Super Size Me
You are what you eat.
Morgan Spurlock knows that all too well. He offered his body up for the sake of his documentary, Super Size Me, vowing to eat nothing but McDonald’s food for an entire month. (If it wasn’t on the menu, he couldn’t eat or drink it.) As he concedes early on, it seems like every child’s dream. Nothing but “Big Mac, filet of fish, quarter pounder, French fries, icy Coke, thick shakes, sundaes and apple pies.” (In junior high, my pal and I used to chant this from a poster that hung on the back of her door.)
And if the counter person, asked him “do you want to super size that?” Oh yeah. He did it. For his “last meal” he dines on nothing but veggies and more veggies. His girlfriend, a vegan chef, reminds us that his food pyramid will soon consist of the refined carbohydrate group, the mountains of sugar group, the fat group and meat group, so he better get all the nutrition he can. Because he’s an intelligent guy, sort of, he enlists the assistance of a dietician and three physicians who chart his progress.
As we follow the rapid deterioration of his liver and sex life – he can’t “perform” as well as he used to, his girlfriend says with a smirk – we also accompany him to school districts across the United States to see what these youths are being fed. It’s no wonder they whip out knives and try to kill each other in the cafeteria. The vast majority gulp a sugary beverage and dine on French fries or a candy bar. Spurlock also interviews a myriad of experts on the current health crisis in the United States. What’s perhaps more disturbing is how Mr. and Mrs. Joe Average can recite “two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame bun” and yet stumble over “I pledge allegiance to the flag.” A cross section of kindergartners couldn’t name Jesus or George Washington from their pictures, but hold up a photo of that crazy fire-haired clown and all smiled and said, “Ronald McDonald.”
The most interesting section of the film is when he’s talking to a dietician who demonstrates what a serving size of meat is – that’s a pack of playing cards. Then she holds that next to an average portion size served at a restaurant. Every time you eat out, you are consuming three times what you should. And we wonder why we’re so fat. Who has time to cook at home? And even when we do, our portion sizes are so screwed up that we aren’t doing ourselves any favors.
From Spurlock’s deadly experiment – he put on 25 pounds in one month and risked liver failure – we know that eating this kind of diet is bad for us. Well, duh. How many people, though, avoid it completely? Spurlock apparently got the idea for this film project after seeing a newscast about the teen-agers who were suing McDonalds for making them fat. (They lost the case.) The filmmaker also talks to various lawyers, including John F. Banzhaf III, the guy who took on the tobacco industry and won. He and others are turning their attention to fast food corporations, claiming that, particularly McDs entices the little ones in with Happy Meals, toys, playgrounds, etc. Where does personal responsibility come in, though, Spurlock asks. No one tells these people that they have to eat this food every day, right? (From his experiment, the filmmaker alludes to the fact that the food alters him physiology; meaning he grew addicted to it.)
If seeing is believing, when you compare how vibrant and energetic Spurlock is at the beginning of the documentary and then see him at the end when he can barely climb the stairs to his apartment; he also looks swollen and ashen-faced, then it’s not difficult to concede that he’s making a valuable point. Many people have complained that his experiment was too extreme, and he acknowledges that. Few if anyone eats three meals a day at McDonalds (and if they do, they are incredibly stupid.) He also decreases his activity levels to be more in line with the average American. Had he not done this, the food may not have taken such a toll on him.
Super Size Me premiered at Sundance in January 2004, and garnered this thirtysomething filmmaker a lot of press and attention. In fact, less than two months after its release, McDonalds announced that it would no longer sell Super Size options.
More than Fahrenheit 9/11, Spurlock’s film should be mandatory viewing for everyone in our bloated country. It’s a real wake up call, even to those of us who think we know better. As my husband and I walked out of the theater, he vowed to never again eat at McDonalds, and we both decided it was time to make some lifestyle changes. (Busy schedules cause us to eat out more than we should.) If this film can affect even a fraction of the 2 out of every 3 adults that is obese, he’ll be making some real headway.
Super Size Me is being shown at the Dundee Theatre and it will run July 9-22 at the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center in Lincoln.