Film finds fast food cheap and out of control
If America wants to know how conflicted it can be in its appetites and desires, it need only examine its stance toward the fast-food industry. On the one hand, we love fast food and are voracious consumers of burgers, fries and chicken products served up by McD’s, the Colonel and the King. Each day, one in four Americans eats fast food; each day, McDonald’s, by far the most ubiquitous fast-food franchise, serves 46 million customers. To make certain we’re never too far from a fast-food fix, there are Golden Arches in gas stations, parks and schools. There are even McDonald’s in hospitals.
At the same time, we hate fast food ” or at least what it can do to us. Americans spend $30 billion on diet and weight-loss products and procedures, twice as much as is spent on fitness and health. In 2002, two young, obese women sued McDonald’s in New York state court for, in laymen’s terms, making them fat. (The suit was dismissed on the grounds that the girls had not proved that Mickey D’s was the cause of their obesity.)
“Super Size Me,” Morgan Spurlock’s documentary about McDonald’s and America’s spiraling obesity, finds its abundant humor by examining the paradoxes about fast food. As he embarks on the assignment he calls “every 8-year-old boy’s dream” ” to eat nothing but McDonald’s for 30 days ” the 33-year-old Spurlock alternates between feeling like hell and genuinely enjoying, even craving, his obscene daily intake of calories, fat and sugar. His girlfriend Alex ” a vegan chef of all things ” like we moviegoers, looks on with a combination of horror and amusement as Spurlock sacrifices his body to the effects of an all-McD’s diet: soaring cholesterol, the “McTwitches” and “McGas,” severe mood swings, a stench noticeable to his friends and a nose dive in sexual performance noticeable to his girlfriend.
At the beginning of “Super Size Me” ” for which Spurlock earned the Director’s Award at the Sundance Film Festival ” a team of doctors and nutritionists is concerned, but less than alarmed about Spurlock’s mission. “The body is extremely adaptable,” one doctor assures him; another predicts nothing more than a rise in his triglycerides.
Oh, have they underestimated the power of a bad diet. By lunchtime of day two of his McDiet, Spurlock claims “I’m dying,” and leans out his car window to throw up his meal. On day three, he reports a “really bad feeling in his midsection, basically in my penis.” After just five days, Spurlock has added 10 pounds to his frame; after 17 days, his cholesterol has shot from 165 to 225, and his astonished doctors are advising him to ditch the project. And, no doubt, rethinking their notions about fast food.
When not documenting Spurlock’s fall from good health, “Super Size Me” takes a broader view of fast food and bad health in America. Much of it is polemical: Spurlock recites alarming statistics about America’s obesity crisis (e.g., if current trends continue, one of three Americans born in 2000 will develop diabetes) and visits an Illinois school where lunch consists mainly of french fries, packaged desserts and Gatorade. The film is filled with street shots of American blubber.
But Spurlock never leaves his sense of humor behind. A search of various McDonald’s for the nutrition fact sheets the restaurants are supposed to have posted is haplessly humorous; an animated segment about Chicken McNuggets is grotesquely funny. Spurlock even offers some semblance of even-handedness. When he interviews Don Gorske ” a Big Mac “enthusiast” who eats two to three Big Macs a day ” Gorske is treated with near reverence, and no condescension. And even Spurlock readily admits that McDonald’s food tastes good.
The end text to “Super Size Me” notes that, despite numerous attempts to get comment from McDonald’s, Spurlock never hears back from CEO Jim Cantalupo. Instead, he got a less direct, but more substantial response from the company. A day before “Super Size Me” was screened at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, McD’s announced it was curtailing its super-size offerings.
It was a gigantic achievement for a documentary film. But as Spurlock noted, only a small first step in the battle for America’s health.
Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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