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Super Size is no more

Stewart Oksenhorn
Aspen Times Staff Writer

McDonald’s announced on Tuesday it would phase out its Super Size portions by the end of the year. It is a move that Morgan Spurlock ” filmmaker and advocate of healthy eating ” applauds.

McDonald’s officials say the move is an effort to simplify the menu, a claim that Spurlock finds laughable.

Spurlock is the director and star of “Super Size Me,” a film that documents Spurlock’s artery-clogging quest to eat McDonald’s, and nothing but McDonald’s, for 30 days. The low-budget film, Spurlock’s debut, has been a surprise hit, earning Spurlock the best director award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

The film, which opens in May, is part of the Film Discovery Program at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival, with screenings today at 2:30 p.m. and Saturday at 11:30 a.m. at the Isis Theatre.

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Though McDonald’s representatives deny it, Spurlock is certain that his film influenced the fast-food chain’s thinking in eliminating the beyond-generous portions. Several recent newspaper articles, including those in the Chicago Tribune and The New York Times, have been written about McDonald’s beef with Spurlock’s film.

“I can’t help but think this film had a huge impact,” said Spurlock, in Aspen for the screenings of his film. “This little film they thought would go away has had such a big impact.”

In a story in yesterday’s Kansas City Star, McDonald’s spokesman Walt Riker was quoted as saying that the phasing out of the Super Size option has “nothing to do with that [film] whatsoever.”

But Spurlock finds any alternate reasons as questionable as the ingredients in a Chicken McNugget.

“The greatest, most ridiculous thing I heard them say is that they eliminated Super Size from the menu in order to reduce the number of buttons on the cash register, so they could get food to their customers quicker,” he said. “That is so absurd.”

Whatever the reason, Spurlock is pleased and amazed at McDonald’s action. He made “Super Size Me,” which mixes commentary on the fast-food industry and America’s declining health with footage of Spurlock’s McDonald’s odyssey, after seeing a barrage of reports on the obesity epidemic.

A graduate of New York University’s film school and a director of commercials and music videos, Spurlock was merely looking for a subject he was passionate enough about to make a feature-length film. His hope was to open people’s eyes about what they put in their bodies. He never imagined that the fast-food giant would actually alter its ways.

“For a company to acknowledge its responsibility in making Americans obese and make a change to help America in its battle against the bulge, that’s amazing,” said Spurlock, whose film documents the difficulties he had in getting comments from McDonald’s.

“For them to make the announcement now furthers the idea that they do have a role to play in curbing the epidemic. They’ve been very proactive with their business. These people are smart and meticulous. It’s a calculated move, and I applaud it.”

Spurlock added that removing the Super Size items is only a start. He says McDonald’s would be wise to add healthier menu items and do a better job of disclosing nutritional information on its products.

In “Super Size Me,” Spurlock begins to feel the effects of his McDonald’s-only diet dramatically ” and in an astonishingly fast time. Within days he has gained weight and experienced nausea and mood swings.

His doctors and his girlfriend, Alex ” a vegan chef ” try to persuade him to give up his project. But Spurlock continues eating his Quarter Pounders, fries and Cokes with a comical mix of pleasure and revulsion.

“The thing is, the food tastes good,” said Spurlock. “It caters to all the happy centers of your brain. You eat it and feel elated. Then, an hour later, you hit the wall, and you’re angry and depressed.”

[Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com]


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