Spurlock is best-known for his documentary Super Size Me (2004), a satire on American health and fast food habits, which placed the blame for increasing obesity at the door of the fast-food industry. The film was later nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary. Spurlock developed the idea for the film when, in 2002, he saw a news broadcast about two children, a nineteen-year-old boy, Jazlyn Bradley (5 foot 6 inches, 270 pounds) and a fourteen-year-old girl, Ashley Pelman (4 foot 10 inches, 140 pounds) of New York City whose parents sued McDonald's, asserting the restaurant was responsible for their children's obesity. The plaintiffs claimed to have eaten at McDonald's three to five times a week for years. The suit was later dismissed, as the court assumed that they had some modicum of free will and argued that their lawyer failed to show McDonald's used deceptive ads to trick consumers into eating unhealthy food. According to Spurlock, "Super Size Me is one man's journey into the world of weight gain, health problems and fast food. It is an examination of the American way of life and the influence that has had on our children, the nation and the world at large" (Anon. 2004).
In the film, Spurlock eats three meals a day at McDonald's for thirty days. He also orders a "super-sized meal" whenever it is offered. In doing so, Spurlock more than doubles the daily caloric intake recommended by the USDA. Additionally, Spurlock limited his normal exercise regime in order to better match that of the average American. He walked 1.5 miles a day instead of his usual 3 miles. As a result, Spurlock gained 25 pounds and suffered severe liver dysfunction and depression. After Spurlock finished the film, his body fat soared from ii to i8 per cent, he was racked with headaches, and his liver became so fatty his doctor warned him it was turning to pate, risking permanent damage. His girlfriend Alex Jamieson, a strict vegan and vegetarian chef, commented that in addition to the weight gain, "he started having these uncharacteristic mood swings and, of course, the effect on our sex life was awful" (Anon. 2004). She then placed him on a strict vegan detoxification plan which focused on vegetables, fruit, soy products, and vitamin supplements while eliminating all dairy, meat, caffeine, and refined carbohydrates such as white bread, rice, and sugar. After eight weeks on the detox diet, Spurlock lost 20 pounds, and his liver, blood pressure, and cholesterol returned to normal (Burstin 2004: 31).
After the film's release, McDonald's discontinued its "super-size" campaign and introduced an exercise video for children featuring Ronald McDonald (Schmidt 2004). Spurlock has become a vocal advocate for the improvement of the nation's health, publishing Don't Eat This Book (2005) as a follow up to his film. During one visit to Tufts University in 2004 to speak about his film, Spurlock urged students to become more nutritionally aware and cook meals themselves.
One needs to note that hamburgers were once considered a health food because they were the product of modern technology. In i906, Upton Sinclair's novel The Jungle caused the consumption of beef to decline in the U.S.A. Beef, at least beef from the Chicago stockyards, fell into disrepute. By the 1930s, well after the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act promulgated that year in response to the "muckraker's" claims about the quality of American food, Billy Ingram created White Castle hamburgers through mechanical production untouched by human hands, full of vitamins and minerals. Not only did he dress up actors as physicians to tout his product, but he also funded a study by the University of Minnesota medical school in which a medical student was fed only White Castle hamburgers and water for ten weeks and was said to be healthier than ever. A child, it was claimed, could flourish if only fed the same diet (Hogan 1997).
SLG/Jessica Rissman See also Detoxification; Fast Food; Sinclair
References and Further Reading
Anon. (2004) "About the Director." Available online at <http://www.supersizeme.com/home.aspx?page=a-boutdirector> (accessed April 30, 2006).
Anon. (2006) "Morgan Spurlock," Wikipedia, available online at <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Morgan_Spurlock> (accessed April 29, 2006).
Burstin, Fay (2004) "Escape from McHell," Herald Sun, Melbourne, Australia, June 9: 31.
Hogan, David Gerard (1997) Selling 'Em by the Sack: White Castle and the Creation of American Food, New York: New York University Press.
Schmidt, Kat (2004) "Morgan Spurlock (Super)Sizes Up American Public Health," Tufts Daily, November 5.
Spurlock, Morgan (2005) Don't Eat this Book? Fast Food and the Supersizing of America, New York: Putnam.
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