Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Food Documentaries- The Men Who Made Us Fat


Episode 1 of 3

Jacques Peretti travels to America to investigate the story of high-fructose corn syrup.

Episode 1
Duration: 1 hour

Around the world, obesity levels are rising. More people are now overweight than undernourished. Two thirds of British adults are overweight and one in four of us is classified as obese. In the first of this three-part series, Jacques Peretti traces those responsible for revolutionizing our eating habits, to find out how decisions made in America 40 years ago influence the way we eat now.

Peretti travels to America to investigate the story of high-fructose corn syrup. The sweetener was championed in the US in the 1970s by Richard Nixon's agriculture secretary Earl Butz to make use of the excess corn grown by farmers. Cheaper and sweeter than sugar, it soon found its way into almost all processed foods and soft drinks. HFCS is not only sweeter than sugar, it also interferes with leptin, the hormone that controls appetite, so once you start eating or drinking it, you don't know when to stop.

Endocrinologist Robert Lustig was one of the first to recognize the dangers of HFCS but his findings were discredited at the time. Meanwhile a US Congress report blamed fat, not sugar, for the disturbing rise in cardio-vascular disease and the food industry responded with ranges of 'low fat', 'heart healthy' products in which the fat was removed - but the substitute was yet more sugar.

Meanwhile, in 1970s Britain, food manufacturers used advertising campaigns to promote the idea of snacking between meals. Outside the home, fast food chains offered clean, bright premises with tempting burgers cooked and served with a very un-British zeal and efficiency. Twenty years after the arrival of McDonalds, the number of fast food outlets in Britain had quadrupled.

Episode 2 of 3

Exploring the history of the supersized fast-food meal and other promotional tactics.

Episode 2
Duration: 1 hour

Jacques Peretti investigates how the concept of 'supersizing' changed our eating habits forever. How did we - once a nation of moderate eaters - start to want more?

Speaking to Mike Donahue, former McDonalds Vice President, Peretti explores the history behind the idea of supersizing. Forty years ago, McDonalds hired David Wallerstein, a former cinema manager who had introduced the idea of selling larger popcorn servings in his Chicago cinema. Wallerstein realized that people would eat more but they did not like the idea of appearing gluttonous by going back for seconds. By increasing the portion sizes and the cost, he could sell more food. In 1972, he introduced the idea to McDonalds and their first large fries went on sale.

By the 1980s, we were eating more - and we were also eating more often. Perretti speaks with industry professionals to examine the story behind the introduction of value meals, king-size snacks and multi-buy promotions. How did the advertising industry encourage us to eat more often?

The programme also explores the developments in dietary advice. By 2003, the Chief Medical Officer was warning of an 'obesity time bomb.' Peretti speaks to obesity expert Professor Philip James, who made recommendations in his 1996 report that the food industry should cease targeting children in their advertisements. He also speaks with Professor Terry Wilkin, who led a pioneering study into childhood weight gain; and former Labour MP David Hinchliffe, who chaired the 2003 Parliamentary Select Committee on Health.

Episode 3 of 3


A look at how marketing can seduce consumers into buying supposed 'healthy foods'.

Episode 3
Duration: 1 hour

Jacques Peretti examines assumptions about what is and is not healthy. He also looks at how product marketing can seduce consumers into buying supposed 'healthy foods' such as muesli and juices, both of which can be high in sugar.

He speaks with Simon Wright, an 'organic consultant' for Sainsbury's in the 1990s, who explains how the food industry cashed in on the public's concerns around salmonella, BSE and GM crops. By 1999 the organic industry was worth over £605M, a rise of 232% within two years.

How did the mainstream food producers compete? Peretti speaks with Kath Dalmeny, former policy director at the Food Commission, who explains some of the marketing strategies used by mainstream food producers to keep our custom.

The programme also explores the impact of successive government initiatives and health campaigns, such as the proposal of 'traffic light labeling', the introduction of which the food industry lobbied hard against.

But in 2012, when we have an Olympic Games sponsored by McDonalds and Coca Cola, has anything changed?

Watch this video and learn why it is better to cook some type of food than to eat it raw. Learn why cooking our food created 'big human brains'? Food Documentaries- Did the Discovery of Cooking Make Us Human?

Documentary Film Summary- The Men Who Made Us Fat

It's a canny title The Men Who Made Us Fat. With so many of us now overweight, and an increasing number actually obese, there can be no shortage of viewers receptive to the idea that it really has nothing to do with us at all. It wasn't moral failure that left us like this, we discover to our relief. It was done to us by that useful entity, "them".

That, essentially, is the argument of Jacques Peretti's timely series about the food industry, which examines the political and commercial origins of the current obesity crisis. Not everyone could quite cleave to the party line. Beulah, one of the exercising women with whom Peretti began his film, unhelpfully suggested that personal responsibility might also have something to do with it: "There was always fruit and vegetables in the house," she confessed cheerfully, "It was just my choice that I always went for the unhealthy food." We didn't see a lot of Beulah after that.

Then again the ready availability of "unhealthy food" is the big issue here, and the first finger that Peretti pointed was aimed at Earl Butz, Secretary of Agriculture under Richard Nixon and an enthusiastic cheerleader for the industrialization of American farming. It was Butz who encouraged farmers to plant from "fencerow to fencerow" and Butz who helped ensure that the resulting surplus of corn went into the production of high-fructose corn syrup, which boosted the profits of America's food conglomerates. For anyone who's read Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation or seen the documentary King Corn this won't exactly have been news, but Peretti carried the story forwards to show that good intentions inadvertently colluded with self-serving ones to make things worse.

The second finger was pointed at Ancel Keys, an American nutritionist who helped promote the idea that dietary fat was the most hazardous component of our diet (an idea he came up with, the film suggested, while watching lardy Britons stuff their faces with fish and chips). As the quantity of corn syrup steadily increased in processed foods (piling on the calories and tinkering with the very brain chemistry that allows us to say "Enough") our nutritional vigilance was directed elsewhere. And then George McGovern compounded the effect by issuing a government report on the American diet. American food producers realized they could make a killing in the field of "fat-free" and "low-fat" foods, but had to ramp up the sugar to stop it tasting like the boxes it was packaged in.

The least palatable additives in Peretti's film were the obligatory appearances by industry flacks, barely able to convince even themselves that their platitudes about consumer choice and disputed science were true, but spieling them out anyway. "It's like saying because you go in the ocean you get bit by a shark," said Susan Neely, president of the American Beverage Association, as she dismissed the suggestion that soft drinks had anything at all to do with obesity in the US. No, Susan. It's like saying because you go in the ocean you get wet. None of which, of course, entirely undermines the point that Beulah made at the very beginning of the programme. Even if "the men" are to blame for that unshiftable spare tire, the person best equipped to remove it is you.

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