Pat Longman reviews Super Size Me
McDonald’s is having a bad time. UK profits are down by £61 million and have been steadily declining since 2000. The company brand — the famous arches — is in danger of collapsing.
McDonald’s directors must be cursing Morgan Spurlock, the man behind the box office hit movie Super Size Me. Morgan got the idea for his movie when he heard that two girls in the USA were suing McDonald’s for their ill health. They lost their case because they couldn’t prove McDonald’s, and not other factors, had led to their plight.
Spurred on by the court decision, Morgan Spurlock decided to test out just how unhealthy the burgers, fries, drinks, ice cream, etc, can be. For two hours you watch a healthy, fit, sexually active young male turn into a very, very sick human being.
After 19 days he was told by medics to stop the diet as it was killing him; his liver had turned fatty and was fast approaching the non-regenerative stage. But Morgan doggedly carried on eating all the McDonald’s tasty options for breakfast, lunch and dinner. You squirm in your seat wishing he’ll stop before it’s too late.
Along the way, he takes a good look at what the contracted-out school meal services are giving children to eat — mostly chocolate, crisps and chips — and includes interviews with teachers, pupils, legislators and medical professionals on the dire state of the US diet.
Two out of three adults, in the USA, are reported to be “obese” or “fat”, and it will come as no surprise that Houston in Texas is rated to be the “Fattest City” in the USA. The film derives its title from the “Super Size” you can order for your McDonald’s orders — marketers hit luck some years ago when they discovered that by doubling the size and putting up the price a fraction they could get punters to buy more than they originally intended.
An interesting — but disturbing — discovery made by Morgan is that although his health suffered on the diet, eating McDonald’s made him feel, for a while, a whole lot better. The only conclusion to be drawn from this is that this food can not only kill you, but is also addictive.
The case made against McDonald’s food — including their new “healthy” options — is so damning it will probably have a considerable impact on the viability of many McDonald’s outlets in Europe and parts of the USA. Unfortunately, McDonald’s — just like the tobacco companies — is building lots of new arches in other countries, China being the most obvious example.
The film unashamedly successfully copies many of Michael Moore’s highly effective techniques in getting the message across. It’s well worth seeing but there is one small comment to be made.
Morgan Spurlock recalls how the great growth spurt of McDonald’s began in the late 1950s and 1960s, at a time when women were beginning to re-enter the labour market, and compares the relatively healthy diet that many families had in the 1950s when women were at home with what we have today — an unhealthy takeaway culture, particularly among the young.
Rather than focusing on a bygone era with all of its oppressive characteristics, the fast food culture should be seen as a result of, among other things, long working hours, lack of cheap, healthy food options, contracting out of the school meals service, and the total absence of school cookery classes for boys as well as girls.