Quote:Is there nothing for which Richard M. Nixon cannot be blamed?
President Nixon is just about the first person we see in the aggressively titled three-part documentary “The Men Who Made Us Fat,” which begins on Friday on BBC World News. Yeah, he’s the guy responsible for all those bulging bellies.
Well, sort of. Nixon brought Earl Butz into his cabinet as secretary of agriculture, and it is Butz, the program says, who fostered policies that led to agricultural overproduction, especially of corn. What to do with all that corn? Use it to make high-fructose corn syrup, which became the go-to ingredient for processed foods and soft drinks.
“Earl Butz transformed the American diet, and ultimately its waistline,” says Jacques Peretti, the guide for this trip through the maze of marketing and lobbying that revolutionized the food industry beginning about a half-century ago.
Butz, though, is just the first of many who are implicated in the program as having had a hand in foisting unhealthy foods on us, whether manipulatively or just as collateral damage. For instance, the first installment also talks about Ancel Keys, a scientist whose ideas about overconsumption of fat had the effect of playing down the ill effects of sugar.
Along with dubious public policy and incomplete science, there was the sheer abundance of food.
“You can’t walk more than 100 feet in the United States and not be cued with some signal that food is available,” says Dr. David A. Kessler, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. “And so what’s going on is that my brain is constantly being activated by these cues.”
The opening episode also delves into the addictive quality of some foods, which companies exploited either deliberately or by selling their products in an aggressive way. The overall point is that the tendency to attribute obesity to gluttony is only part of the picture. “I don’t think it’s fair just to talk about personal responsibility and not corporate responsibility,” Dr. Kessler says.
All of this has been said before in, among other places, books by Dr. Kessler. Besides echoing these earlier works, the program often seems to be saying that obesity is something the United States inflicted on everybody else, which is surely an oversimplification. But at least it uses a British example to make a point about supersizing. In Part 2, Mr. Peretti stops at a restaurant in Great Yarmouth on the English coast, the Jesters Diner, and inquires about breakfast.
“We kept getting told that the Fat Boy wasn’t big enough,” Martin Smith, the proprietor, says, mentioning one menu selection by way of explaining the alternative that he serves Mr. Peretti. It’s called the Jesters ChallengeKidz Breakfast — so named because it weighs as much as a small child.
Incidentally, Mr. Peretti, who tries but fails to choke down the Kidz, also made a series called “The Men Who Made Us Thin.”
[b]The Men Who Made Us Fat[/b]
BBC World News, Friday nights at 10:10, Eastern and Pacific times; 9:10, Central time.
Produced by Fresh One Productions for the BBC. Fiona Campbell, executive producer for the BBC; Peter Grimsdale, executive producer; Jacques Peretti, host and correspondent.
A version of this review appears in print on April 4, 2014, on page C10 of the New York edition with the headline: Pointing Fingers Over Bulging Bellies. Order Reprints| Today's Paper|Subscribe
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