WHEN MOE, LARRY AND CURLY RULED HOLLYWOOD — or at least Saturday mornings — physical comedy and slapstick got a rise out of audiences. The Stooges were classic icons of misdirection.
Fast forward a few generations. The latter-day troika of Ancel, Big Sugar and Unilever are managing to evoke the 1930s trio, minus the nyuk, nyuk, nyuks. It’s a story of food “science” reading much more like science fiction, with decidedly unfunny consequences for consumers, legitimate science and entire industries.
“Ancel” would-be pioneer food propagandist, Ancel Keys; Big Sugar, the multi-billion dollar juggernaut that threw truth under the bus while fingering animal fats as culpable for America’s health woes, and Unilever, the latest conglomerate to enlist academia in subverting research. As Daniel Engber understates in his review of Gary Taubes’ new book, The Case Against Sugar in The Atlantic, “In the past few years, the dangers of dietary fat have begun to look as though they were overstated, and the risks of sugar underplayed.”
Talk about fake news. There is a pattern here that predates the current media meltdown by generations, and it speaks to a lack of discernment among those both inside and outside the “food establishment”.
When few were looking closely, Minnesota pathologist, Keys, played a shell game with science and with competing sectors of the food processing industry, as Taubes recounts in his book. For his part, Keys was just warming up: his “Seven Countries Study” in the 1950s compared the health and diet of some 13,000 middle-aged men in the U.S., Japan and Europe, concluding that populations that consumed large amounts of saturated fats in meat and dairy had high levels of heart disease, while those who ate more grains, fish, nuts and vegetables did not.
This past September, the sugar industry again was caught with its hand in the proverbial cookie jar when the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine reported a new University of California finding that, in the 1960s, the industry paid scientists to produce research downplaying the link between sugar and heart disease — and playing up saturated fat’s role. Although the payment was hush-hush when the study was published, the findings influenced nutritional recommendations from public health officials and the supposedly rock-solid U.S. Dietary Guidelines.
And so it goes.
From my POV, this is only tangentially about sugar itself. The big takeaway — the “Three Stooges moment,” if you will — concerns a brazen and sustained, if sub rosa, campaign to point the finger at animal fats and away from some pretty toxic stuff in America’s cupboard.
The story — if you can call decades of disinformation “a story” — is that one industry slandered another in the interests of profit and in total disregard of consumers and their health. We who speak on behalf of “healthy fats” consumption can now make an even better case that people need to think critically about claims that don’t comport with their own experience.
The exclamation point on all this is Michele Hozer’s award-winning documentary “Sugar Coated” (www.sugarcoateddoc.com), on Netflix, a brilliant expose of “sugar politics.” “Sugar Coated” may not be as funny as “Beer and Pretzels” or “Ants in the Pantry” from the Three Stooges — it’s actually not funny at all — but there’s not a moment of misdirection in it.
Would that the disciples of Ancel Keys had been as circumspect.