Last Night's Viewing: The Men Who Made Us Fat, BBC2
Dead Boss, BBC3
It's a canny title The Men Who Made Us Fat. With so many of us now overweight, and an increasing number actually obese, there can be no shortage of viewers receptive to the idea that it really has nothing to do with us at all. It wasn't moral failure that left us like this, we discover to our relief. It was done to us by that useful entity, "them".
That, essentially, is the argument of Jacques Peretti's timely series about the food industry, which examines the political and commercial origins of the current obesity crisis. Not everyone could quite cleave to the party line. Beulah, one of the exercising women with whom Peretti began his film, unhelpfully suggested that personal responsibility might also have something to do with it: "There was always fruit and vegetables in the house," she confessed cheerfully, "It was just my choice that I always went for the unhealthy food." We didn't see a lot of Beulah after that.
Then again the ready availability of "unhealthy food" is the big issue here, and the first finger that Peretti pointed was aimed at Earl Butz, Secretary of Agriculture under Richard Nixon and an enthusiastic cheerleader for the industrialisation of American farming. It was Butz who encouraged farmers to plant from "fencerow to fencerow" and Butz who helped ensure that the resulting surplus of corn went into the production of high-fructose corn syrup, which boosted the profits of America's food conglomerates. For anyone who's read Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation or seen the documentary King Corn this won't exactly have been news, but Peretti carried the story forwards to show that good intentions inadvertently colluded with self-serving ones to make things worse.
The second finger was pointed at Ancel Keys, an American nutritionist who helped promote the idea that dietary fat was the most hazardous component of our diet (an idea he came up with, the film suggested, while watching lardy Britons stuff their faces with fish and chips). As the quantity of corn syrup steadily increased in processed foods (piling on the calories and tinkering with the very brain chemistry that allows us to say "Enough") our nutritional vigilance was directed elsewhere. And then George McGovern compounded the effect by issuing a government report on the American diet. American food producers realised they could make a killing in the field of "fat-free" and "low-fat" foods, but had to ramp up the sugar to stop it tasting like the boxes it was packaged in.
The least palatable additives in Peretti's film were the obligatory appearances by industry flacks, barely able to convince even themselves that their platitudes about consumer choice and disputed science were true, but spieling them out anyway. "It's like saying because you go in the ocean you get bit by a shark," said Susan Neely, president of the American Beverage Association, as she dismissed the suggestion that soft drinks had anything at all to do with obesity in the US. No, Susan. It's like saying because you go in the ocean you get wet. None of which, of course, entirely undermines the point that Beulah made at the very beginning of the programme. Even if "the men" are to blame for that unshiftable spare tyre, the person best equipped to remove it is you.
I'll reserve judgement on Dead Boss, Sharon Horgan and Holly Walsh's comedy about a woman wrongly convicted of murder. First episodes are often awkward affairs, and this one didn't break the rule. But I liked the dodgy solicitor who offered a "no win, some fee" service and there was a nice moment when Horgan's character found her cocky insults about a prison tough and her cronies being repeated to them by a guilelessly supportive cell-mate. "I have been completely taken out of context," she stammers, raising the question of exactly what context would take the sting out of "mentally stunted trolls". Give it time.
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