Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Hungry for Change: A film review

Today I watched the film Hungry for Change, which is made by the same people who brought us Food Matters. This is a 90-minute film, which follows the every day life of Natalie, who is meant to represent the average American. While we follow her path to self-discovery, we are bombarded with information from various sources. I say bombarded because there are many quotations that are repeated at various times throughout the film, effectively beating you over the head. Most of the sources are authors; a few are nutritionists; some journalists; and one or two “experts” in strange fields, like wild food. I tell you this, not to discount the information that they present to you in the film, but so you can have some perspective on where the ideas presented are coming from.

The film presents you with a number of ideas surrounding food and the food industry of today. If I had to pick an overall theme for the film, I would say it is we live in an age where we are overfed, but are starving nutritionally. The film talks about how our hunter-gatherer-gardener ancestors ate food with a high nutrient content and low calorie content, whereas today we have a high calorie, low nutrient diet. The film goes on to encourage you to change your diet to almost no processed foods, more fresh vegetables and to stop “dieting”.

According to Dr. Alejandro Junger, creator of the Clean detox program, "The problem is we are not eating food anymore, we are eating food-like products. The objective is not to give you a healthy product; it is to give you a product that will make you buy it, that will last long, and will make a lot of profit for the company." In today’s society, we eat foods that are highly processed, refined and full of additives. They give an example of Total brand blueberry pomegranate cereal, which, in fact, contains no blueberries or pomegranates. There are fillers and flavorings that trick the mind into thinking it is getting nutrients, when it truly isn’t. The film explains that in a world where we have empty calories from fillers paired with an indoor lifestyle and no exercise, we are wreaking havoc on our bodies: “You’ve got way too many calories, not enough nutrients and not enough use of those calories.” They also mention that those empty calories make us continue eating, because our bodies are striving to get the nutrients we aren’t providing it.

Food additives are highly denounced in the film, especially MSG and aspartame. MSG is used in a huge variety of foods as a flavor enhancer. They are exasperated with the labeling of MSG and free glutamates, which are hidden behind names we often cannot even pronounce. The authors in the film explain that MSG is used to fatten rats for experiments, yet companies are allowed to use it in our food. Aspartame is an artificial sweetener used in diet food and drinks. They claim that aspartame causes formaldehyde build-up in the brain and frontal lobe inflammation, which can lead to migraines. Despite their claims, there have been no conclusive studies done to prove or disprove the connection between these chemicals and migraines.

The film also addresses the issue of sugar, claiming, “Sugar is without doubt the cocaine of the food world, but they get away with hiding it in food.” They show one of the best examples possible; a TED talk by Jamie Oliver where he explains how much sugar is consumed by school children just by drinking milk. The picture below shows the mountain of sugar consume by a child in the first five years of school.

They continue with the simile of sugar and drugs by explaining how you become addicted to it. They also liken the addiction to that of a smoker. You think you can stop eating, but really the foods you consume are manufactured to make you eat more and more. I don’t know the number of times they use the simile between food products and drugs, but my favorite has to be: “Eating high-fructose corn syrup is, in my view, a lot like snorting cocaine." They go on to explain that both are highly processed and refined from a natural plant source, corn and cocoa leaves, respectively. An interesting comparison to be sure, but it may be a little extreme for most viewers. HFCS is said to promote type-2 diabetes and obesity, which are huge problems in the U.S.


Dieting is completely bashed by the film. Though use of the word seems to be becoming passé, the film reminds us of the true definition: “a diet is the foods that an organism habitually eats to sustain itself.” They repeatedly remind us that dieting never works. We cut out one of the essential nutrients, like fat, instead of trying to change our eating habits to include the good kind of those nutrients. Most “fat-free” foods replace the fat with carbohydrates. Carbohydrates break down into sugars in the body, which then turn into fat. A better solution is to eat the right kind of fats, like those that come from plant-based sources such as avocado.

The film also brings up an important point regarding the studies that are published on new food additives and chemicals. The manufacturers of these products pay for most of the studies that are published involving the effects of a food or food additive on the body. As an example of this link, author and researcher William F Engdahl states, “Over half of the scientists involved in the [genetically modified organism] GMO panel which positively reviewed the Monsanto’s study for GMO maize in 2009, leading to its EU-wide authorization, had links with the biotech industry.” The FDA does not have it’s own scientists who study the effects of new chemicals on the human body. This could obviously lead to botched studies and misrepresented evidence. However, finding proof of that would be an expensive and difficult endeavor.

The film does at least present us with a solution to the problems: add more local, organic, whole foods to our diet; cut out the processed and refined junk; cut out the unnecessary chemicals. The experts explain ways to detoxify your body and present juicing as a catch-all answer. They explain that consuming juiced vegetables is a way to get the nutrients into your body that you usually wouldn’t. They even address the question of why not just eat the vegetables? It is because most people do not eat enough vegetables and fruits. Juicing is a fifteen-minute solution to our nutrient-deficiency. It is also a way to detoxify the body. They recommend a three-day detox period where only juiced vegetables are consumed. Then consuming whole foods, mostly vegetables, seeds and nuts, and some fruits. As Jessica Carr explains, “If it’s made in a garden, I eat it. If it’s made in a lab, it takes a lab to digest. If it has a shelf life longer than me, I don’t eat it. The simpler I get, the healthier I get.” Additional sleep, more laughter, and regular exercise are recommended to reduce stress and help maintain your metabolism. Your body is made to take care of itself and if you feed it the right foods, it will.

I am not convinced that you should take all of the information in the film to heart, as many claims are made without sufficient proof.  In a scientific world, we need more proof than a handful of people who swear by the solution they used to get healthy. However, we have learned in the past that bringing the public’s attention to a topic can create change. Take the book The Jungle, for example. This book led to an uproar over the malpractices of the American meatpacking industry in the early 1900s. Having read this book myself, I can understand how the graphic imagery used in The Jungle caused people to react. When you are able to relate to a person how a subject affects them (and everyone else), through written or shown images, it gets their attention more than statistics and numbers ever could. This is the reason that films such as Food Matters and Hungry for Change can be important to the food movement, despite their sometimes-overzealous claims. They do bring up valid points, such as the capitalistic nature of food businesses, the administrative fallacies in food governance, the health issues that are faced in the United States, and the reasons behind these issues. 
I have decided to do a little experiment myself. I am going to take the next three days to detoxify my body using their method of consuming only freshly juiced vegetables/fruit for every meal. I went out and bought a large amount of fresh organic produce this afternoon and, luckily, already have a juicer. I plan to record how I feel for the three days and the affect the juice has on my body. Richard is planning to also participate so we can give a male and female perspective. I have to admit, I am weary of this experiment because I expect to be very hungry for the next three days. However, for the sake of knowledge, I will prevail.
Jan. 10, 2013
Okay, upon review, I lied. I will not make it three days. I barely made it past 1:30 before I broke down and had a bowl of yogurt, walnuts and honey. I am finally starting to feel the effects of hunger. My head aches and I don't think I'm going to make it to dinner, let alone past dinner. I will continue to drink juiced veggies and fruits (since I bought them already), but I cannot eat no solid food, especially no protein.

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