Producer of the award-winning documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” about global warming, Laurie David is at it again. The 56-year-old is the ex-wife of Larry David, the creator of “Seinfeld” and star of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Now known as Laurie Lennard, she is an advocate and activist who uses film to shine light on issues that concern the public good. Her latest movie, “Fed Up,” tackles the food industry, the addictive nature of sugar, obesity and the diabetes epidemic. The movie is narrated by Katie Couric and explores the way foods are manipulated to make us crave them. For more, go to www.fedupmovie.com.
How does a nice girl from Long Island end up battling for the environment and the health of Americans?
Oh my gosh, that is such a good question. I don’t know except that I have a very strong feeling about justice. I think I get driven by that and when I see children who are eating foods that we know are going to make them sick and it is going to set them on a lifetime of eating foods that make them sick, I can’t stand it. I can’t sit by and do nothing. I mean, once I connect the dots, I just have to be an advocate and try to get the information out there to everybody else. That was the same with global warming. Once I understood that what we were doing was going to affect our winters and our summers and our way of life and was going to destroy the planet as we know it, how do you sit by and do nothing? I think once you see the truth it is kind of on your shoulders to share that information to the best of your ability.
Were you always like this?
[Laughing] At one point I tried to figure out what was my first act of activism. I have actually traced it back to somewhere between when I was 8 and 10. I was obsessed with littering. Back in those days, people used to smoke cigarettes in their cars and I am talking from personal experience. My mother was a chain smoker. I remember she would take the ashtray from the car and dump it out on the side of the street. I remember being outraged by that. People would be throwing trash out their windows. I just became a crazy nut, yelling at people to stop throwing their trash out the [car] window and for my own mother to stop smoking. It’s funny because Katie Couric and I have this in common. She had a mother who was a smoker, also. Both of us used to steal their cigarettes and hide them hoping we would help our parents live longer.
Speaking of living longer and addictions, part of the problem you explore in “Fed Up” is that processed food is being engineered to make you want more.
This is such a powerful thing that I think “Fed Up” opens people’s eyes to. Food is being purposefully formulated to addict you.Then it is purposefully marketed, targeted to young children to addict them at an early age. This is unethical, right? This is immoral, particularly when you see the results of it which is this world-wide epidemic of diabetes and obesity. Wherever the American diet goes, wherever these foods and drinks go, sickness follows. I really hope “Fed-Up” is going to ignite an honest conversation in this country about what we are eating and what it is doing to us.
The food industry is probably going to do what the tobacco industry did.
They are. but at some point there was critical mass and it was the U.S. government that got warning labels on cigarettes. Smoking has dropped in half. It was shunned publicly and we have to get there on these issues, too. Soda is the new tobacco. There are 10 teaspoons plus of sugar in soda. This is why people are getting so sick from drinking all these beverages. We need warning labels on soda. We have to get to that point in America.
We need to put taxes on this stuff so we can put that money back into educating the public. The problem is to that people say, “Oh, I would never give my kid soda.” But they are drinking juice all day long and once you take the fiber out, juice becomes like soda. I think there is a fantastic graphic in “Fed Up” that shows if you are drinking orange juice you might as well be drinking a soda because the orange juice has so much sugar in it. Listen, we need some truth in labeling and we need to understand our nutrition labels and understand what the food industry is doing and what it is doing to us. Then we can make some rational decisions and choices about how to go forward.
In the movie, Michelle Obama is very adamant about the food industry making better food, but in the end she basically just starts pushing exercise. Has she been bought out or duped by the food industry?
I think that Michelle Obama has done more than anybody to elevate these issues and she’s fantastic. But she had a policy decision to work with the food industry. Pepsi, Coke, Mars, Kraft and Kellogg offered to help her. The second they offered to help her, the message changed. The message that it is about exercise is the food industry‘s message. They don’t want to take any blame whatsoever. They want to put it all on individual people and say, “It’s not the food’s fault.”
There are two differing viewpoints in this movie. One viewpoint is held by the First Lady and also former President Bill Clinton. He also has the philosophy that you have to work with the industry. Then there is this other viewpoint that experts in the movie talk about, which is you can’t work with the food industry because it is the food that is making everybody sick. I think it is a very interesting point for discussion.
Because sugar lights up the brain the same way as cocaine, will we be seeing rehab centers for food alcoholics just like substance abuse programs?
Well, the boy in the movie gains his weight back because he goes back out into the environment and the only job available to him was at a fast-food restaurant. His school had him selling candy bars. This is why this is also a cultural problem. Look, there is junk at every checkout counter in America, regardless of whether the store is selling food or not. We have to have a movement that all businesses move the food away from the checkout. By the way, a company in England called Tesco just made a company-wide decision to remove all junk from the checkout. They want to help their customers be healthy. That is incredible.
Good for Tesco.
They are going to take a financial hit because of it, but they will make it up with something else. They will put something else there that people are going to want that doesn’t trigger their brain to eat something that is going to make them sick. It is the right thing to do. It is the moral thing to do and we have to challenge every business in the United States to do the same.
Did you ever suffer any eating disorder or food addiction?
I didn’t have any eating disorder or food addiction, but I struggle like every single person with my weight every day. Honestly, a day does not go by where I am not thinking about what I am eating. It’s a challenge for everybody. A 12-year-old boy really puts it perfectly. He says, “If you see it, you want it.” I have the same thing.
I did the “Fed Up” challenge. I got off sugar completely for 10 days. It is funny because once I got past a few days, I felt better, I had more energy, I slept better. Then all of a sudden chocolate was in my house again and the second I saw it, I ate it. It was unbelievable. So one of the things we all really have to do is get the stuff out of the house. Save it for a treat. If you take added sugar out of your diet, when you have fruit for dessert it is going to taste fantastic! So it is really about retraining our palate and our taste buds. They have been corrupted by all this junk food and sugary drinks. We need to take it back so that real food tastes great again. Which it will!
So tabloids are the other kind of junk at the checkout counter. You and Larry David were married 14 years before you split and took some tabloid heat. Did it bother you? Is he really as he appears on “Curb Your Enthusiasm?”
[Laughing] No, Larry and I are great friends. We had dinner together last night. We just celebrated our daughter’s graduation from high school and we had the most beautiful divorce, I think, in show biz history. He is the best ex-husband anybody could ask for [laughing]. I’d say “Curb” is an exaggerated version of Larry. I think a lot of the things Larry does [on the show] the real Larry thinks about but would never act on. He loves this movie. He is a health nut. So if you are a fan of Larry, go see “Fed Up.”
Have you considered taking on the question of GMOs ( genetically modified organisms)?
GMOs are a huge problem and I think there are a lot of people working on that. What I am really concerned about is antibiotics and their overuse. Industrial farming is giving it to healthy animals to make them grow faster. I mean, that is an outrageous issue. Like most parents out there, when my kid gets an ear infection or an elderly parent gets pneumonia, I want those antibiotics to work. They are not going to if we keep squandering it. So I think the antibiotic issue is a really urgent issue we all need to address and government needs to regulate. We should be eating less meat and when we do eat meat we should be eating the good stuff, which is antibiotic- [and hormone-]free and grass-fed.
Patricia Sheridan: email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @pasheridan.