Sugar. It's in everything! Is it good for us? Well, the sugar industry thinks so.
Sugar: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Season 1 Episode 22

October 26, 2014

Welcome to Last Week Tonight! I’m John Oliver. Thank you so much for joining us.

Time for a quick recap of the week. And it began with claims that Russia was taking aggressive action against another country. The search is expanding for what’s believed to be a Russian submarine lurking near Sweden’s capital. Sweden! I did not see that coming. Although if this is true, I can understand where Putin is coming from. Because who hasn’t spent twenty minutes in Ikea and immediately wanted to launch an attack on Sweden? Someone has to pay for what I’m going through here! This wasn’t just classic Swedish paranoia. They had proof. Powerful sonar now scanning beneath these waves after the Swedes reportedly intercepted an emergency call from these waters to a Russian base in nearby Kaliningrad. And there is this: A photo taken by a passerby outside Stockholm looking very much like a submarine on patrol. Does it look like a submarine on patrol? Because that could equally be a whale with a toupee, or a penguin on a surfboard, or absolutely anything else in the world. Even the swedes weren’t exactly clear what they were dealing with. It could be a submarine, or a smaller submarine. It could be a diver using some form of moped-like underwater vehicle, and divers who don’t have any business in our territory. “It could even be the legendary shark that terrorizes Swedish waters. I talk, of course, of “Yawss. Yawss. The monster of the seas.”

Now, look, a brief word of caution here: Sweden, has got this wrong before. In 1995, after suggesting that Russia subs were offshore, their Prime Minister had to make an embarrassing retraction saying: “It’s a sad fact that what was originally stated to be intrusions into our waters have proved to be minks.” Yes, minks. These minks. Remember that photo from before? That could absolutely be a mink. Or, it could be a submarine “piloted” by a mink. We don’t know. And if it was, you let them take over your country. They are pissed when they’re angry. I’m sure the Swedish people will stop at nothing to get to the bottom of this mystery. A Swedish navy has called off a week-long search for suspected underwater activity. What that’s it? You looked for a week and gave up? No, Sweden. That’s not how it works. If you see a fuzzy photo of something, you let it consume you for the rest of your life. Scotland has been looking for the Loch Ness Monster since 1933! And you give up looking for a Russian submarine after seven days? In America, most of us spent the last three weeks trying to figure out whether we’d seen Ben Affleck’s penis in Gone Girl! And yes, technically it could’ve been a mink. But the point is, we wont’ stop until we get to the bottom of it! Shame on you, Sweden.

But let, let let’s move on, in New York, we’ve had our own unwelcome intruder this week, albeit of a tinier variety. Breaking news, overnight, Ebola in New York. An American doctor who volunteered for Doctors Without Borders in Guinea is in a New York hospital this morning with Ebola. Yes, much like an actor who considers himself too intellectual for LA, Ebola has moved to New York. The patient in question is Dr. Craig Spencer, who is currently recovering in a hospital here in the city. Public health officials tried to calm people down by supplying us with a weirdly detailed rundown of everywhere he had been including this… We know that he went to a place called ‘The Gutter’, a bowling alley in Williamsburg, in Brooklyn. The patient went there with friends, and he did bowl. Of course he did. Of Course he went to a bowling alley in Williamsburg. If you’re talking about a 33 year-old white New Yorker named “Craig,” you don’t have to tell me he spent a weeknight at a bowling alley in Williamsburg. That is assumed.

But maybe the most incredible part of Thursday’s Ebola coverage was how quickly things escalated. Watch how his relationship status was described, because it changed a bit towards the end. He had some sort of physical contact with his girlfriend. He has a girlfriend, who has now been quarantined as well. Dr. Spencer’s girlfriend has been isolated now as well. His girlfriend. He has been in close contact with his fiancée. Mazel tov! Okay, two options for what happened there: One, he was engaged all along. Or two, he got engaged after being diagnosed with Ebola. And I’m going for the first one. If you learn “one thing” from that press conference, America, know this: There is “no way” an attractive doctor is not engaged by 33. You lock that shit down. You lock that shit down, you put a ring on it and you lock it down. For the other 8 million people in this city, the advice is pretty obvious. Ebola is not airborne, so there’s only one thing we all have to remember: If you came across some strange mucus or feces or something out there on the subway, the street or anywhere else, don’t eat it. That’s good advice, that is solid advice. Don’t eat mystery mucus in the street until this Ebola panic is over, at which point, feel free to resume your mucus consumption.

You may remember we talked about the fact that the Supreme Court bans cameras releasing audiotapes of their oral arguments. We decided to assist the news by producing our ‘real animals fake paws Supreme Court’ with dog versions of all 9 justices, plus two lawyers, a duck assistant and a chicken stenographer. Or, or as you might say, a “hen”ographer. We then gave the footage away on our Youtube page for major news networks to use. None of them did so, because they’re cowards who hate the concept of joy. But, but, but the internet at large stepped up in a spectacular way. Many entire Supreme Court cases are now online. Thank you so much to everyone who took part. I want to single out one contribution, from Youtube username Sam Gross. He broke the rules a little bit, because he didn’t use a Supreme Court oral argument. But he took a different court case, with which you may be familiar. Enjoy! Lt. Kendrick ordered the code red because that’s what you told him to do. When it went bad, you cut these guys loose! You had Markinson sign a phony transfer order, and you doctored the log book! Colonel Jessup, did you order the code red?! – You don’t have to answer! – I’ll answer. – You want answers? – I think I’m entitled. – You want answers? – I want the truth! You can’t handle the truth!

* * *

Moving on, let’s talk about Halloween. As of tonight you have just four days to find your inappropriately sexy costume, whether it’s sexy Barney the Dinosaur, or a sexy candy corn, or as Playboy‘s website featured, and I swear to you this is true, a sexy John Oliver costume; that’s right. That is an actual photo, of a human woman, dressed-up to look like a sexy me. And the worst thing is, there’s more than one photo. I don’t know if I’ve ever been as confused as I am right now. Although I’m pretty sure that I’m not as confused as Louis CK is about “his” sexy doppelganger. That’s also real. Let’s agree: sexy Halloween costumes have simply gone too far.

But it doesn’t matter. Because we all know what Halloween is really about. Candy. Sweet, sugar treats. This Halloween, Americans will spend $2.2 billion on candy, although to be fair, that “does” include Necco Wafers, which might be better classified as a coagulated dust. But is it really fair to describe sugar as a treat, considering how much we eat it all year round?

[MSNBC News] Today the average American consumes 22 teaspoons of sugar a day. Three times what we need. That equal to 75 pounds of sugar a year for every man, woman and child in the United States.

Holy shit! 75 pounds of sugar! That’s like eating Michael Cera’s weight in sugar every single year. Whilst that’s a little less than it was in the late ’90s, it’s still pretty incredible.

So let’s talk about sugar. Everyone loves it. And it turns out that’s because we are genetically programmed to.

[60 Minutes] Eric Stice, a neuroscientist at the Oregon Research Institute, is using functional MRI scanners to learn how our brains respond to sweetness.

[Eric Stice] Sugar activates our brain in a special way that’s very reminiscent of drugs like cocaine.

Sugar activates our brains like cocaine. And I’ve gotta say, Scarface would be a very different movie if it ended with Al Pacino sitting in a chair, sugared out of his mind on baked goods. “Say hello to my Little Debbie! Say hello!”

With sugar being so viscerally appealing to us, it’s frankly no wonder that food manufacturers put it in everything. And I do mean everything.

[CNN] About 35% of the sugars that Americans consume come from beverages. But we’re also talking about salad dressings and ketchup, and breads and cereals and crackers, and the list goes on and on, even to beef and turkey jerky.

We have no idea how prevalent sugar is in almost everything that we eat. Look at Clamato juice, the original tomato cocktail with clam. One serving has 11 grams of sugar in it. So they clearly thought, “Let’s improve the taste by adding sugar,” instead of thinking, “Let’s improve the taste by removing the clam.” And, and, none of this, none of this would be a problem, were it not for the fact that, as we all know, excess sugar is probably not good for us. Both the World Health Organization and the American Heart Association have warned against the harms of eating too much of it. Some studies suggest that too much sugar can literally mess with the brain.

[The Secrets of Sugar, CBS News] This rat is perfectly healthy. Put him in a vat of water and he finds his way to safety every time. 5.2. Now, look at this guy. What he’s been eating is the equivalent of a North American diet, complete with all the fats and sugars we regularly consume. He doesn’t know where to go: his brain has been damaged.

I don’t think that rat is unable to find the island. I think that rat is saying “fuck that island, there’s no sugar on that island, I want sugar!” That’s a Pixar movie waiting to happen by the way.

But the sweetener industry is not going to take the findings of a wet, confused rat lying down. They are an immensely powerful, $5 billion industry, who fought for decades to project their product’s health benefits. The Sugar Association used to claim their product was a diet aid, with ads positioning it as a cure for “the fat time of day”, with a woman saying, “if sugar can fill that hollow feeling, I’m all for it.” Because yes, nothing says “I don’t feel hollow inside” like a woman sitting alone eating straight from a bag of sugar.

The Sugar Association has gotten a little more sophisticated since then. Here is their current president.

[Andy Briscoe] As it relates to obesity, there’s been plenty of science that exonerates sugar. It clarifies sugar does not, does not contribute to obesity or diabetes.

Really? Sugar doesn’t contribute to obesity? I’m not saying it’s the only culprit, but it’s definitely one of the key suspects. Asking what causes obesity is a bit like asking who killed a first grade class’s hamster. Sure, they all killed it in a way, but I think we all know, one of them killed it the most. Kevin, you killed that hamster, and you drove your father away. There, I’ve said it Kevin. I’ve said it.

Although, to be fair… Take it down! There are scientists who dismiss links between sugars and obesity. For instance, this guy!

[Dr. James Rippe] We take a complex situation like obesity and we say, ‘if gee, if we could just cut down on sugar-sweetened beverages, or added sugars in general, that would solve obesity,’ and I think that is a very slippery slope, and almost certainly wrong.

That is Dr. James Rippe. Who, like Clamato Juice, turns out to contain quite a lot of hidden sugar himself. He’s on payroll of the Corn Refiners Association, the corn syrup people, and at one point, he was receiving a” $41,000 a month retainer from them. That’s half a million dollars a year! You’d expect much grander claims than it doesn’t link to obesity. He should be saying “My research finds that corn syrup makes you an immortal sex god with x-ray vision!”

And I’m not saying that corporate money distorts science. But when researchers looked at two sets of weight gain studies one group with conflicts of interest and one group that was independent. The vast majority of independent studies found direct links between sugar sweetened soft drinks, and obesity. The vast majority that weren’t independent, found the opposite of that. Particularly suspicious was a research paper titled, “I’m so Delicious” attributed to a Dr. Pepper but look: regardless of whether sugar is terrible for you, or the answer to all life’s problems, shouldn’t you at least get to know when it’s being added to your food? To their credit, the FDA is trying to take this on.

[Fox News] This week the FDA is reviewing new nutritional labeling standards. And that may force food makers to not just list total sugar content but how much sugar they are adding to their products.

Yes, the FDA is trying to get an added sugar category onto their food labels. Which is fine. As long as it doesn’t distract them from forcing Honeycomb cereal to reveal what in god’s name their old mascot was. What the fuck was that? It looked like some kind of tumbleweed made of Merkins.

Being forced to reveal how much sugar you are adding to people’s food might seem pretty mild. There is no way the food manufacturing industry is going to let that happen. The FDA has been swarmed with letters from every conceivable product, from the National Yogurt Association to The National Frozen Pizza Institute to multiple representatives of the Cranberry industry. Cranberries are, I think we can all agree, nature’s most disgusting berry. Cranberries taste like cherries who hate you. Cranberries taste like what a raspberry drinks before its colonoscopy. And, and the industry knows it. The head of the Ocean Spray company wrote to the FDA, saying, “Cranberries… Are naturally low in sugar, giving them a distinctly tart, astringent, even unpalatable taste.” Yes, that’s the head of Ocean Spray describing its defining ingredient as “unpalatable”. It’s no wonder they want certain cranberry products to be exempted from the proposed added sugars declaration, which is tantamount to begging, “please don’t make us tell everyone how much sugar we dump on our garbage bog berry.”

But the most revealing plea came from the American Beverage Association, who wrote that if there is to be an “added sugar” label, it must be measured in grams, and not teaspoons, because teaspoons are and I quote, “may carry an unfair negative connotation that undermines the factual nature of nutrition information.” Which is ridiculous. What negative connotation does a fucking teaspoon have? Unless you’re thinking of an annoying dude at a diner who’s always trying to balance one on his nose or the fact that they’re used to freebase heroin? But neither of which is the teaspoon’s fault. The only reason the beverage people want sugar to be measured in grams instead of teaspoons is that people understand what a teaspoon is. No one understands the metric system. Which is why this proposed FDA food label is completely missing the point. If they want us to understand how much sugar is in our food, they need to find a measurement we can immediately grasp. And that is why we are proposing, in the spirit of Halloween, that product manufacturers express their sugar content in the form of candy. Specifically, Circus Peanuts, the most disgusting of all the candies. They taste like an elephant ejaculated into a packet of Splenda. And there is more than 5 grams of sugar in each one of these horrifying things. What we’re saying to companies is this… Keep loading your products up with as much sugar as you like. On the one condition that on the front of the packaging, you display how much sugar it contains, in the form of Circus Peanuts. So, for instance, 64 ounces of Clamato Juice has 88 grams of sugar, or 16 peanuts’ worth. A can of Campbell’s tomato soup? 5 1/2 peanuts. A package of 20 Circus Peanuts? Obviously, 20 circus peanuts. But we as consumers must demand manufacturers adopt this measurement. So please tweet at them, using the hashtag, “show us your peanuts”. And ask your favorite food manufacturer, to whip out their peanuts and present them to you. And if they say to you “we don’t want to, that’s embarrassing, nobody wants to see our peanuts, they’re orange, and misshapen, and bumpy,” you tell them again: Show us your peanuts. Do it, food makers! Expose your peanuts to the world! Because if you are going to shove your peanuts in our mouths, the very least you can do is tell us what we’re swallowing.

* * *

And now, this! Across the broad expansive history there have been billions of idiots. As well as a handful of smart people. We interviewed some of the latter group for our ongoing series, “Great Minds, People Who Think Good”. This week’s people who thinks good, Jane Goodall. In her 20s, Jane Goodall achieved her childhood dream, to live with and study the Chimpanzees in Africa. To whom she gave exotic names. Hello Mike! She had no formal training or even an undergraduate degree, but the discoveries of this daring young woman revolutionized our understanding of these primates. Starting with this bombshell. The Chimpanzee is actually modifying a natural object to suit it to a specific purpose, thus making a tool. That’s right. Chimps were making and using tools, albeit pretty crappy tools for a pretty disgusting purpose… but she also found something else. Chimpanzees, like humans, have a dark side to their nature. Goodall was also the first to show that these peaceful forest vegetarians were actually meat eating assholes who frequently who engaged in Chimpy – Chimpy on Chimp – Chimposide. After decades in the field, Goddall now spends her time traveling the world to fight for a variety of causes. With occasional interruptions to speak with a not so smart person.

Dr. Jane Goddall, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me.

Well thank you for inviting me.

You are widely recognized as one of the great experts on chimpanzee’s, what makes them particularly so fascinating to you?

I think because they’re so like us, and we now know biologically we share 98 plus percent of our DNA with them. Blood system, the immune system, the structure of the brain, its all almost all the same, just our brain is bigger. And then for me, of course, its the behavior… The fact they have personalities, they have happiness, sadness, fear. They communicate with kissing, embracing, holding hands, patting one another on the back, shaking the fist. They use tools.

Is that what makes them such great pets?

Pets… They’re the worst possible… they’re not pets. I can’t even say they’re bad pets because they’re not pets. They’re nice acquaintances, house bound friends. They’re not… there very cute and sweet and cuddly when they’re little and what happens when they’re 5, 6, 7, and why do people have their face bitten off? Focus on the fact that when you dress them up, they’re so funny. No they’re not. – What about a chimpanzee butler? – No. At no point, in your time, living amongst chimpanzees did you think about pulling out a monocle, a top hat and a silver tray and training them to bring you a cold drink? At no point did I think any such ridiculous thing.

Did you ever put a hat on them?


Never put a hat on a chimpanzee?

No. I refuse to believe that. We shall disagree for the rest of our lives. Okay, fair enough, let’s talk a little about your methods. They were not enough without their initial criticisms. At one point of contention was that you gave your chimps nicknames. Why did people criticize that?

Not nicknames, names, just names. – Just actual names. Yes. I was, to be scientific, I should have given them numbers. What is the scientific argument for not giving them names? If you give them a name you’re treating them like people. I’m going to throw some names at you and I want you to say if you think they would be a good name for a chimp or a bad name for a chimp. – “Jessica Chimpson”. – Yucky. – “Dr Ban Anapeel MD”. – Too long. This is a little simpler…. – “Poo-throw Wilson.” – That’s alright. – Right? – Yeah, that’s fine. – That’s good… – “Poo-Throw-somebody-else”. Where are you going there? Poo Throw at people that I think need poo thrown at them. Jane who do you think needs poo-thrown at them. I’m going to pick somebody like Hitler because he’s gone. “Poo Throw Hitler”, great. – An amazing name for a chimp. – Fantastic! While you were living with them, you learnt that chimps had specific vocalizations, can you tell me a little about that? If I’m eating something, and you want some… And you come up to me. You might beg. Just like that. But I don’t want to give you any so… Pretty obvious. No, you don’t say that, you say… I ain’t giving you any; I don’t like you. Alright Poo-Throw Hitler, take it down a notch. Dr Jane Goodall, thank you so much for talking with me. Let’s end this interview in the traditional manner. Thank you. I should do it chimp-ways. And we’d be going… Excitement, food.

* * *

And finally tonight… Let’s talk about Toronto. Because tomorrow morning, they will choose a new mayor. Now, sadly, current mayor Rob Ford, everyone’s favorite walking beefsteak tomato is not running for re-election. But don’t despair, for there is another… Rob Ford has a brother, Doug Ford, who “is” running for mayor. If you wondering how alike they are, please enjoy this little clip! I got ya. The funny thing, like all typical siblings, the goal is when you’re on a seesaw is to jack your sibling off. You know what? You laugh, but he’s right. On a seesaw, you really want to jack your sibling off. You want to do anything to get him off. Beat him off that seesaw. Make him come, down to the ground because you beat him off so hard. On that seesaw. But look, now, to become mayor, Doug Ford has had some tricky political obstacles to overcome. His brother has allegedly used anti-semitic language in the past. Doug was asked about that in a debate at a Jewish high school in Toronto. I’m going to play you the first few seconds of his response. You know something? My, my doctor, my Jewish doctor, my Jewish dentist, my Jewish lawyer, my Jewish… hold it… accountant. “Why, why is everyone booing? I love Jews! I love everything about you! The tiny hats, the big crackers that you, eat your weird Christmas candles! I love it! Why are you booing me?” It wasn’t the best response, sure. Which is why, after having a night to sleep on it, Doug took a second crack at it. The Ford family has an extensive relationship, a great relationship with the Jewish community. Matter of fact, my wife is Jewish. How about that? That is a convenient fact to have remembered, seemingly in the middle of your sentence. Unfortunately a local reporter then casts doubt on Doug’s claims, forcing Doug Ford to bring out his definitely Jewish wife to talk about her definitely Jewish heritage, which went definitely spectacularly well. My mother’s family has Jewish bloodlines. I don’t practice Judaism. I never have. So listen, she doesn’t practice Jude-ism. Hence, I guess her use of the term “Jude-ism”. Though her ancestors may or may not have been jude-esque. None of this matters because by that point, Doug Ford had moved on to his next scandal, after being overheard allegedly referring to the journalist who’d questioned his wife’s “Jude-ism” as “a little bitch”, a charge he then spectacularly denied… I was falsely accused from the Toronto Star. I was having a private conversation walking out with two staff members. And I guess they just assumed I was talking about someone in that room. It had nothing to do with anyone in that room last night, whatsoever. I was talking about a different little bitch, in a completely different room. If I was talking about that little bitch, she’d know about it. Why are you booing me?” Look, Toronto: I think I speak on behalf of the rest of the world when I deliver you this message. Please, elect this man! Sure, his brother was fun, but at a certain point, we felt bad laughing at him. Whereas Doug Ford doesn’t have a drug problem, he’s just an asshole. A non-chemically-assisted asshole. So please, Toronto, I beg you! Let us laugh at your asshole for another four years. Yours sincerely, everyone who does not live in Toronto. Thanks so much for watching, we’ll be back next week, good night. Some chimps can actually roll their tongue, can you? Some people can. You’re one you can’t. – What does that mean? – I don’t know. – What’s wrong with me? – Or what’s wrong with me? – Let’s put it that way. – You’re right, yeah.


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