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Hungry for truth, fed up with misinformation

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Scale

“Fed Up” is a new documentary from broadcast journalist Katie Couric, Oscar-winning producer Laurie David (“An Inconvenient Truth”) and director Stephanie Soechtig. According to the film’s official trailer on YouTube: “This is the movie the food industry doesn’t want you to see. FED UP blows the lid off everything we thought we knew about food and weight loss, revealing a 30-year campaign by the food industry, aided by the U.S. government, to mislead and confuse the American public, resulting in one of the largest health epidemics in history.”

The film, which opened on Friday, examines the epidemic of obesity, the soaring rate of people who have (or will someday soon have) Type 2 diabetes, the increase in portion sizes and the additives included in processed food. For example, more than 75% of the sodium Americans consume can be traced to processed and restaurant foods; only a small amount is added during cooking or at the dining room table. Of the 600,000 food items in the average American grocery store, 80% have been spiked with extra sugar. These additives make our bodies crave similar foods, which means we’re becoming chemically wired to want things that make us unhealthy.

“Sugar in excess is a toxin, unrelated to its calories. The dose determines the poison,” Dr. Robert Lustic, professor of pediatrics at UCSF wrote. “Like alcohol, a little sugar is fine, but a lot is not. And the food industry has put us way over our limit.”

What’s worse, many of the unnecessarily over-sugared and over-salted items eaten by American consumers aren’t even real food; they’ve been manufactured in labs at big agribusiness firms and processed food companies, and approved for sale by the U.S. government.

According to USA Today, the thing that’s made “Fed Up” so contentious is “its assertion that much of America’s weight problem is not the public’s fault. Instead, the film takes aim squarely at the snack food industry, which it accuses of getting consumers hooked on processed and fast foods with school tie-ins, deceptive ad campaigns and duplicitous health studies.”

“I think that one of the ways that manufacturers get us to buy ‘convenient’ foods by making us think it is too inconvenient to buy whole foods, or to put a little effort into what you are eating,” Couric told Rolling Stone. “…This is the first generation that will live a shorter life span. That’s an unconscionable legacy we are leaving to our children. We need to make some changes to our own lives, but also try to demand changes on a much bigger level.”

I’d never even heard of the film “Fed Up” until I read this story about the underhanded tactics of the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), the food industry’s lobby. Threatened by the movie’s premise of showing how Americans “are being brainwashed at an early age by the food industry, and the power of that lobby to prevent our legislators from making any meaningful changes,” the GMA created a website called FedUpFacts.com that looks eerily similar to the film’s official site. However, this stealth site contains “facts” that are bought and paid for by the food and beverage industry. The GMA even went so far as to buy Google ads for search terms related to the movie — including its title — that would lead consumers interested in learning more about “Fed Up” and their clients’ nefarious actions to FedUpFacts.com.

While underhanded and manipulative, this campaign is not exactly out of character. These lobbyists seem to thrive on keeping American consumers in the dark.

Earlier this week, Vermont became the first state in the U.S. to require the labeling of genetically-modified foods. More than 60 other countries already require such labels, but previous efforts to pass similar legislation in the states have been beaten down by the GMA and its wealthy clients.

Although the law did pass in Vermont, the food and agriculture industries, including the makers of genetically-modified corn, soybeans, canola and other crops widely used in processed and packaged foods, plan to sue to stop its implementation. The GMA has also joined forces with BIO, a trade group whose members include Monsanto Co., Dow AgroSciences, a unit of Dow Chemical Co., and other biotech seed companies, to back a proposed federal law that would nullify Vermont’s labeling law and any other mandatory labeling of GMOs in the U.S.

The GMA’s position is clearly noted on its website: “Consumers who prefer to avoid GM ingredients have the option to choose from an array of products already in the marketplace labeled ‘certified organic.’ The government therefore has no compelling interest in warning consumers about foods containing GM ingredients.”

That’s right. Consumers don’t actually need to know what’s in their food. They should just assume that anything not already labeled contains genetically-modified ingredients.

When big business (and their lobbyist minions) try that hard to bamboozle the public, my bullshit meter goes into the red. So should yours.

Are you ready for the Oscars?

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red carpet

Although I’m a huge movie fan, I wish I had a couple more weeks to prepare for the 86th Academy Awards broadcast (which airs on March 2 on ABC). Alas, due to situations beyond my control — covering the Olympics, few artsy films showing in rural New Hampshire, no screeners from the Academy — I simply cannot make what I consider an informed decision on which films/actors I think will win. I can only make an educated guess, based on my knowledge of the pictures and the talent involved. For that, I sincerely apologize. To me, ignorance is not bliss; it’s annoying.

That said, I did see about 30 movies last year, and watched all of the trailers for the nominees. Here are my predictions:

Best Picture

Expect to win: American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
Want to win: Gravity
Her
Nebraska
Philomena
12 Years a Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street

Best Actor in a Leading Role

Christian Bale (American Hustle)
Bruce Dern (Nebraska)
Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street)
Expect/want to win: Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave)
Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)

Best Actress in a Leading Role

Expect to win: Amy Adams (American Hustle)
Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)
Sandra Bullock (Gravity)
Judi Dench (Philomena)
Want to win: Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips)
Bradley Cooper (American Hustle)
Expect/want to win: Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave)
Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street)
Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine)
Expect to win: Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle)
Want to win: Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave)

Julia Roberts (August: Osage County)
June Squibb (Nebraska)

Best Animated Feature

The Croods (Chris Sanders, Kirk DeMicco, Kristine Belson)
Despicable Me 2 (Chris Renaud, Pierre Coffin, Chris Meledandri)
Ernest & Celestine (Benjamin Renner, Didier Brunner)
Expect/want to win: Frozen (Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee, Peter Del Vecho)
The Wind Rises (Hayao Miyazaki, Toshio Suzuki)

Best Cinematography

The Grandmaster (Philippe Le Sourd)
Expect/want to win: Gravity (Emmanuel Lubezki)
Inside Llewyn Davis (Bruno Delbonnel)
Nebraska (Phedon Papamichael)
Prisoners (Roger A. Deakins)

Best Costume Design

Expect to win: American Hustle (Michael Wilkinson)
The Grandmaster (William Chang Suk Ping)
Want to win: The Great Gatsby (Catherine Martin)
The Invisible Woman (Michael O’Connor)
12 Years a Slave (Patricia Norris)

Best Directing
American Hustle (David O. Russell)
Expect/want to win: Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón)
Nebraska (Alexander Payne)
12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen)
The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese)

Best Documentary Feature

Expect to win: The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer, Signe Byrge Sørensen)
Cutie and the Boxer (Zachary Heinzerling, Lydia Dean Pilcher)
Want to win: Dirty Wars (Richard Rowley, Jeremy Scahill)
The Square (Jehane Noujaim, Karim Amer)
20 Feet from Stardom (Nominees to be determined)

Best Documentary Short

CaveDigger (Jeffrey Karoff)
Facing Fear (Jason Cohen)
Karama Has No Walls (Sara Ishaq)
Expect/want to win: The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life (Malcolm Clarke, Nicholas Reed)
Expect to win: Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall (Edgar Barens)

Best Film Editing

American Hustle (Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers, Alan Baumgarten)
Expect/want to win: Captain Phillips (Christopher Rouse)
Dallas Buyers Club (John Mac McMurphy, Martin Pensa)
Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón, Mark Sanger)
12 Years a Slave (Joe Walker)

Best Foreign Language Film

Expect to win: The Broken Circle Breakdown (Belgium)
The Great Beauty (Italy)
Want to win: The Hunt (Denmark)
The Missing Picture (Cambodia)
Omar (Palestine)

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Expect/want to win: Dallas Buyers Club (Adruitha Lee, Robin Mathews)
Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa (Stephen Prouty)
The Lone Ranger (Joel Harlow, Gloria Pasqua-Casny)

Best Original Score

Expect/want to win: The Book Thief (John Williams)
Gravity (Steven Price)
Her (William Butler, Owen Pallett)
Philomena (Alexandre Desplat)
Saving Mr. Banks (Thomas Newman)

Best Original Song

Expect to win: Happy (Despicable Me 2)
Let It Go (Frozen)
The Moon Song (Her)
Want to win: Ordinary Love (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom)

Best Production Design

Expect to win: American Hustle (Judy Becker, Heather Loeffler)
Want to win: Gravity (Andy Nicholson, Rosie Goodwin, Joanne Woollard)

The Great Gatsby (Catherine Martin, Beverley Dunn)
Her (K.K. Barrett, Gene Serdena)
12 Years a Slave (Adam Stockhausen, Alice Baker)

Best Animated Short Film

Expect to win: Feral (Daniel Sousa, Dan Golden)
Get a Horse! (Lauren MacMullan, Dorothy McKim)
Mr. Hublot (Laurent Witz, Alexandre Espigares)
Possessions (Shuhei Morita)
Want to win: Room on the Broom (Max Lang, Jan Lachauer)

Best Live Action Short Film

Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn’t Me) (Esteban Crespo)
Avant Que De Tout Perdre (Just Before Losing Everything) (Xavier Legrand, Alexandre Gavras)
Helium (Anders Walter, Kim Magnusson)
Pitääkö Mun Kaikki Hoitaa? (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?) (Selma Vilhunen, Kirsikka Saari)
Expect/want to win: The Voorman Problem (Mark Gill, Baldwin Li)

Best Sound Editing

All Is Lost (Steve Boeddeker, Richard Hymns)
Expect/want to win: Captain Phillips (Oliver Tarney)
Gravity (Glenn Freemantle)
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Brent Burge, Chris Ward)
Lone Survivor (Wylie Stateman)

Best Sound Mixing

Captain Phillips (Chris Burdon, Mark Taylor, Mike Prestwood Smith, Chris Munro)
Want to win: Gravity (Skip Lievsay, Niv Adiri, Christopher Benstead, Chris Munro)
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Christopher Boyes, Michael Hedges, Michael Semanick, Tony Johnson)
Expect to win: Inside Llewyn Davis (Skip Lievsay, Greg Orloff, Peter F. Kurland)
Lone Survivor (Andy Koyama, Beau Borders, David Brownlow)

Best Visual Effects
Expect/want to win: Gravity (Tim Webber, Chris Lawrence, Dave Shirk, Neil Corbould)

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton, Eric Reynolds)
Iron Man 3 (Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Erik Nash, Dan Sudick)
The Lone Ranger (Tim Alexander, Gary Brozenich, Edson Williams, John Frazier)
Star Trek Into Darkness (Roger Guyett, Patrick Tubach, Ben Grossmann, Burt Dalton)

Best Adapted Screenplay
Before Midnight (Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke)
Want to win: Captain Phillips (Billy Ray)
Philomena (Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope)
Expect to win: 12 Years a Slave (John Ridley)
The Wolf of Wall Street (Terence Winter)

Best Original Screenplay

Expect to win: American Hustle (Eric Warren Singer, David O. Russell)
Blue Jasmine (Woody Allen)
Dallas Buyers Club (Craig Borten, Melisa Wallack)
Want to win: Her (Spike Jonze)
Nebraska (Bob Nelson)

If you want to share your picks, visit this page or share ’em in the comments. I’d love to see how we agree/differ.

The 10 biggest news stories of 2013

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These are my picks:

Syrian refugee crisis
Photo by Joel Carillet. Used with permission.

1. The bloody civil war in Syria, which has claimed more than 100,000 lives since 2011, finally gained the attention of world leaders when Syrian President Bashar Assad allegedly ordered government troops to use chemical weapons on the country’s citizens. Hundreds of people died in the attacks and thousands more suffered from exposure. To date, the conflict has displaced 5 million Syrians internally and forced more than 2.2 million to become refugees. At least 150 journalists also have been killed while covering the war.

2. Super Typhoon Haiyan, a Category 5 storm, hit the Philippines in early November. A month later, the death toll passed 6,000. More than 27,000 people were injured and nearly 1,800 were reported missing. The homes of more than 16 million people were either flattened or damaged by the typhoon. Rebuilding the country is expected to take at least three years.

3. The bombings at the Boston Marathon claimed three lives, injured 264 people and prompted a massive manhunt for the terrorists. The suspects, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, then allegedly engaged in a deadly crime spree that ended when the police killed Tamerlan and captured his brother. Dzhokhar is currently being held at a federal medical center while awaiting trial.

4. Edward Snowden vs. the NSA: Snowden, a former computer technician and CIA contractor, stole classified documents and released many of them to the press. The files detailed the U.S. government’s massive surveillance program, which not only spied on potential terror targets but also millions of unsuspecting Americans and foreign dignitaries.

5. The Popes: When Benedict XVI announced his resignation in February, the world was stunned because no pope had resigned from office in nearly 700 years. However, with the March election of Francis, the Catholic Church was revitalized. The first non-European pope in 1,200 years, Francis was admired for his work with the poor, his nonjudgmental attitude toward gays and atheists and his goal of healing a religious institution harmed by infighting and years of sexual abuse scandals. Francis was named “Person of the Year” by TIME magazine.

6. Mass killings — which involve four or more victims not including the killer — occurred 30 times in the U.S. this year. The deadliest incident happened at the Navy Yard, and claimed 12 lives.

7. The death of Nelson Mandela on Dec. 5 prompted a period of mourning worldwide. The beloved anti-apartheid revolutionary, politician and philanthropist won the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize and was the first black president of South Africa.

8. DOMA/Prop 8 decisions: The Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act that denied federal benefits to same-sex couples. The justices also dismissed the Proposition 8 case, which banned same-sex marriage in California, claiming the defendants had no standing in court. In 2013, California, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey and Rhode Island all legalized gay marriage. Illinois also passed a law legalizing same-sex marriage, but it will not take effect until June 1, 2014.

9. The U.S. government shut down on Oct. 1 after Congress failed to enact legislation appropriating funds for fiscal year 2014 and refused to agree upon a continuing resolution. During the 16-day shutdown, approximately 800,000 federal employees were furloughed, and another 1.3 million were required to report to work without pay.

10. The Westgate shopping mall attack in Nairobi, Kenya, began when several unidentified gunmen entered the structure and took hostages. The attack lasted for four days and claimed 72 lives, including 61 civilians. More than 200 people were also wounded. The Islamist group al-Shabaab later claimed responsibility for the attack.

(Other big stories of the year include: The coup against Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically-elected president; the Supreme Court decision striking down the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965; NASA’s release of a map containing over 1,400 “potentially hazardous astroids” for Earth; the crash of Asiana Airlines Flight 214 in San Francisco; the trial of George Zimmerman for the slaying of Trayvon Martin; and the birth of Prince George of Cambridge.)

Speaking of gift guides…

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I feel the need to call out the “Holiday Gift Guide” published on BOOKish.

For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the site, BOOKish launched earlier this year to promote books published by Hachette Book Group, Penguin Group and Simon & Schuster*. I subscribe because I like receiving reviews and excerpts from new releases.

The recently published guide, which features recommendations from the site’s editors, claims to help you “find the right book gift for everyone on your list.” This is a worthy goal. However, if some of the gift categories are any indication, the site’s editors need a serious lesson in sexism.

Under the “For Him” category, there are book suggestions for political junkies, history buffs, sports fans, comic book collectors, music mavens and film buffs.

Under the “For Her” category: Books about parenting, sex, romance, cooking, being a good hostess and bibles.

Did I miss something or have we time-warped back to the 1950s?

BOOKish, please fix this guide. You’re doing a great disservice to your readers by assuming women care nothing about politics, history, comics, sports, music, film or, you know, the world outside of the home. Oh, and if the massive restaurant industry is any indication, your male readers probably want to become “kitchen maestros,” too.

* Transparency note: My husband once worked for Simon & Schuster and had nothing but good things to say about the place.

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