This Documentary Is 'Fed Up' With the Food Industry and Its Fed Friends

A new film looks at the role of corporations and the federal government in the obesity epidemic and America's public health.

(Photo: Courtesy 'Fed Up')

Jan 21, 2014· 2 MIN READ
Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor.

If the uprising begins at the base of the Rocky Mountains in Park City, Utah, this week, expect the target of the revolution to be corporate food interests and their friends in the federal government.

Who will be leading the angry horde of film critics and Hollywood executives visiting town for the Sundance Film Festival? None other than Katie Couric, the narrator and executive producer of Fed Up, a new documentary by director Stephanie Soechtig that premiered at the festival on Sunday.

The documentary, which doesn’t appear to have a trailer, looks at the decline in American health over the past 30 years, positing that the dietary guidelines first issued by the United States Department of Agriculture—and heavily influenced by the food industry—in the 1980s marked the beginning of the deterioration. In the ensuing years, Fed Up argues, government and industry have both contributed to creating the American diet that has led to skyrocketing rates in obesity and type 2 diabetes, among other health problems.

The “dirty little secret” of the food industry, the doc’s press kit reads, is that “only 30% of people suffering from diet-related diseases are actually obese; while 70% of us—even those of us who look thin and trim on the outside—are facing the same consequences, fighting the same medical battles as the obese among us.”

The combative approach, combined with Couric’s familiarity and talking heads such as Bill Clinton, has the film blog Indiewire asking, in a headline, “Will ‘Fed Up’ Be the Last Straw for the American Food Industry?” According to the story that follows, which places the documentary in the tradition of Super Size Me, The Cove, and Blackfish, all of which debuted at Sundance, “Soechtig spent two years with a group of kids, documenting their efforts to improve their health through dieting and exercise.”

“The tragedy, her film argues, is that the pervasiveness of the food industry and the misinformation it disseminates has stacked all the odds against them,” Indiewire’s Robert Cameron Fowler continues. “Personal responsibility and freedom of choice has always been Big Food’s counter to accusations of public endangerment, but if the American people has been so intricately misled, where is the personal freedom to make the right decision for one’s health?”

That’s the question Soechtig believes will cause people to engage with the issues offscreen too. “I hope that you folks feel pretty fed up after seeing this,” she told the audience at Sundance, according to The New York Times. Fed Up hasn’t been picked up for distribution, but its release “would be accompanied by town hall meetings and a social action campaign,” according to the Times.

The food industry is pushing back against Fed Up’s narrative. The Grocery Manufacturers Association released a statement this morning that, while not specifically criticizing the film, attempts to portray the many food industry companies it represents in a positive light.

“Our companies have been trusted by generations of families to provide products that are affordable, time-saving, nutritious and well-balanced,” the statement reads. “This is a responsibility that we take seriously and will never forget."

But will “removing 6.4 trillion calories from the U.S. marketplace since 2007” and other health- and diet-related changes the industry has implemented in recent years trump the corporate-and-government-collusion narrative of Fed Up?

If the documentary gets a release, we’ll see.