One of the interesting subplots of “Fed Up,” the “Inconvenient Truth” for food led by Laurie David, Katie Couric, and director Stephanie Soechtig, is how Michelle Obama is handled.
By those not paying close attention, she is regarded as the Obesity First Lady (hold your guns, there Michelle, that’s very different from the “obese First Lady,” which I Did. Not. Say.), promoter of fresh garden food and protector of young children.
But she only started out that way, for just a few months, before being reined in by the commercial juggernaut.
As the film portrays, she has turned out to be a pawn in a chess game that’s been played out several times before: Government figure/body speaks out against foods that contribute to ill health, industry lashes back, government body/figure is neutered.
For example, the film recounts how the Federal Trade Commission proposed in the late ‘70s to ban advertising to kids because, especially under 8 years old, they don’t have the capacity to distinguish puffery from fact. But broadcasters, ad agencies, and toy manufacturers objected vehemently, and in 1980, Congress passed a law prohibiting the FTC from instituting the ban.
Around the same time, Sen. McGovern’s special committee on nutrition intended to include “reduced intake” in its recommendations until the egg, dairy, and meat industries got it removed.
When the World Health Organization was to release TRS 916, a report in which it would urge that people take no more than 10 percent of calories from added sugar, secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson threatened to withdraw the US’s $407 million contribution to WHO unless the suggestion was dropped.
And now Obama, who began by urging food companies not merely to tinker around the edges, but to come up with new product formulations, was soon shunted into urging more physical activity, saying that this wasn’t about demonizing any one industry. It had been, in part, until the demon reared, and then it was about not offending the demon. (More physical activity is a great idea, but it’s not going to resolve obesity even marginally, without the changes she started out urging.)
As I say, this is all in the movie, so its creators didn’t skimp. But neither did they take her to task for having bailed from the pulpit. OK, what’s she going to do, come out with guns blazing at the expense of her husband’s administration? No, of course not. But she still bailed, and at most, she’s portrayed as a victim of Big Bad Big Food.
During a discussion panel afterward, David was quite politic in her Obama comments:
"I admire her so much. ... But it's a great example of how powerful this industry is. Even someone with her great intentions ... even she can be sidelined by this industry."
After David fled to the airport, either moderator Louisa Kasdon or panelist and Chop Chop magazine founder Sally Sampson continued the love fest, expressing the hope that Obama would become their/our movement’s titular leader, once she’s freed from the constraints of power.
Yeah, maybe that would be good. Maybe once she’s out of power, she can be what she failed to be when she was in it.