Special Report

Golden Archenemies

Supersizing isn’t all it’s puffed up to be: a tale of dueling bingers.

By 5.7.04

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WASHINGTON -- While Morgan Spurlock, the man behind the brand new documentary Super Size Me, ordered Big Macs with a super-sized Coke and a side of large fries, Soso Whaley, filmmaker and adjunct scholar at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, was ordering Chicken Caesar Salads with a side of common sense.

Spurlock and Whaley embarked on similar documentary projects. Both vowed to eat only at McDonald's for three meals a day for 30 days. Now the results are in: Spurlock, who went on his McDonald's diet last year, wound up 25 pounds heavier, depressed, and blotchy-faced, with high-cholesterol, memories of vomiting profusely, chest pains, a libido that sags like hours-old fries, and a liver that doctors said resembled pâté. Whaley, who completed her 30 day McDonald's diet last Friday, lost ten pounds, dropped her cholesterol from 237 to 197, and claims she feels great.

Of course, the dose makes the poison: Spurlock decided that he would eat everything on the menu at least once and abide by rules that he decided characterize the typical McDonald's customer. He would super-size the meal if an employee gave him the choice, he would finish everything on his tray, and he would avoid ordering à la carte when possible, preferring Extra Value meals.

As a result, Spurlock often consumed some 5,000 calories a day. He also decided to cut back on his exercise, even limiting the number of steps he took each day. It's no surprise that Spurlock's liver didn't fare well, given that he stuffed himself on a daily basis as though he might serve himself up as pâté de foie gras.

This difference is judgment. Whaley disagreed with Spurlock's premise that consumers are unable to make responsible decisions about their own health when basking in the warm fluorescent glow of the golden arches. She calls Spurlock's efforts "typical MTV gross-out fare which seems on the surface to have some sort of message but falls way short of any real substance," not unlike Jackass, or the short-lived MTV show I Bet You Will, created and hosted by… Morgan Spurlock himself.

So Whaley set out to tweak his film by making her own. Like Spurlock she tried everything on the menu at least once. But she injected some personal responsibility into her project, limiting her intake to roughly 1,800 calories a day rather than "scarfing down double Quarter Pounders with Cheese," as she put it in her daily online diary.

Personal responsibility, suggests Whaley, includes having to think about one's choices. "I think the majority of the American public will be a bit offended by Mr. Spurlock's contention that we have no choice, and [have to] eat like some sort of automaton," she told me. On day five of her project, Whaley ate a Big 'N Tasty for lunch and a hamburger for dinner -- "perhaps not the most nutritious of days. But, I can make wiser choices tomorrow," she wrote.

Her daily diary emphasized the decision-making process, a theme that will carry over into the film. "I want it to be a critical thinking piece which explores different food issues such as Biotech food, chemicals, and sustainable development," she says, in addition to the personal responsibility aspect. (Though there will be no vomiting on film, which is certain to "disappoint the MTV set," she says).

Spurlock claims that Super Size Me "is a film about corporate responsibility and personal responsibility," though both claims are tendentious.

"I think Mr. Spurlock's real agenda was to create a documentary bashing both the fast food industry and the American public. Using phrases like corporate responsibility and personal responsibility are mere smoke screens hiding the real messages of the movie," says Whaley.

Those messages, she says, include "corporate bashing, messages that McDonald's or fast food in general is somehow different or bad compared to other foods, mere assumptions about the way Americans comport themselves every day, blatant targeting of a younger audience, and a negative view of eating meat."

Though Whaley doesn't aspire to be a health guru, she has some advice for McDonald's customers who think of two burgers for a buck is a challenge rather than a way for two people to save some money: "It is not my place to judge. I would, however, like to remind people that the best idea for cutting down is to order one sandwich, chew each bite well, wash it down with a preferred drink -- you might be surprised to find that one sandwich does the trick. Remember you can always order more."

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