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First-time filmmaker Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Meis a lean, zippy documentary about growing bloated and lethargic. A record of his decision to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at McDonald’s for 30 days straight (and to eat nothing else), Spurlock’s film starts out in a light, humorous vein but turns increasingly somber as it becomes apparent that the man onscreen is poisoning himself to make a point. An obvious point, perhaps, but one worth making nonetheless. It’s one thing to know intellectually that fast food is bad for you, but it’s still alarming to see it demonstrated by a human guinea pig. In the month he spent eating off the McDonald’s menu, Spurlock put on 25 pounds, raised his body fat from 11 to 18 percent, and saw his cholesterol shoot up from 160 to 230. After three weeks, the physicians monitoring him said he risked serious liver damage and urged him to quit.
Spurlock, who attended USC but didn’t get into the film school, does more than document his own ballooning waistline. Traveling around the country, he draws up a devastating, though never preachy, indictment of a society that has made the sale of bad food to the masses a pillar of its national and international economic strategy. In certain parts of the country, where there is almost nothing but fast-food restaurants to choose from, junk food isn’t just a way of life, it’s virtually a destiny.
His Big Mac binge over, Spurlock once again looks like a healthy, energetic man in his early 30s. His office, where I spoke to him, is on Mercer Street in Soho, New York — which seems to be, culturally speaking, about as far from fast-food culture as you can get without leaving the United States. Spurlock’s girlfriend is a vegan chef, and the streets around his office are dotted with organic food stores and pricey restaurants. But any suspicion that Spurlock might be a puritanical food snob chiding the burger-eating masses is dispelled both by the man and by the film itself. Anyway, as he points out in Super Size Me, Manhattan has more McDonald’s per square mile than any parcel of land on Earth.
L.A. WEEKLY: You got the idea for making the film when you heard about two girls suing McDonald’s for making them fat. But why did you want to make the movie? What excited you about it?
MORGAN SPURLOCK: The whole idea excited me to begin with. It sounded interesting, it sounded challenging to put myself in the position of not only being the director of my first feature film, but to be the guinea pig in the movie. A lot of people say, “Why didn’t you get someone else?” My fear of getting someone else was that I couldn’t trust anyone else to do it. The minute somebody goes home at the end of the day, and the camera’s not on them, [how do I know] they’re not making themselves broccoli or asparagus? By the end I was dying for vegetables.
Your girlfriend appears in the film and you have a bit of a running argument with her about meat. I take it you haven’t crossed over to being a vegetarian yet?
No, I haven’t jumped ship. I still love cheeseburgers or a great steak. We were just in Texas, and I had steak, or ribs, or pork, or some kind of animal every day, almost every meal. And it was fantastic! But that food isn’t processed, and you get vegetables and other things to balance it out.
So was part of the reason for doing this that you were a fan of McDonald’s, or a fan of hamburgers?
Yeah, I’m definitely a fan of burgers. I was told the whole time I was growing up, “This food is not good for you, you shouldn’t eat this food very often.” So from my point of view it was, “How bad can it really be?” Even the doctors said it can’t be that bad. They thought I might gain some weight, put on a couple of pounds, but nobody anticipated it was going to be so damaging.
It seemed to me that you not only looked fatter and less healthy as the film went on, you also looked less intelligent. The light seemed to go out of your eyes.
Over the course of the film I found myself getting dumber. I would forget things that were just told to me, I was completely scatterbrained, I couldn’t pay attention — my cognitive skills were just vanishing.
In terms of the effect on your health, the most notable thing was what happened to your liver.
My liver basically just got filled with fat. As your liver gets sick, it releases more enzymes into your blood, and my liver was getting really sick by the end. So much so that I was en route to getting cirrhosis — just from eating a high-fat diet. Too many people live in the moment, without realizing that what they put in their mouth now is going to affect them five years from now. What I’m hoping this film makes people think about is the longer-term effect of what you do today.
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