Penny and I spent a rainy Saturday morning recently, sprawled on our couch watching a movie on Netflix. But it’s okay. We weren’t eating Doritos out of the bag, and the movie was a documentary, the film equivalent of eating kale. Daughter #1 had recommended this movie, the Katie Couric vehicle, Fed Up, which I assumed would be another version of Food, Inc.I don’t know how many people have gone back to the well of Whole Foods self righteousness to wring our collective hands over the American diet, but apparently the genre is to documentaries what comic-book movies are to movies with explosions. This one, sprawling all over the subject matter (but without a mention of Monsanto as the paragon of all evil), covered a good deal of the same fare as the previous incarnations.
What Fed Up does that is new is to point a fairly convincing finger at sugar as the biggest single problem in the American obesity problem. (Can we ever mention that word without putting “epidemic” after it?) On the other hand, it doesn’t really offer a great number of answers to the problem.
But I’m fed up with part of the message of Fed Up, which seems to blame every actor imaginable for our fat selves. The food companies are to blame. The schools are to blame. The food lobbyists are to blame. The wimpy Department of Agriculture is to blame. Former President Clinton is not to blame, apparently, and is interviewed mouthing commonplaces several times, although it’s not clear why his administration is absolved when those before and after him are held to account. Even Michelle Obama is criticized for allowing her anti-obesity message to shift from foods to exercise.
Everyone is guilty, it seems, except for the people who actually put the food in their mouths and, in the case of the children, their parents. We see a 400-pound fourteen-year-old going in for bariatric surgery, while his parents, both of whom are fairly fleshy, worry about him. Can we just agree that all of the eating that gets a person to that size doesn’t take place at school?
This film ridicules the narrative of the “nanny state,” but in suggesting that government is the answer in reining in the horrible greed of food companies, she ignores an inconvenient truth. You don’t need a nanny state when the actual nanny is doing the job. The problem is that too many American families are making a nanny out of the school and the television . In the end, you don’t need a nanny when the parents are on duty. Certainly there’s a place for the government to take a hand, but let’s not jettison personal responsibility.