Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/362/5956
Review: Super Size Me
Big Macs Can Seriously Damage Your Health
THIS IS a brilliant, fast-paced, polemical movie aimed against McDonald's and the entire big business food industry. Film maker, Morgan Spurlock, investigates the physical, financial and legal costs of America's huge fast food diet.
This film is a determined, partisan attack on McDonald's but one that employs powerful facts to back up its arguments. It begins with an array of startling figures: for example, 37% of American children and adolescents are carrying too much fat, and two out of every three adults are overweight or obese.
The film asks: "Is it our fault for lacking self-control, or are the fast-food corporations to blame?"
To find out, Spurlock - a genial human guinea pig - decides to live on nothing but McDonald's meals for an entire month. He had to follow three rules: he could only eat what was available over the counter; if offered a 'super-sizing' he had to accept; and he had to eat every item on the menu at least once.
Despite what you might expect, the film does not flag. As well as depicting Spurlock's heroic attempts to persist eating McDonald's meals, the film maker interviews food and health experts, legislators, spokespersons for the food industry and researchers.
He drops in to local schools, where children are usually only really given a 'choice' of fast food from privately-run caterers. One head cook estimates that her staff will cook a fresh meal only six times a month. Furthermore, most American children only have a minimum of physical exercise at school.
The advertising power and reach of McDonald's is graphically revealed. When Spurlock asked children under ten to identify pictures of world-historic figures, like Jesus Christ and the McDonald's mascot, Ronald McDonald - guess which one they all instantly recognised!
The film also examines the diet industry, food addictions and the extreme measures some people take to lose weight. You might want to cover your eyes when the film shows a man having his stomach reduced by surgery.
As Spurlock's diet continues, the audience begins to suffer along with him. On the third day, he throws up after attempting super-sized fries. After this, I felt a wave of nausea each time Spurlock bit into another burger or chicken nugget.
By the third week, Spurlock's doctors say he should give up the diet. They are appalled at the damage it is doing to his liver and compare it to that of an alcoholic. He also suffers constant headaches, chest pain, panic attacks, a flagging sex life and sleeplessness. Spurlock grows before our eyes - he puts on 25 pounds in just a month of the exclusive McDonald's diet (it takes many more months for him to lose it once the experiment is over).
As well as winning a clutch of film awards, it seems Super Size Me has had some direct impact on McDonald's who recently ended its 'super-size' offer. However, the new McDonald's so-called healthy options, like salad side dishes, often contain high levels of sugar.
Much in this movie may not be new to the many people who have followed the debate about the food industry. But Super Size Me is such an original and amusing way to approach the issues that it is bound to reach many more millions, including many working people who will find the truth about fast food a harrowing revelation.
The film is not overtly political but it clearly puts big business in the dock. Spurlock concludes by saying that McDonald's cannot be expected to radically reform and to start selling cheap, quality food. After all, he comments, the company exists, first and foremost, to make profits for its shareholders.
To that we would add that the food industry giants need to be taken under the democratic control of working people, to provide everyone with a healthy, high quality, affordable diet.
In The Socialist 18 September 2004:
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party campaigns