I finally got around to seeing Vinnie Tortorich’s documentary FAT, which is available on Amazon Prime, iTunes, and on Blu-ray if you prefer to own a physical copy.
Vinnie and The Older Brother sometimes poke each other on Twitter, so when The Older Brother tweeted that he’d just seen it, Vinnie tweeted back:
OK Jerry, if you had to choose one movie, mine or your brother’s… Which one would win the Sophie‘s choice award?
Talk about putting a guy on the spot. The Older Brother replied:
He’s going to be here this weekend & he’s bigger and stronger than me now so Imma taking a pass on that one!
Seriously, I don’t think you can do a side-by-side score. Fat Head was 10 years ago and one of the first to take on the “fat – baaaad, grain – gooood” paradigm in an accessible way for the general public. Production tech & nutrition info have exploded since then.
So Fat is obviously more current & a “cleaner” looking production, but I think Fat Head set the path for lots of folks.
Heh-heh … wise response, Older Brother. Seriously, though, that’s pretty much what I would have said.
I produced Fat Head on a shoestring budget with barely any crew. (My nephew Grant was in town while I was shooting part of it and served as cameraman. In Fat Head Kids, he’s the voice of Marty Metabolism and Mr. Spot. Thank goodness for talented relatives.) Fat Head and FAT are around the same length, but the first half of Fat Head focused on pointing out the b.s. in Super Size Me.
So while both films tell the story of how the demonization of fat and cholesterol sent our diets off the rails, let me just come out and say it: FAT tells that story better. It’s beautifully shot and edited. It’s more detailed, with more history and more film clips – including an interview with Vilhjalmur Stefansson, the explorer who lived with the Inuit and later agreed to be locked in a hospital and eat nothing but meat and seafood for a year to prove his health wouldn’t decline on the diet.
Lots of people we all know now but I didn’t know 10 years ago provide commentary in interviews: Dr. Eric Westman, Nina Teicholz, Dr. Andreas Eenfeldt, Ivor Cummins, Dr. Jeffrey Gerber and Gary Taubes, to name a few. (Gary graciously agreed to read the script for Fat Head to make sure I was representing his ideas accurately, but his publisher didn’t want him to appear in a film billed as a comedy.)
Vinnie moves the story along in what I’d call a series of fireside chats – he’s literally sitting in a room with a fireplace. When I was on his podcast show a few years ago, he was known as America’s Angriest Trainer, and I’d say the label still applies. He’s not screaming and yelling or anything, but during the fireside-chat scenes, he comes across as an intelligent and knowledgeable guy who’s seen the damage caused by lousy dietary advice and is frankly pissed off about it. (I was pissed off about it when I made Fat Head too, but I tend to turn anger into humor.)
Of course, we should be pissed off.
To underscore that point, film director Jim Abrahams (of Airplane! fame) tells the story of his son, who suffered from severe epileptic seizures and spent years going through the whole medical rigmarole. Desperate to find some kind of treatment that would work, Abrahams finally went to a medical library himself and started reading. Imagine his surprise (and outrage) when he came across old articles describing how a ketogenic diet can prevent seizures in many patients – which is exactly what happened when Abrahams put his son on the diet. Abrahams confronted the doctors and demanded to know why none of them had recommended a ketogetic diet.
Uh, well, ya see, we wouldn’t want to put a kid on a dangerous high-fat diet when there might be a drug that would work …
To further underscore the point, Australian surgeon Dr. Gary Fettke appears to tell how he was ordered by the medical authorities to stop recommending low-carb diets to his diabetic patients. Yes, that’s right … he was ordered to stop telling people who can’t tolerate carbohydrates to limit their carbohydrates.
That decision was, thank goodness, finally reversed. But as FAT makes clear, the problem goes way beyond one regulatory body in Australia. The arterycloggingsaturatedfat! and hearthealthywholegrains! nonsense is like a disease that began in the U.S., spread around the world, and became embedded in governments and industries.
FAT employs old news and commercial clips to show how quickly the bad-information disease spread, and how quickly the American food industry latched onto the low-fat/low-cholesterol message – and why not? The real money isn’t in real foods; it’s in low-fat, processed frankenfoods.
Vinnie talks about the power of the media by sharing a story I hadn’t heard before: back in his modeling days (I didn’t know he had modeling days, either) he was invited to appear on the Oprah Winfrey show for an episode about men who date older women. Just before the show began, Vinnie was informed he had to pretend a woman appearing on the show was his girlfriend. (You don’t believe reality television has anything to do with reality, do you?)
Unhappy about being blindsided, Vinnie decided to torpedo the show by being so outrageous, the producers couldn’t possibly choose to air it. (The clips from the episode are hilarious.) Yet it became one of highest-rated Oprah episodes ever. The message for Vinnie? Lies sell. Nonsense sells. Our dietary guidelines are lies and nonsense, but damn, they sure helped sell a lot of junk passing as food.
Toward the end of the film, we see clips of one president after another introducing plans to provide Affordable Health Care to All Americans! … against a background showing the cost of healthcare going up … and up … and up … and up.
Health care will never be affordable when the public keeps becoming more and more metabolically damaged. And we’ll never stop the metabolic damage until we stop blaming fat for crimes it didn’t commit and promoting “health” foods that are anything but healthy. That’s the message of FAT.
So sure, Vinnie’s still angry. Fortunately, he channeled that anger into a very enjoyable and informative film.