Double Whammy

Issue section: 

Review of 'Supersize Me', director Morgan Spurlock

Why watch a film about a man who eats three meals a day at McDonald's? Because the results are funny, disgusting and involve surprisingly serious questions about food, class and American society.

McDonald's is faced with a lawsuit from two teenagers claiming that their weight has ballooned because the corporation's food is so fat and sugar-laden that it cannot be safely eaten. McDonald's is predictably insisting that it is healthy. Seeing this on the news, film-maker Morgan Spurlock decides to put the burger chain's claim to the test. Backed by a team of doctors, he charts the impact on his own body of eating three meals a day, every day for a month at McDonald's. He will try everything on the menu at least once and although he won't ever ask for it, he'll never refuse to go 'super size' when offered by the server. For an extra five cents that's half a pound of fries and a half gallon of Coke!

It's not surprising that Spurlock's attempt to finish this task has unpleasant results. But it's not just the amount of weight he puts on that's astounding. Heart palpitations and a liver that's becoming foie gras have his medical team begging him to abandon his pact with Ronald McDonald, and his partner isn't thrilled with his developing impotence either.

But this film is much more than a horror tale. Between meals, Spurlock travels From New York to Texas, knowing that wherever he is he'll find McDonald's, he goes to find out why Americans eat fast food. He talks to the staff and customers at the outlets and people shopping at supermarkets. He finds teachers who battle against the fast food from privatised school meal providers and the school cooks who reconstitute fat-laden gloop and never get to cook at all. We see the loss of PE lessons and shorter break times to make more room for testing but also an alternative model in a school where drinks and sweets vending machines are banned. We see the food industry lobbyists and their friends in government. A picture emerges from this jigsaw of huge profits made from Coke and fries particularly from children at school - even before they hit McDonald's in town.

These corporations work very hard to get kids in with a deluge of targeted advertising. When working hours are long for both parents and holidays shorter than in any other developed country, fast food becomes seen as a cheap and quick alternative to buying and cooking food at home at the end of a long day. It is also a driving factor in how the US has become the world's fattest country. Fast food outlets act like a privatised profit-leeching version of the communal restaurants in Petrograd after the 1917 Russian Revolution. Whereas these pooled resources to feed people and release women from an extra layer of drudgery, this bastardised version extracts massive profits from its customers and with enough repeat visits will kill them.

What starts as a look at an individual's physical response to intensive amounts of fast food ends up investigating the lives of US workers under 21st century capitalism. Where US capitalism goes we all go; in my child's primary school her books were sponsored by a crisp company, in secondary school it's Lucozade. If you haven't got kids take someone else's teenager with you and go see this film.