Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Movie Review: Super Size Me

This is a movie I resisted seeing for a long time.  I'd heard about it when it came out.  I thought about watching it then.  It was a movie I thought I should see.  But I just couldn't bring myself to do it.  That changed while I was going through my first "reboot" juice fast in May 2012.

Back in 2004, independent filmmaker Morgan Spurlock undertook a challenge -- to eat McDonalds food, and nothing but McDonalds food, for 30 days.  For breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  Every day.  Ninety meals at Mickey Ds.

His rules were fairly simple.  He could consume anything that McDonalds sold as food, and nothing from outside of McDonalds.  (The water he drank was bottled water he bought at McDonalds.)  He had to eat each item on the menu at least once.  He had to clean his plate.  And if he were asked if he wanted to "supersize" his meal, he had to say "yes."

At the beginning of the film we see him being checked out by three physicians -- a cardiologist, a gastroenterologist, and a general practitioner -- as well as a nutritionist and a personal trainer.  All agree that he is in fairly good health, and all predict that there will probably be some adverse reaction to this experiment but that nothing overly dramatic should occur.  Instead, he shocked them all.  Over this 30-day period Sprulock gained 24½ lbs. -- which represented a 13% increase in his body mass -- his cholesterol level shot up to 230, and he experienced profound mood swings and sexual dysfunction.  He also developed a fatty liver.  When the experiment was over, it took him more than a year to return to his previous condition.

While watching Spurlock's deterioration we are treated to other disturbing material -- the film shows how intentional the fast food industry has been in making its foods both unhealthful and addictive.  It also draws a rather convincing analogy with the tobacco industry which also consciously manipulated its ingredients to increase the addictiveness of its product, and then attempted to escape any suggestion of culpability when people suffered the inevitable negative consequences.

The film has drawn its share of criticism -- as well as a really wonderful send-up on The Simpsons -- yet it is a dramatic way of demonstrating something that should really be quite obvious:  fast food really isn't very good for you.  (Some of the experts interviewed for the film say that no one should eat any fast food ever; others say that an occasional meal at McDs shouldn't kill you.  All note that this three-meal-a-day regimen should definitely be avoided!)

I've written before about my own compulsive eating.  Think "alcoholism" but with food.  And my "drink of choice," if you will, is all-American fast food.  I'll cop to having had periods -- never 30 days long, thankfully -- when I'd eat fast food for at least two-out-of-three meals.  Sometimes all three.  And I've been known to "supersize" even without being asked.  And, in fact, when I did fall back into old habits after my successful vegetable and fruit juice fast last year it was at least in part, as a friend recently said, "because I remembered where McDonalds was."

This should hardly be surprising.  In recent years scientists have been discovering the myriad ways the fast food industry has "enhanced" their products -- much as the tobacco industry did -- so as to ensure "customer loyalty."  In fact, the comparison is increasingly being made between fast food and cocaine.  It's scary.

Super Size Me is not a complete antidote, but it most certainly is a corrective.  I recently ordered a copy so that I have it to remind me should the cravings come on strong again.  Does it overstate it's point, as critics have complained?  Perhaps.  But is the point it (perhaps) overstates an important point to make?  To be sure.

In Gassho,

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