Laurie David, producer of ‘An Inconvenient Truth,’ returns with a documentary deconstructing America’s obesity epidemic
By Michael Aushenker
With her follow-up documentary “Fed Up,” released last Friday, David goes after the poisons we collectively ingest by consuming mass-marketed processed foods.
“This is an emergency,” said David, who talks about major food processing companies as Big Food, likening their social influence to that of Big Oil and Big Tobacco.
According to the film, America’s obesity rate doubled between 1980 and 2000 despite a concurrent doubling of fitness club memberships. Meanwhile, Type 2 diabetes cases skyrocketed among adolescents ages 8 to 19 from none in 1980 to 57,638 in 2010.
As a long-time Westsider, David said she is well aware of how Santa Monica and Venice residents are diligent — even militant — when it comes to reading food labels. The junk food in her sights is not just the obvious potato chips and cookies, but products presumed to be healthy that turn out to be loaded with sugar.
“This is a healthy breakfast?” she said, referring to one popular yogurt brand. “That’s a dessert!”
David recently tweeted a photo from a Santa Monica Ralphs showing how pervasive junk food placement is.
“Everywhere you go, the junk is there. You can’t go into a pharmacy or a grocery store in Santa Monica without seeing it!” said David. “The stores have put candy and junk food in every section now.” Ditto gas stations, and major home goods retailers, she said.
“Fed Up” also examines the government’s role in subsidizing corn syrup manufacturing and criticizes corporate involvement in First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” program targeting childhood obesity.
“The food industry went out of its way to sign up,” David said, her film tracking the involvement of soda and cereal producers in shifting the program’s focus from healthy eating to exercise.
Through the stories of several obese children, some of them already coping with diabetes, the film argues that no amount of exercise can undo a diet of unhealthy school lunches, microwave dinners, sugary juice boxes and breakfast cereals adorned with cartoon mascots.
“The marketing to kids is absolutely unconscionable,” said David, whose film also tracks soft drink marketing to infants.
The making of “Fed Up” began with narrator and executive producer Katie Couric, who teamed with Culver City resident Stephanie Soechtig (the filmmaker behind the bottled water industry documentary “Tapped”), before the pair approached David to produce.
“When Katie Couric asks you, the answer is yes!” said David, formerly married to comic actor and television producer Larry David.
David does retain some optimism that greater awareness of food quality will change consumer spending habits and cause customers to “push back on their supermarkets,” she said.
“I see within the next five years we are going to go back to cooking fresh, real food in our schools,” she said.
But in the here and now, there’s much more work to be done.
“We’re living in a food fog,” David said. “We really need to snap out of this.”