Supersize us: how we're being stuffed by the food industry
TV REVIEW:REMEMBER WHEN Yorkie chocolate bars were huge? That was their big selling point in the 1980s – so big that only a manly trucker could cope with their chunkiness. Now they look if not small then just ordinary – and the Yorkie story gets to the congested heart of Jacques Peretti’s take on the obesity crisis.
In this week’s instalment of his insightful three-part documentary, The Men Who Made Us Fat (BBC Two, Thursday), he pointed to the way our food has been supersized by the food industry, with its ever-bigger portions, and by marketing practices such as supermarkets’ multibuy deals on soft drinks and fatty snacks. Why buy one packet of crisps when 16 look like better value?
The supermarket price war in the UK has seen a 138 per cent rise in multibuys in a single year – and there’s no reason to think it’s any different here. The man who started it all, Peretti says, was David Wallerstein, a Chicago cinema manager who in 1972 figured that if he made popcorn portions bigger – big buckets of the stuff, basically – the extra popcorn would cost only a few cents to make but he could charge much more. It worked so well he was recruited by McDonald’s, and so began what Peretti calls “a spiral of upsizing” (and he’s not just talking about the portions).
Much of what we learned about food is already well known, and there were occasional slips into sensationalism – not from the contributors but from Peretti’s gloomy voiceovers: “Decisions made behind closed doors transformed food into an addiction.” But what was particularly interesting was his look at the official response to rising obesity levels.
Despite studies showing that portion sizes and snacking, particularly by children, are the crux of the problem, it’s easier for governments to blame the individual and introduce feel-good exercise campaigns than to tackle the marketing practices of the big food and supermarket companies. “Promoting physical activity is relatively apolitical and passes the responsibility on to the individual,” said Prof Terry Wilkin, who led a pioneering study into childhood weight gain that showed it’s the amount of fat and sugar-laden food children are eating, not their perceived lack of exercise, that’s the problem.
TRUE LOVE(BBC One, Sunday-Wednesday) must have sounded like such a great idea. Five short dramas about love, set in one place – the English seaside town of Margate – with loosely linked characters and a starry cast including David Tennant, Billie Piper, Jane Horrocks and David Morrissey, and screened during the footie extravaganza when other stations are raising the white flag with repeats and slushy movies. It should have been really good. But it was mesmerisingly terrible, not just because the actors improvised – a first for BBC drama – resulting in acting that was hopelessly unbelievable, but also because the characters, like the plots, just didn’t add up.
The women were mostly wallflowers ready to stand by their horrible men – except for Billie Piper as a plain-Jane teacher (Piper, plain? Really) who ditched her married lover, realised she was a lesbian and began an affair with her 16-year-old student. They walked off happily into the sunset without social services, an irate parent or even the Daily Mail on their heels. Members of the scriptwriters’ union have nothing to fear.