My thoughts on seeing “Fed Up,” the documentary about the causes of the American (and now increasingly global) obesity epidemic are not complex. It’s all pretty mortifying, if completely unsurprising.

Sugar is bad for you if you eat too much of it. So is lettuce. The problem is, sugar is turning out to be the most dangerous nontoxic compounds you can eat, and it’s in 80% of the 600,000 items stocking our grocery stores. Whereas it would be really hard to eat too much lettuce. And there isn’t much difference between eating a bowl of sugar and eating a bowl of cereal. Most people in America are unable to eat anything other than products with added sugar. And the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the Food Marketing Institute, and other Big Sugar factions are doing all they can to increase profits from these products, and they are probably more powerful than the tobacco lobbies.

What I found appalling: the power of big business and big money to sicken our children with their products for their profit; worse still, our government subsidizes this atrocity.

One thing I didn’t know: why on the ingredients list everything has the recommended daily percentage—except for sugar. The percentage is blank.

One thing that was incredibly sad: to see Michelle Obama totally and completely steamrolled by big business.

One thing to think about: one of the numerous and credible talking heads, Dr. Harvey Karp, notes that if a foreign government were trying to sicken our children, to make them unhealthy and unhappy, some to the point of death, we’d probably fight back. But it seems to be perfectly fine if American private interests get paid to do it instead.

Watch the trailer, and get the significant facts. Or go watch the movie—it’s well worth your time and money—and then take a glance at the snacks counter as you leave the theater.

Want to learn why all calories aren’t the same, read this NYTimes Op-Ed: eating processed food both makes us fatter and hungrier which makes us fatter, and then hungrier, and so on. And on.

Want to know more? Well, you can go to and take their quiz (just remember, the site was quickly put up by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the lobby “representing the makers of the world’s favorite food, beverage, and consumer products”).

Not my favorites.

I’ll refine my and so many others’ message: TEACH YOUR CHILDREN to cook whole foods and to share that food with the people they care about.

For a longer review, more critical of the movie for not making the movie about the lobbyists and our government’s role in the sickening of our children, see Joshua David Stein in Eater.


Other links you may like:

© 2014 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2014 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.










17 Wonderful responses to “On Seeing “Fed Up””

  • Terry Simpson

    As a weight loss surgeon there is one truth: if we got rid of the sugar and high fructose corn syrup in the diet of America there would not be the need for obesity surgery.

  • Natalie

    Healthy eating starts with parents. Children raised on whole food with balanced carbs and proteins can’t even stomach excess sugar and processed foods. The “sugar” may be on the shelves, but we don’t have to buy it.

  • Candy Sparks

    I will have to check out this movie. When I read Fast Food Nation my eyes where open to what we do to our food to make it fast and cheap. Sugar was one of the key ingredients to help create an addiction to such foods. After that book I watched some documentaries as well as read a boat load of books, upon educating myself I will not buy processed foods. I home cook everything. I hate when I hear parents say they just don’t have time to cook anymore hence why they are feeding highly processed and fast foods to their kids. It makes me sad that time can not be made for these children’s lives. Oh well. Great blog post though.

  • Elke

    This sounds like a lot of the ideas mentioned in the book from last year, “Salt, Sugar, Fat”. It was one worth reading. I can’t find where the film is playing. Is it not widely distributed?

  • Jamie

    Saw the movie as well–glad I did. The parallels made to the tobacco industry are spot-on and scary, and I really do hope that we will see a ripple effect.

    I too didn’t realize the mysterious missing sugar RDP, surely something Michelle Obama had some control of with her new labeling efforts? Sad to see that Let’s Move has turned more into let’s get our kids to skip in the park, and no real, viable change with big business has occurred. Interesting she declined to interview as well.

    I personally would have preferred a little more Pollan and Bittman face time, since they had some of the most common sensical lines (though there were many), and promote the solution.

    All being said, I hope the message of this film spreads like vegetable-y tomato paste.

  • Amber

    Michael, Well said! Thank you for your note encouraging folks to get back in the kitchen and COOK. This is exactly what we’re doing with kids at Food Literacy Center, as we try to combat the problem of two generations of Americans who don’t know how to cook. We’re excited to see so many folks talking about this film. Cooking is the only way to control what’s in our food. Plus, it’s fun! 🙂

    Thank you again for this important review. We’re excited to see the film next month when it comes to our town.

  • Jennifer @ Delicious Everyday

    I’ll definitely keep an eye out for when this movie comes to Australia. It’s amazing and sad how our reliance on the convenience of packaged foods is slowly killing us.

    I make most of the food in our house from scratch, and on the rare occasions I’ve had some prepackaged food I couldn’t get over how sweet it was. Especially foods that aren’t meant to be sweet, such as potato chips. Unsurprisingly, on reading the label, sugar was indeed an ingredient.

    It’s a timely reminder that we all need to spend more time in the kitchen preparing our food from scratch, as we used to do, rather than opening a packet. It’s not hard, and it’s not as time consuming as many think. I blame these same companies for leading people to believe that cooking from scratch is something that is difficult and that most people don’t have time to do.

  • S Higgins

    How can we force change? Is it forcing the FDA to improve labeling and include a recommended daily allowance of sugar and/or force food labels to include how much “added” sugar is included in their ingredients? We’ve also got a bigger problem as more and more households have both parents working, there isn’t as much time to make fresh food alternatives and thus the masses continue to rely on the ease prepped/frozen/processed meals deliver. Is there a petition to sign? A proposal to back? Letters to write?

  • Kathy S.

    I’m seeing it this week! Can’t wait! Meanwhile I recommend EVERY American read Marion Nestle’s fantastic book, Food Politics. It’s a tremendous eye-opener about how food policy is made in this country.

  • Ellen Malloy

    I stopped the quiz after question two because I feared throwing my laptop across the room.

    Thanks for your post, I hadn’t heard of this movie yet.

  • Tags

    When I look at an ingredients list on a package, if I see the words “fructose” or “hydrogenated” I treat it as if it said “plutonium.”

  • Brian

    Does this mean I shouldn’t put Turbinado sugar in my rib rub?

  • Pam Seiffert

    Well. sugar is included in the label==it’s under carbohydrates. Multiply the number of carbs by 4.5 and you get the total calories provided by the carbs. Also look at the ingredient list- sugar is usually the first one listed. It’s not rocket science to figure which foods are making us fat. They certainly try to hide how much sugar is in food. Love your rants Michael. Keep up the good work.

  • Camusman

    Especially insidious is the heavy use of sugar in supposedly healthy foods. Take a close look at the amount of sugar in Trix yogurt and in NutriGrain bars. Appalling.

  • Anna

    I’ve been interested in the negative impact of processed foods on health for some time. I haven’t seen Fed Up yet, but I’m quite familiar with many of the interviewees shown on the trailer clip.

    What I’ll be curious to note when I see Fed Up, is if the movie’s focus is entirely on the horrors of added sugar in processed foods, or if ANY mention is made of the disappearance of naturally saturated fat and cholesterol from the US food supply that pregnant women, infants, children, and adolescents NEED in ample supply for proper growth, development, and robust health – fat from meat, butter & other dairy foods, and palm/coconut oils. Somehow I doubt it.

    In addition to Fed Up the movie, I highly recommend a recently published book, The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat, and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet by Nina Teicholz. There’s more to the story of how our food supply changed than the sugar.


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