The Limits of the Diet Industry: A Short Review of Hungry for Change
Now that summer is here and I have a bit of time away from the classroom, I’ve been spending a fair bit of time in my garden. I’ve also been catching up on some food films I’ve been meaning to review for a while. The first is Hungry for Change, released last year. Look for more over the next few weeks.
Hungry for Change offers a powerful critique of the diet industry, observing that most diets call on dieters to remove one component of a well-rounded diet. A better approach, they argue, is to consume a more natural diet. It’s a fairly straightforward argument rooted in biological and evolutionary human history. For millions of years, the film observers, our bodies have been programmed to consume and store as much fat and sugar as possible. But our diets were defined by low calorie, high nutrient content. In the developed world today, the problem is generally the opposite. Our diets are defined by their low nutrient, high calorie content. Consequently, our biological imperatives to consume as many calories and sugars as possible and to store those fats in anticipation of a drought or famine become counterproductive. I with them to that point.
But the film goes further, accusing food companies of “engineering addiction into food” by using chemical derivatives (like MSG and free glutamates) to enhance flavor and encourage consumption. Indeed, the film argues that the behavior of the cigarette companies (of increasing the nicotine content in cigarettes while denying nicotine’s addictive nature) parallels the behavior of the food industry. I’m always suspicious of this type of argument, particularly when presented without any real evidence of the underlying conspiracy. Indeed, if the film’s broader argument about the evolutionary impact of human biology is correct, there would be no need for a broader conspiracy on the part of the food industry to engage in such behaviors. It’s not that I think the food industry is incapable of such actions, only that the film overstates its need and likelihood.
In terms of solutions, Hungry for Change advocates a fairly simple solution of increasing our consumption of local, organic foods to displace the processed, industrial foods that define the modern American diet. But here too, the film falls short. For if the film is correct and such food is addictive, individuals are unlikely to be able to make such choices freely without assistance. The film also embraces some broader (individual-based) solutions like juicing, getting more sleep and exercise, reducing stress, visualization, and self-affirmation and love. Here, it loses me completely. What started for me as a fairly effective explanation of why diets rarely succeed ended as a “just make better choices” solution. So much for systemic imperatives.
The trailer for the film is below. It’s worth a watch, particularly if these questions interest you. There’s also a website for the film with celebrity endorsements and more than 165,000 likes on Facebook. Clearly it hit a good note for lots of people. I guess I was just looking for more.