Sure, it’s a stunt. But it’s one that makes some dramatic points that are worth heeding. Australian actor Damon Gameau (Charlie’s Country), a pretty healthy eater who eschewed processed food and refined carbs and whose bloodwork showed him to be in fine condition (low cholesterol, good blood pressure and liver function, etc.), changed his diet for only 60 days to start including the 40 teaspoons of sugar that the average Australian consumes each day. (That’s a lot less than the average American eats, and only very slightly more than the average Brit.) And though this is a Super Size Me type of endeavor, there is no chance that anyone can dismiss Gameau’s experiment as implausible or unreasonable. Morgan Spurlock ate nothing but McDonald’s for a month, which no one would ever actually do. But Gameau didn’t get his sugar from junk food or candy or anything that most people would recognize as crap we shouldn’t be eating; he got it from the stuff that’s supposed to be “healthy”: juice, yogurt, granola bars, breakfast cereal, and so on. Plus he kept up his regular exercise regime, and even ate the same number of calories he did before. He just swapped out raw fruit and eggs and nuts and avocados and the like for processed approximations of real food.
I won’t tell you what happened: you’ll have to see the film. And you should. Even if, like me, you’re hugely suspicious of mass-marketed corporate food and can pretty much guess what’s going to end up happening to Gameau’s body, That Sugar Film still shocks. Gameau spends part of his two months as a dietary guinea pig traveling to places where he can investigate in an in-depth way precisely how sugary processed foods are slowly killing us, such as a town in the Outback where Aboriginal peoples have been forced, over the course of just a few generations, from their truly nourishing hunter-gather diet into one that comes from a supermarket. In the most horrifying segment of the film, Gameau visits a town in Kentucky where massive consumption of Mountain Dew soda is doing terrible things to human bodies.
Just as it was beginning to dawn on me, while I was watching the film, that the way we’ve been sold sugar and “healthy” processed foods is very much like the way we were once sold on the benefits and joys of tobacco, Gameau made that connection explicitly. (And so this turns into a great companion piece to the documentary Merchants of Doubt, about how corporations defend profitable products even as they’re killing us with them.) Gameau may be very funny while he’s being very enlightening, but much of that humor is of the whistling past the graveyard variety. Almost quite literally.