WRITER/producer Laurie David has a new anti-sugar movie, "Fed Up," opening tomorrow, and has written a cookbook (The Family Cooks) to go with it.
We sat down with David recently to talk about her crusade against sugar and processed food, and her complementary campaign to get American families back in the habit of cooking together, eating together and having fun in the kitchen.
Q: "Fed Up" identifies sugar as a cause of obesity and chronic illness, singling out culprits like soda. The counterargument is that Coke has been around for a century, but obesity rates have skyrocketed only recently.
A: Coke has been around for 100 years, but the portion size has gotten bigger, the celebrity endorsements have gotten bigger and the product itself is everywhere you frigging go. I rode a cable car up a mountain in Hong Kong to see the world's biggest Buddha, and there in the middle of nowhere is a table and a chair [and] a Coke machine. It's out of control.
Q: Our Founding Fathers consumed the sugar equivalent of one soft drink per week. Today we drink 53 gallons, per person, per year. Still, why isn't that a matter of personal choice?
A: Because everybody is getting sick. If nobody were getting sick, we could all say, 'Eat all the crap you want.' But this is the biggest health crisis of our time.
The food is chemically formulated to be addictive, it's available 24-7 and it's marketed to children. Parents have to be responsible, and I know they want to be responsible, but they have to have the right information.
I've seen that in every socioeconomic group - people are confused. I have girlfriends who are great moms and would never give their kid a 20-ounce soda, but they're giving them Capri Suns all day.
Everybody thinks yogurt is health food. But if you look at most yogurt, it's dessert - it's full of sugar. Same with most breakfast cereal. People think [cereal] is a meal substitute, and it's not. That's how I ate cereal until a few years ago, and I can tell you how addictive it is. I do without, but it's hard. I really miss that crunch.
Q: Your movie is particularly focused on the vulnerability of children, who cannot be expected to make informed choices.
A: One in three kids is overweight or obese. One in three kids will have diabetes by midcentury. That's unacceptable.
Q: You also argue that its unacceptable to allow corporations to market high-sugar foods to kids.
A: And it's so sneaky the way they do it. Children under the age of 8 cannot tell when the content of a show they're watching is really an advertisement. When Jennifer Lopez has a Coke cup in front of her on "American Idol," kids don't know that it's full of water. They're thinking, "Jennifer Lopez is pretty, she drinks Coke and I want to be just like her."
Q: What can parents do?
A: Go back to what used to be traditional for us. I remember going to visit my Jewish grandmother in Brooklyn, going to her house for dinner. The smell of the chicken soup and matzoh balls and all the things she made, those were the real traditions.
I think in the last couple of decades, we've lost true traditions and rituals. They've been replaced by microwaves and crappy, convenient food. And it's been marketed cleverly. You're told that real food is too expensive, it takes too long, you're no good at it.
The most personal, intimate thing we do is feeding our children and family. And we've outsourced this job to corporations who don't give a hoot about your health.
The solution is in your kitchen. You have to start cooking food yourself. You have to start cooking real food yourself.
Q: But isn't it true that families with two working parents or one working single parent can't do what their grandmothers did?
A: The biggest myth is that real food is too expensive and you don't have the time to make it. You can make a big pot of soup with a few veggies, and you can toss in a bag of lentils, and you can eat that for a week.
Q: Who wants to eat that for a week?
A: You change it up. You chop kale into it one night, or you turn it into tacos. You make it delicious.
Q: People hear the word "kale" and they run screaming to the nearest pound cake.
A: People will eventually get to kale. Kale is the new black.
Q: I'll believe that when Lady Gaga shows up at the Grammys wearing a kale suit.
A: That's actually a good idea. I'll suggest that to her. The point is, meals don't have to be a three-course affair. You don't have to make homemade apple pie. You can have scrambled eggs, you can bake a sweet potato. You can fix a salad and put chickpeas on it. These are all things you can have in your cupboard.
Q: You want families to do this at least one day a week.
A: Everybody says they don't have the time. Well, do it on a day when you do have the time, which is Sunday.
I think we should have home-cooked Sundays, and this should become as big as meatless Mondays. This is the day we should cook with our family, eat with our family. It's fun, and you could have enough left over to eat well the rest of the week.