Reprinted from letterboxd.com. I wrote this on May 4. It’s June 5, and it has no likes. WAKE UP, SHEEPLE!!! Without further ado…
After viewing Stephanie Soechtig’s other documentary, Tapped, I went into Fed Up giving her the benefit of the doubt that surely she wouldn’t make TWO documentaries examining legitimate social issues from the lens of an upper-class white person who is tight with the Clintons and other upper-class white people (indeed, Soechtig enlists the voice of fellow UCWP, Katie Couric to do the muckraking- a potential red flag). Surely with all of the politic movements and awareness since Tapped’s 2009 release and the fallout of the economic collapse, she would expand her parameters a bit and speak to Americans most affected by this issue. And yet, that is exactly what did not happen here.
Granted, the issue of nutrition at the center of Fed Up is a lot more of an epidemic than Big Water coming in and ruining secondary vacation homes in Maine for that time of year when Martha’s Vineyard is too gauche. But the movie offers no real solutions to the problem in part because it’s too busy raking MIchelle Obama over the coals for some reason (that part of Soechtig’s thesis was the most glaring “WTF” moment- if you’re going to show how deep the sugar-fueled industries have their claws in government (which it certainly does), it’s irresponsible to use Michelle as a scapegoat and leave the Clintons and other politicians unscathed).
Aside from the Obama attack, some other head-scratchers include the de-emphasizing of exercise (which can and will be construed as “cutting out sugar = not having to work out”), and the annoying tendency to show TV news clips with a CRT-TV filter (because- like, I get it! This clip was originally shown on television (also, nevermind the fact that it’s an HD grab in widescreen that would not accurately look like that on a CRT which is too boggling for me to comprehend in this review)).
And the importance of the thesis IS clear- sugar is a leading cause of obesity and it’s in everything in vast quantities. We get a few families who we follow throughout the doc, and yes, there are two families of color (tho to be clear, the two main families focused on are well off and white). There are some good attacks in the doc, particularly on the beverage and advertising industries, but I was more struck by what wasn’t being focused on. Although the documentary touched briefly (and effectively) on the nature of addiction to sugar, it was left on the table. Here, tho, Fed Up does a great job in NOT blaming the individual for the weight gain and lack of loss. That is an important distinction to make.
However, the glaring thing- the thing that drove me bananas- was the lack of talk about how to help those coming from areas of low socio-economic status gain access to healthier foods at an affordable cost. Making those options accessible AND appealing (again, coming off of the addiction is not easy, especially considering the other Maslow-hierarcy stuff for a lot of working-poor for whom candy is a source of comfort and enjoyment- and a brain signal of nourishment) is the true way to fight obesity on an epidemic scale. Soechtig quickly, brazenly throws an image on the screen (without a filter, because it wasn’t on TV) of the sort of healthy CSA box people could get with SNAP benefits. It felt tacked on and insincere… like a politician covering their ass that, “Yes, you, too, Poors, can eat healthy just like us in Martha’s Vineyard (or Maine, YMMV).” What this blip does not account for is the amount of time it takes to prepare meals especially when working irregular hours, the difficulty of battling the public welfare system such as it is, the preference/addiction of eating junk food, lack of education about nutrition, and the economic and racial inequalities at the heart of the sugar problem.
I hope the message is heard, especially now that it’s on Netflix, but the message should not be heard only by those with the means and access to eat healthy food, and I’m afraid that the way the documentary was made and the politics of those behind it ensure that it will only get through to a select audience. As it is, the best we can hope for in terms of the message spreading is a trickle-down effect and we all know how those go…