Sugar has replaced fat on the ever rotating roster of demonized ingredients. But unlike fat, which we actually need, sugar fully deserves its villainous status. We could eliminate processed sugar from our diets entirely and be much healthier.
A new documentary, That Sugar Film is a Morgan Spurlokian spin on the anti-sugar crusade. It continues where last year’s Fed Up left off. At the center of the film is a stunt: Australian actor Damon Gameau’s goes on a supposedly healthy diet consisting of things like fruit juices, low-fat processed foods, yogurt and granola bars. Of course, all of these highly processed foods are made palatable with copious amounts of sugar. It’s the well documented Snackwell cookie syndrome: large food corporations have removed fat and replaced it with sugar to better keep us addicted to their products. During the course of the film we watch Gameau’s health decline precipitously.
A disclaimer: personally, when it comes to documentaries, I prefer a vérité approach and am not a fan of Spurlock-type hijinks or hyperactive animation, both of which this film has in abundance. Show me don’t tell me is a film making mantra seared into my brain during the brief period I took classes and edited with Jean-Pierre Gorin (Full disclosure: my inner Gorin drives Kelly crazy and makes me a grumpy, no-fun movie going companion.)
That said, what won me over to That Sugar Film is that its heart is decidedly in the right place. The strongest scenes were during visits to two disadvantaged communities, an Aboriginal town in the Australian outback and a poor community in rural Appalachia. You won’t ever forget the early graves of the Aboriginal graveyard and the tragic dental problems of one of the Appalachian protagonists. In these miserable communities, Gameau shows that our addiction to sugar is not a matter of personal choice, but instead a result of predatory capitalism. Large corporations are, to use a Luddite sentiment, engaged in actions “injurious to commonality.” Our solutions to the sugar problem are going to need to address the commons. And, like climate change, there are no easy answers to these larger societal problems. At best we can, like the dentist in That Sugar Film who donates his services in Appalachia, do what we can with whatever means we have. We can also press our cowardly political leaders about their relationships and patronage of the large corporations that rot our teeth give us obesity and diabetes.
But That Sugar Film also tells a personal story. Sugar has crept back into my diet after a period of abstinence following a screening of Fed Up and a brief period of Lenten virtuousness. On a personal level it might be a good idea to periodically ponder Gameau’s expanding gut and declining heath. That Sugar Film might just be the perfect film to bum out the family with or think about when reaching for that slice of cake. Our health may depend on periodic, scary reminders.
In the U.S., that Sugar Film is available on-demand an in theaters on July 31.