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Movie Review: Fed Up

This weekend I saw the new movie Fed Up, a documentary focusing on the obesity epidemic in the United States. As expected, it implied that the federal government needs to take a greater role in regulating the food industry. But much to my surprise, the documentary also was critical of government-funded agriculture subsidies and the way that big food corporations cozy up to big government.

In particular, the movie was critical of Michelle Obama's Let's Move Campaign. This campaign initially was supposed to focus on both diet and exercise as part of healthy living but has since focused on exercise despite evidence showing that diet is more important than exercise in maintaining a healthy weight. And why the switch?  Because Michelle Obama joined forces with some of the largest food corporations, who were concerned about the government regulating their products.

Now I am certainly not a fan of the government telling people what to eat. Which is why the government should stop telling us to eat the wrong things.

One of the biggest culprits in the US obesity epidemic has been the federal government, whether it is billions of dollars in agriculture subsidies or dietary guidelines driven by lobbyists rather than health. Remember the food pyramid? Ever wonder why dairy was such a large chunk of it? Well look no further than Dairy Management Inc.,  a marketing organization created by the US Department of Agriculture whose stated mission is to "increase sales and demand for dairy products." Fed Up focused a large part of the movie on this organization. On a side note, Big Milk is also fighting the raw milk movement, i.e. its smaller competitors.

Dairy Management (also the ones behind the Got Milk ads) is funded with check off fees from dairy farmers, and, yes, with federal tax dollars. Let's just look at the incredible things Dairy Management has accomplished courtesy of The New York Times:

Domino’s Pizza was hurting early last year. Domestic sales had fallen, and a survey of big pizza chain customers left the company tied for the worst tasting pies.

Then help arrived from an organization called Dairy Management. It teamed up with Domino’s to develop a new line of pizzas with 40 percent more cheese, and proceeded to devise and pay for a $12 million marketing campaign.

Consumers devoured the cheesier pizza, and sales soared by double digits. “This partnership is clearly working,” Brandon Solano, the Domino’s vice president for brand innovation, said in a statement to The New York Times.

But as healthy as this pizza has been for Domino’s, one slice contains as much as two-thirds of a day’s maximum recommended amount of saturated fat, which has been linked to heart disease and is high in calories.

And Dairy Management, which has made cheese its cause, is not a private business consultant. It is a marketing creation of the United States Department of Agriculture — the same agency at the center of a federal anti-obesity drive that discourages over-consumption of some of the very foods Dairy Management is vigorously promoting.

So while the federal government is essentially funding Domino's marketing campaign for unhealthy pizza, the federal government is also funding its anti-obesity campaign aimed at unhealthy foods, i.e. pizza. But as Nancy Pelosi says, there is nothing left to cut in the federal budget.

So what is the solution? Fed Up calls on us to lobby our Congressmen, and we should, to stop agriculture subsidies and subsidies to big business. But we also shouldn't look to government for the answers to our health problems or the proper guidelines for nutrition.

Overall Fed Up was a good film that lodged a lot of criticism, all of it deserved, at both the food industry and the government, and I highly recommend it.


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