Friday, May 9, 2014

The not-so-sweet side of sugar

Posted By on Fri, May 9, 2014 at 1:39 PM

My 4-year-old is high. He runs glassy-eyed and flushed from one end of the room to the other, taking out a few lamps in his wake. He yells something incoherent when I ask him why he's not wearing pants. I'd wonder who he's been hanging out with, but the evidence is smeared across the front of his shirt - buttercream, sprinkles, a few crumbs of red velvet. Someone in school must have had a birthday. Or a cultural holiday. Or a Tuesday.

Growing worries over sugary junk food have, for the most part, been firmly shoehorned as a Mommy Issue, something discussed in shrill disapproving tones in the Earth Fare checkout line or hippie mom groups - I'm not entirely sure, since I gave up on the latter after someone booed me for having a C-section. But at some point the kids grow up and enter the general population after having been incubated in high fructose corn syrup - and that's why one third of us will have diabetes by 2050, if you ask Katie Couric.

Fed Up, a documentary produced by Couric and Laurie David (producer of An Inconvenient Truth) opens today for a limited run in Charlotte. The film posits that the prevalence of processed foods - not a lack of willpower or exercise - have caused the nationwide health crisis that will culminate in an estimated 95 percent of Americans being overweight or obese within two decades. Their warnings are echoed in Michelle Obama's push to clean up school lunch menus, an initiative that will result in school districts nationwide transitioning to healthier lunch options beginning July 1. And the war on convenience-over-nutrition hit close to home last spring, when Charlotte bloggers Lisa Leake ( and Vani Hari ( petitioned Kraft Foods to remove artificial dyes from their macaroni and cheese.

But what happens after the sound and the fury? Kraft responded to Leake and Hari with a canned statement that the dyes in question were "some of the most well-studied ingredients" by the FDA. reviewer Glen Kenny got a little too distracted by Fed Up's sugar porn, wondering "whether the filmmakers knew that their slo-mo shots of sugar in heaping teaspoons is actually kind of mouth-watering." And schools already have begun fighting changes to lunch programs, citing a high potential for added costs and food waste. "If the kids don't eat the food," said Peggy Lawrence, director of nutrition for a Georgia public school district, "then all I have is healthy trash cans."

They're not wrong, and tighter regulations on food manufacturers and school districts might flirt a little too aggressively with the sort of treacherous nanny state that Michael Bloomberg enacted when he took away New Yorkers' God-given right to portable troughs of soda. You can walk past the Kraft aisle, you can pack a lunch, you can join Couric's sugar-free pledge. But unless you hang out exclusively in Earth Fare checkout lines or hippie mom groups, you might seem a little bit weird. Because processed foods are normal. Electric yellow mac and cheese is normal. Cupcake Tuesdays are normal. And increasingly, the health conditions that Couric and Obama and a growing number of quieter voices say are caused by these foods are becoming normal.

Couric said of this new normalcy that she hoped Fed Up will help consumers see "the power of [the food industry] lobby to prevent meaningful changes." Former FDA commissioner David Kessler put it more bluntly: "Our brains are getting hijacked."

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