Thursday, 26 July 2012

Quick Hit: The Men Who Made Us Fat

This documentary can be found in 12 parts on Youtube, and it's an interesting romp through recent food history, from Nixon's agricultural policies to Sunny Delight turning a child orange.

In three episodes it looks at the rise of fast food chains and the impact of high fructose corn syrup, the economics and behavioural psychology of 'super-sized' portions plus the invention of snacking, and the impact of food packaging, legislation and 'health' foods. There's a lovely degree of paranoia around businesses lobbying MEPs and MPs (and a reminder that Andrew Lansley, when looking for a way to reduce child obesity, sat down with the people marketing, selling and profiting from unhealthy food to discuss if they could possibly maybe see a way forward to cut their profits voluntarily), but also a level of recognition that there is economic logic behind enticing people to buy more food that they like.  Some of the interviews with people who were in the industry thirty or forty years ago were fascinating - a discussion with a farmer in Indiana about the change to over-producing corn, and chatting with the man who introduced counter service in the UK.

Mostly, watching it made me very hungry.

In terms of fat-shaming, it skirted the edges a lot.  In its defence: there was a whole section on the neurological and biochemical responses to food - that sugar can stop people feeling full, that people don't notice if portion sizes are gradually increased, that our brains reward us more for eating sugar and fatty food, that we are duped by marketing etc.   (Consumers are portrayed to an extent as being entirely motivated by biological motivations for sugar and shiny packaging - but that is pretty much as they tend to be seen by sciences and economics anyway)

While 'being obese' is presented as a universal negative, the whole series is dedicated to unpicking structural causes and patterns in food production and marketing as the cause, and there is a lot of talk of people who are trying to eat healthily and lose weight, but are unable to do so due to the food industry itself.  A couple of interviewees do start to head off into individual-blame territory, and are redirected.  Despite that, there were a hell of a lot of stock shots of walking headless bodies

Conclusion: Nice enough basic documentary series, interesting interviews, some of the footage was overused enough to irritate when it was watched as a block rather than (as I suspect was intended) with a week between episodes.

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