Posts Tagged ‘documentary’

Sugar Coated Documentary

I think it’s fair to say that Sugar Coated didn’t really sugar coat their concerns about the sugar industry. Gary Taubes, Robert Lustig, and Ancel Keyes were all names I recognized when they came up. One of the things that surprised me, though, was that despite Ancel Keyes winning, the fact that there are very serious people with very serious concerns about sugar isn’t new at all. Of course, neither is an industry rerouting money for studies and sponsorships to redirect the discourse. In fact, they point out all through the documentary that Big Sugar’s MO is just the same as Big Tobacco’s. As long as there’s enough doubt as to the danger, legislation can’t be passed and they’ll survive.

I have some disagreements with some of their statements. I don’t think that sugar is sugar is sugar. I think that there is a genuine difference between High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), white table sugar, honey, maple syrup, and agave. However, teasing out those differences would have distracted from the overall message which is that there’s too much sugar out there in everything, and especially in processed food. Since most of what’s in processed food is HFCS, and HFCS is terrible, I can roll with the general sentiment.

The increase in processed food and sugar intake coincided with Ancel Keyes “winning” the debate over whether it was fat or sugar that caused heart disease. Big Sugar bankrolled him against a doctor in London , John Yudkin, who had serious concerns about what sugar might be doing to people. There were the same article headlines in the 1970s that there are right now, does it cause diabetes, hyper activity, tooth decay? Since then, particularly in America, we have reduced our meat and fat intake and increased our processed food intake because of a concentrated effort on the part of the sugar industry to paint themselves as harmless, even helpful. When you make low-fat processed foods, what we were being told was healthy, they taste terrible. The fix to that is to add sugar. Check it out next time you’re looking at yogurt or ice cream. The low fat version is almost never a lower calorie version, and in some cases is actually higher calorie. In a strange twist, though, apparently we haven’t changed our vegetable intake at all since the 1980s.

I appreciate that they point out this isn’t just about fat people. Calories in versus calories out isn’t the whole picture. In fact, when you just look at the non-obese, 40% have the metabolic diseases that we blame on obesity. Which means there’s something going on other than just people getting fat. It’s not a moral question or a question of self control. They interviewed an endurance athlete who was on basically a zero fat diet for years because he’d done his research and that’s what was recommended. Since he was monitoring his daily fasting blood glucose, he got to watch himself become pre-diabetic. This was not on cookies and ice cream, this was on oatmeal and sports bars and endurance training. But there “is no evidence to connect sugar to chronic disease.”

I thought it was quite interesting when they pointed out that non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, something of grave and increasing concern among children, is basically the human version of fois gras. It’s just done on a voluntary basis versus the standard force feeding used for geese. This, along with all of the other diseases that are popping up in children are not only a massive and growing burden on the medical industry, but are of increasing concern of shortening lifespans.

Of course, when you’re looking for research on the harm potentially caused by something, if it’s as big and pervasive as sugar, it can be hard to find research that sugar doesn’t have its sticky fingers in. Government has been reducing research grants for decades, and industry is more than happy to fill the void. Just make sure that you’re coming up with the right answers or you won’t get that grant extension for this project or a new grant for the next project.

They do talk about essentially a sin tax on sugar to make it less accessible. I’m not a huge fan of the idea because it wasn’t that long ago that Denmark instituted a tax on saturated fat using the same reasoning. They recently repealed it since a whole bunch of people were popping over to Germany for their cheese and butter. However, we don’t really, actually know enough about what’s definitely good for us versus definitely bad to be sure we’re taxing the right bad things. If you don’t believe me, just pop into two opposing food forums for a visit. On the other hand, I like their idea of restructuring the farm supports to actually support things we know are good for us, like vegetables. I think that should be paired with backing off the subsidies that go to sugar and grain industries. If sugar and grain are no longer unreasonably cheap compared with real food like vegetables, the food industry will naturally move away from them to protect their bottom line. We just need the people advising the food bill to be farmers, not “food industry” lobbyists.

In the end, we use sugar to say “I love you” but it’s starting to ring as hollow as that chocolate shell bunny in your Easter basket. We need to read labels, but we also need labels that are readable to the average shopper. We need to listen to the experts, but we also need some assurance that the experts aren’t in the pocket of the business they’re supposed to be watching. It’s not a simple problem, therefore it’s not a simple solution. However, we do need to be working on a solution for the health of ourselves and our kids rather than the health of the sugar industry.

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Food Choices Documentary

I’m not going to lie. I knew this was going to be pushing veg*nism from the start and that’s why I watched it. I wanted to poke holes in it, and boy are there holes to poke. But, like a lot of documentaries, even if you’re not sure about the premise, it can still have some good information.

Right in the beginning, I think the second inverviewee, we see Dr. T. Colin Campbell. Coming from the paleo/primal side of things, I promptly rolled my eyes. While he is far from the only person interviewed, I’m sure his name will give the tenor of the information offered. On the other hand, as was noted near the end of the film, if you shoot the messenger, you don’t have to take seriously the implications of their message. Since that’s a very good point, let’s set Dr. Campbell over in the corner for a minute and use the message for target practice.

Once upon a time, the only people who really got what we now consider “lifestyle diseases” were the amazingly wealthy, the kings and queens. Fast forward to now, and a whole lot more of us are living as relative royalty. Compared to the Pharaohs and Queen Elizabeth I, I’ll buy that. For the most part, at least in wealthy countries, we have at our disposal basically all of the refined foods and animal products that we choose to eat. It is now through “nutritional ignorance and lifestyle choices” that we still suffer the same diseases.

They do look at our closest genetic relatives, chimpanzees, and point out that they are frugivores. Ok, as long as we aren’t being strict in the definition. They also point out that we are built more like frugivores than omnivores. Because our big brains and opposable thumbs haven’t given us any technology to move past killing meat with our teeth and eating it raw. (The shot of the narrator chewing on his very patient cat was pretty cute.) Then someone points out that all of the animals we eat for meat are vegetarians. Clearly they’ve never watched a chicken go after bugs or meat scraps. Also, since they point out that meat is, in the end, muscle, it does make sense that some animals do use plants to build said muscle. It’s called the food chain and we learned about it in elementary school. Even, yes, rhinoceroses, elephants, and buffalo, some of the biggest animals on the planet at this point. I’m guessing no one noticed that all those three do is eat in order to get enough calories to maintain their size.

The part where I can’t disagree much is the take down of modern, CAFO meat production. It’s dangerous for humans, it’s terrible for the planet, and it pretty much only benefits the really, really big meat conglomerates. They also bring up the problems with fish, which most don’t. They use the Sea Shephard folks who are, well, a little further out there than most, but the facts are solid. The ocean has lost 90% of the big fish that we consider commercially viable and while their bycatch numbers might be exaggerated, it’s still a serious problem.

They do make a brief mention that “commercial” eggs are particularly bad, given their Omega 6 contents and the microbiome created when you use GMO feed. What they don’t do is talk about how backyard, properly cared for chickens can combat these problems. They also touch on organic, grassfed beef. It’s benefits are a total fabrication by the meat industry, don’t you know? After all, it’s more land intense, and even if they’re humanely raised, there’s no way to humanely kill them, so it’s still eating death and fear. There’s just no way around it!

I did find it interesting that they discussed the place of calcium and protein, which people do question. I did know that calcium isn’t actually all that useful for bones unless it’s in balance with the other nutrients like vitamin D and magnesium. (They didn’t mention the second part of that sentence, just the first.) Protein I know less about. What I do know is that whichever side of the fence you’re on, the ADA recommendations are wrong. They’re either way too high or way too low. The fact that human breast milk has the least protein of any mammal was interesting. A juxtaposition that I found entertaining was in one part they discussed that you can’t get too little protein from a diet of plants,  as long as the calories are sufficient. In another part, they mention that just because the protein line on the label gives an amount, that doesn’t mean your body can process and use all that’s offered. Hmm.

My main beef with the documentary (yeah, I said it), is that they don’t propose veganism just for some people. They propose it as the best and really only option for anyone. They  don’t even allow for vegetarianism. Although I suppose when you think of milk as “cow secretions,” it might be less appetizing. Despite the popular euphemism of a “plant-based diet,” what they insist works for anyone and everyone is a low fat, plant only diet. This includes children. Apparently in Dr. Spock’s last book, he declared that children should be vegan because there’s no need for animal products for health and therefore no need for them to develop the taste. This would be the same Dr. Spock who’s books spent more time on anicdotal evidence than science.

Of course, it ends on a moral note. Even a lot of these statements I can agree with, out of context. “The boat is sinking, so plug the biggest hole.” “We have an invisible belief system that makes us love some animals and eat others.” “It doesn’t matter how healthy we are if the planet isn’t healthy.” “People aren’t stupid, they’re asleep.”

The thing that frustrates me about food movements is that the sides have so very much in common, but they will not or cannot get past the details to allow for other points of view to maybe be right for the person holding them. The information that’s presented is a little shallow, but not bad. I think they come to the wrong conclusions, but that doesn’t mean they don’t also have good points. I’m sure we can all agree that everyone could stand to eat more vegetables.