y Chris Hewitt
Knight Ridder Newspapers
McDonald’s still hasn’t gotten back to Morgan Spurlockabout an interview.
Spurlock spends much of
Super Size Me'' trying toget a McDonald's honcho to talk to him for the movie,which he shot 15 months ago. In the film, he dramatizesAmerica's obsession with fast food by eating nothing butMcDonald's - three meals of it a day - for a month. Inbetween McNuggets, Spurlock actually got through to acouple of McDonald's executives on the phone, but theywere about as eager to cooperate as a beef cow being ledto the slaughterhouse. When I would get somebody, they’d say, ‘We’ll setsomething up,’’’ says Spurlock, by phone from his NewYork office, with phones ringing like crazy in thebackground.
They never said, 'We're not going to dothe interview.' It was always, 'We talked about it.Maybe we can do something next week.' Then, it would be,'Oh no, this week won't work. Maybe next week.''' Next week never came, but it hardly matters becauseMcDonald's lack of cooperation helped put Super SizeMe’’ on the map. Since the film premiered at theSundance Film Festival in January, it has developed anunusually high profile for a low-budget film that’sessentially a video diary of one guy’s diet.
With all the damage control they’ve been doing, maybeMcDonald’s reps really haven’t had time to talk aboutthe movie. Since the movie premiered, the companyeliminated
Super Sizing,'' the practice of encouragingcustomers to purchase huge orders of fries and softdrinks. And last week - the day after Super Size Me’‘opened in New York and Los Angeles - Mickey D’sintroduced Go Active meals, which are essentially HappyMeals for adults, except you get a pedometer instead ofa beach ball with the Little Mermaid on it. McDonalds’reps say neither move has anything to do with
SuperSize Me.'' Were these things discussed before the film? Surethey were,’’
says Spurlock, clearly relishing the role of thelittle guy taking on Big Mac.
McDonald's is a hugecorporation with huge bureaucracy. But was the rolloutof Go Active meals and the elimination of Super Sizeexpedited because of the film, so they could appearpro-active? Of course it was.'' Like McDonald's long-defunct McDLT, Super Size Me’‘is packaged in two halves. The part that has gotten themost attention is Spurlock’s bizarre, health-challengingquest to eat 90 straight meals at McDonald’s. Thisincludes visits with three horrified physicians;commentary from his girlfriend, who’s a vegan chef; andone really disgusting regurgitation scene. The otherhalf of the movie takes Spurlock on an anecdotal,around-the-country look at what is happening in Americannutrition. He interviews schoolchildren about what theyeat for lunch, surveys nutritionists to see how muchfast food we should eat (none, basically) and chats upMcDonald’s customers about their eating habits.
But it’s Spurlock’s feat of eat that is getting themost attention. Over the course of 30 days, putting awayas much as 5,000 calories a day (twice therecommendation for his size), he packed 25 extra poundson his 6-2 frame and pumped so much extra salt and fatinto his body that all three doctors on his advisorypanel told him to lay off the Big Macs and hook up anI.V. of broccoli. One of the doctors said Spurlock’sliver was
toxic'' and compared it to the consistencyof liver pate. On Day 21, when I woke up and felt so terrible, itwas very scary,’’ says Spurlock.
The chest pains andnot being able to breathe were scary, especially withthe doctors telling me to quit. I called my mom and myfriends, and they all told me to quit. But then myoldest brother said, 'Morgan, people eat this s--- theirwhole lives. Do you think it's going to kill you if youeat it for nine more days?' '' Obviously, it didn't kill him. But it did give himinsight into why so many people eat so much fast food -McDonald's alone feeds 46 million people a daythroughout the world. I was getting so littlenutritional value from the food, because it is almostdevoid of nutritional content, so I could not getsatiated. I always needed more. I knew it wasn’t makingme feel good, but it didn’t matter. Eating a lot of thisfood makes you want to eat even more of it.’’
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The way he speaks about Quarter Pounders with cheesesounds a bit like the way lawyers talked about BigTobacco a few years ago, but Spurlock doesn’t thinkfast-food restaurants do anything to make their foodaddictive.
I did feel like I was becoming dependent on thefood. I would get actual headaches that only went awaywhen I ate more. But I don't think they're addinganything. I think they're just putting things in yourfood - fat, sugar, salt - that your body wants.'' (END OPTIONAL TRIM) Spurlock's central concern is how fast food ismarketed to children who are incapable of making smartchoices about nutrition: That’s just a huge issue.People have asked me if it’s really a corporation’sresponsibility to educate people about nutrition, butyou know what? When you’re feeding that many children, Ithink it is.’’
McDonald’s executives have pointed out that thegargantuan fast-food consumption in
Super Size Me'' isnot a realistic amount for anyone to eat. And SosoWhaley, of the anti-big-government CompetitiveEnterprise Institute, sent reporters across the countrya press release in which she revealed that she lost 10pounds in a month by eating McDonald's salads and otherfoods. Yeah, well, she works for a lobbying firm, funded bythe tobacco and food industry,’’ notes Spurlock.
Shecame into her program saying, 'I'm going to eat less andexercise more,' which is admirable, but it's two thingsthat Americans do not do. And she was 5-3, 178, so shewas already clinically obese. When you eat less andexercise more at that level, you are going to loseweight.'' At the same time, Spurlock points out that salads andhealthier options make up only 1 percent of the foodordered at McDonald's: The healthy choices are justwindow dressing.’’
After his month of McEating, Spurlock went on a vegandiet prepared by his girlfriend, but he only stuck to itfor a month or so, and it took him 14 months to get backto his pre-film weight of 185. These days, he stillenjoys the occasional pizza or burger, but not fromMcDonald’s.
Are you kidding? There's so many better places toget a burger. Why would I do that?'' says Spurlock, whohad a turkey sandwich, beans and rice and some yams forlunch just before he spoke to me last week. I stilleat stuff that is absolutely terrible sometimes. Butnow, if I hear the words ‘Big Mac,’ I get this horrible,gummy McFilm in my mouth, and I don’t even know whatthat is. I’ve become so hypersensitive to the food thateven though I still want it, I know I can’t eat it.’’
Nor would he want to. Spurlock says the whole stuntwas just an attempt to draw attention to the unhealthylifestyle of Americans, not to take a potshot atMcDonald’s. Whether McDonald’s agrees is open toquestion. Its representatives have criticized the film,but readers of this story will never know what theythink. Because McDonald’s still hasn’t gotten back tome, either.
MORGAN SPURLOCK’S 30-DAY DIET RULES
- I could only eat Super Size meals if they offeredthem, but I had to eat them every time they offeredthem.
- I had to eat everything on the McDonald’s menu atleast once.
- Everything I ate had to be available over thecounter at McDonald’s.
- I had to eat three square meals every day.
- I had to eat salads at least 10 times.