Super Size Me
Directed by Morgan Spurlock
This light-hearted documentary about the American obsession with fast food has Morgan Spurlock as writer, director, star, and chief guinea pig. Morgan takes us along as he goes on an all-McDonalds diet for 30 days – the basic rules: (a) must eat three meals at McDonalds every day; (b) cannot eat anything that is not on the McDonalds menu; (c) must “super size” the meal if asked; and (d) must not exercise more than the equivalent of walking one mile per day (he uses a pedometer to keep track of his steps). He enlists the help of three doctors, a nutritionist, and a physical trainer. They examine him before he begins and he checks out – perfect health! Morgan goes back to them every week or so – we get to see the horrifying effects of his little experiment.
One problem with drawing conclusions from Morgan’s experiment is that it is so extreme – he is eating more than double the calories that he needs to maintain his weight – so naturally his weight skyrockets (28 pounds in 30 days, if memory serves me.) It is well known that gaining that much weight that fast is very dangerous to one’s health. People who eat fast food do gain weight and do damage their health but not quite like what Morgan did in such a short period. His experiment is dramatically effective but it doesn’t prove anything.
In addition to chronicling his 30-day binge and doctor visits, he presents considerable information regarding the food industry and the techniques it uses not only to market to the public but also to protect its turf -- legal and public relations. While I found it interesting and well presented (graphics, art work, etc.), I didn’t hear anything new or surprising. That type of information is presented in the mainstream media on a regular basis.
Super Size Me is very well done – I recommend it but I wish that one aspect of the obesity problem had been emphasized much more. Never in the history of man – hundreds of thousands of years – has a civilization become as sedentary as we Americans are today. Morgan’s nutritionist told him that he needed about 2500 calories a day to maintain his weight given this extremely inactive routine that he designed. That level (2500) of caloric intake is actually low for a healthy young man of 6”2” – the culprit in this experiment is lack of exercise. My take on Morgan’s “rules” is that the inactivity is more unnatural and more harmful than the (admittedly bad) diet – if he had just been active enough to burn the 5000 plus calories the experiment would have come out much differently. Let’s think about this in a pre-industrial context. If Morgan had been a subsistence farmer or a hunter-gatherer 4000 years ago he would have been doing so much physical work just to provide the necessities of life that 5000 calories might even be a little low – he might stay pretty lean or eat even more! Suppose further that he lives in an area where the variety of available food is limited. We know that most pre-industrial people had very few options food-wise – without mechanized transportation or paved roads all available food was local. Pre-industrial Morgan would not be getting the ideal nutrition that Manhattan Morgan’s nutritionist holds out as a necessity. Yet pre-industrial Morgan would probably survive without the ideal combination of vitamins and nutrients. The McDonalds diet is bad measured against the modern nutritionist’s ideal – and, don’t get me wrong, we should all try to eat well – but the diet probably wouldn’t be all that bad if Morgan had been active enough to burn the 5000+ calories.
Morgan is, of course, the main character, supported by the doctors and the nutritionist – they all came across as very sensible, scientific, and professional. Interestingly, his girlfriend Alex, a vegan chef, seemed to me extreme to the point of loopy. I know that some people will interpret her as the most reasonable person on the screen but I found her heavy-handed, absolutist speeches on diet annoying. After walking out of the movie theater I started thinking: why they didn’t edit her out? Her commentary wasn’t necessary to the points the film was making and I think most people will find her annoying – that was my first impression. On reflection, Alex functioned as an extremist in contrast to Morgan as the sensible middle-of-the-road guy.
I recommend Super Size Me as both thought-provoking and entertaining. The movie could have been tedious and preachy were it not for Morgan’s easy-going humor and down-to-earth personality. He comes across as a likable, sensible guy not some ideologue with an agenda. The film has an important message but delivers it with humor. If you miss it in theaters, it won’t lose too much if transferred to video or DVD.
Images are copyrightRoadside Attractions / Samuel Goldwyn Films.
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