By now many of you have seen this eye-catching poster for a new documentary film released last week, “Fed Up:”
You can click on the photo to enlarge it, but the caption above the “FU” reads “Congress says pizza is a vegetable,” which harkens back to some dark days in 2011 for those of us who care about improving school food.
In case you missed this infamous episode, after the passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act the USDA was tasked with coming up with improved nutrition standards for school meals, based on recommendations from the Institute of Medicine. In an era in which one out of three children are overweight or obese and very few children eat sufficient quantities of fruits and vegetables, the IOM sensibly recommended closing an existing regulatory loophole allowing schools to count the tomato paste on pizza as a school food vegetable. The USDA agreed to do so.
But fewer pizza slices on school food trays would result in a huge financial hit to the big suppliers of frozen pizza. Enter the lobbyists from ConAgra Foods and The Schwan Food Company, who exerted their considerable influence on Congressional representatives. Lo and behold, the tomato paste loophole survived. (Similarly, Congressional representatives from potato-growing states successfully blocked a new rule that would reduce the number of starchy vegetables that could served to school children in a single week.)
This sort of collusion between Big Food and Congress leaves many of us in the food reform world feeling quite “fed up” indeed. And that’s the central focus of “Fed Up,” which is produced and narrated by Katie Couric and co-produced by Laurie David. David was also the producer of “An Inconvenient Truth,” and just as that film served as a wake-up call for climate change, “Fed Up” hopes to similarly educate the public about the serious flaws in our food system and how the food and beverage industries have a vested interest in maintaining a status quo that puts profits over our collective health — and often with the assistance of the federal government.
As a member of the film’s advisory board, I was able to see an early cut of the documentary and can tell you it’s a very compelling narrative. The film includes video diaries of preteens and teens who are fighting obesity and, rather than being exploitative, their stories make the viewer feel on a visceral level just how intractable this problem is. You find yourself rooting for these kids, but at the same time you know their chances of success in today’s food environment are depressingly low. That’s made evident when one child does manage to lose a considerable amount of weight by cutting out processed foods – and then gains it all back before the filming is even completed.
Even though the film is targeted to an adult audience, it would be entirely appropriate for preteens and teens and I plan to take my own two kids to the theater when the film opens here in Houston this weekend. For list of opening dates and locations nationwide, click here.
The film is reportedly filling theaters in its current markets, and if that continues to be the case it will be released more widely. So please do go see it if it’s in your area, and please spread the word to friends and family.
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