Me and I find that eventually you fall back into your same bad eating habits. But thanks to the harsh truths uncovered in this film I’ve found myself morally motivated to make big changes in the way I consume food.

HR: That is the genius of Stephanie, because … the way (she) shaped this story, which has so many threads, into such a compelling [film], people have to see it.

LD: And I think kids can watch this movie too. That was one of the goals – obviously we want to get a version into schools, but that it would be compelling enough that you would have to see it again with your loved ones. We really just wanted to level the playing field for people, to give them a shot at a healthy future.

MC: You talk about American food lobbies and the massive political weight they throw around. How are people not more outraged about that?

LD: Because we’ve been in a food fog and we’ve been marketed [to] for decades, we’ve been advertised [to] for decades, and there’s no truth in labeling. So we now have a couple of generations who have grown up in this culture. And the food industry has been running rampant.

HR: And the labeling. When you see “low fat,” or you see “diet” something…we need truth in labeling. That would do an amazing amount to help consumers and I think it would compel the industry to take the right steps. But right now they’re allowed to say things that are, at best, misleading.

LD: Yogurt’s such a good example. Yogurt’s marketed as a healthy breakfast. Literally, if you could figure out the amount of sugar in your yogurt that you’re having every morning, that’s a dessert.

MC: This is what shocked me with this documentary. Most people know by now that fast food is not healthy. But when you buy things like yogurt, or orange juice, most of us think we’re making healthy inroads…

LD: Orange juice – ounce for ounce more sugar than Coca Cola.

MC: It’s also a shock to see kids in their early teens battling Type 2 Diabetes and discussing subjects like mortality. What is the next generation of 50, 60, and 70-year-olds going to look like?

STEPHANIE SOECHTIG: This is the first generation of kids expected to lead shorter lives than their parents. It’s going to affect our global competitiveness, it’s going to affect national security if everyone’s going to be too fat to fight. So the tentacles of this problem are far-reaching.

LD: And the health care costs…

HR: It’s not free to let this continue.

SS: And the morality, at 12, 13, 14-years-old you should not be worried about diabetes and heart attacks. And that’s where we really hope that people feel a call to action. Because that is not right.

LD: It’s all preventable. The solution – and this, to me, is one of the most important points in the movie – is in your very own kitchen. How fantastic is that? And, by the way, if you start cooking real food you’re going to get a lot of other benefits from that. It’s actually fun, it’s easy – we’ve been marketed to believe that cooking’s hard, it takes too long. Start doing it and see the difference. Cooking together – you can’t cut a carrot and be texting with the other hand. So it’s bonding time, and you’re going to eat better. And that’s so powerful that the solution is in your house.

MC: Another line of thinking you refute in the film is that it’s more expensive to eat healthy.

SS: It is a myth. It’s been so pervasive and it is a marketing claim. These are not truths.

LD: And by the way – you make a pot of soup, and you can eat that for four days. And you get a bag of lentils, and you cook those with a little carrot and onion, and you’ve got lentils in your refrigerator for a week. And you toss that in your salads. It’s a myth.

HR: Brown rice. Wild rice.

MC: It really shows how far the mentality of that lobby goes.

SS: It’s really become ingrained, and we’ve bought it all.

MC: This is a film that focuses mostly on the United States, so how does Canada fare when it comes to these same culinary health issues?

HR: From physicians I’ve spoken to, we have the same financial crisis looming in the health care system [from] all those diseases that are caused by this problem – heart [issues], diabetes, cancer. That’s the same in Canada as it is in the United States. We’re eating the same food…so we can anticipate exactly the same things happening. The thing that is energizing to me about Canada is there’s a lot less of a big lobby group in Canada. So I think we can be optimistic that if we can get the information out, we can expect some response from our governments without so much pressure against them. And let’s hope that that happens, but at the same time we need to keep educating ourselves … as citizens, as voters.

Fed Up opens in theatres in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal on May 9th; Calgary, Edmonton, and Ottawa May 16; and Winnipeg, Halifax, and Victoria on May 23. For more information on the film, click here.