I’m Afraid of Sugar
Thanks, Katie Couric
When my girlfriend and I sat down the other night to watch Katie Couric’s 2014 documentary Fed Up, we made a pact:
“No matter what this says, we’re not going to suddenly change our diets out of panic or fear, okay?”
Our diets were fine. We already knew about the evils of the sugar industry, with their cheap foods that were low in nutrition and high on addictive potential. We ate things in moderation.
The pact lasted for about an hour.
The film is a little heavy-handed in its construction, bashing you over the head with its message and offering little in the way of solutions. But that message is very clear:
Sugar is everywhere, and it is bad. Like, really bad.
Not necessarily the complex natural carbohydrates that we need to survive, but added sugars. Simple sugars. Sugars that break down quickly and aren’t riding on the back of healthy fiber.
Sugars which overpower your liver into signaling the body to create and store fat, all while your brain’s pleasure center lights up like it’s on a drug high.
The weakest part of the movie, in my opinion, is its strange nigh-exploitation of some featured overweight children.
I get why they did it from an emotional standpoint, but it’s still a bummer from a documentary ethics point-of-view.
Numerous children struggling with weight and sugar addiction were given cameras and production crews, and followed around. Their stories are all the same, and terribly sad, and it’s weird that the filmmakers don’t step into frame immediately and tell them about the very thesis of the film.
We are completely surrounded by cheap sugar-filled foods. Sodas. Fast foods. Processed snacks. Many coffee drinks.
And a lot of it even hides in places you’d never think to look.
A bout of fear-driven Googling in the wake of the movie and the shattering of our pact lead us to some lovely excitement from McDonald's.
My girlfriend and I both grew up enjoying McDonald's food on occasion with our families, and I was even in a kids program at a local store when I was young where I’d go every other week with my mom and do coloring and singing and stuff.
And eat fries.
It turns out, McDonald's completely coats their fries in sugar.
And beef fat. And 17 other ingredients. But I’m focusing on the sugar.
In 2012, they tried to heavily spin this as part of a promotional campaign featuring ex-Mythbuster Grant Imahara. The official videos seem to have quietly vanished from the internet, but re-uploads from other folks are still up.
And so is this text-based version of the spin from the Canadian arm of McDonald’s.
Let me paraphrase reader Chris here, if I may. I don’t think he’ll mind my creative license taken with the wording of his question, which you can read unaltered at the link above.
Dear McDonald’s, Chris here. Why the hell do you completely coat your fries in sugar? Are you trying to addict me to their delicious taste?
Oh thanks McDonald’s.
I guess because you’ve told me that I can’t taste the sugar, and that it’s natural, it’s totally fine for you to coat the fries in it.
It must be the potatoes and oil that make McDonald’s fries so good. McDonald’s said so. You believe them, don’t you? Haha….ha.
My girlfriend and I already knew that sugar was everywhere. It’s usually not that hard to see. At least, that’s what we thought.
The McDonald’s “Ingredient Dip” sugar vat felt like a betrayal, and 35 years of wool came off of our eyes.
Suddenly, we ran to the store and bought entirely new food. We’ve been on a high fiber, low/no added sugar diet for almost a week now.
We’re not going back.
It’s truly awful that vast swathes of the US food system turned into a nightmare pile of added sugars under the guise of making “healthier” low-fat foods, that needed sugar for taste.
We handed the keys to a wide variety of affordable foods over to the most insidious chemical possible.
The companies that represent and profit from that chemical every day are fierce. And they have money. Lots of money.
Big Soda, as they’re known, spends millions of dollars trying to stop sugar taxes all over the US, and actually succeeded in highly-blue Washington by lying to people about the nature of the tax.
This doesn’t mean I’m never going to eat a sweet snack in the future, but this documentary with its examination of sad children and overwhelming evidence was the little kick in the pants I needed to get myself right again.