Honolulu Lite

Charles Memminger

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Expose misses the
skinny on McDonald’s

It's a good thing there are crusading film journalists like Morgan Spurlock out there looking out for us.

In the spirit of Upton Sinclair, who exposed the nasty underside of the meat-packing industry in his 1906 book "The Jungle"; and Nellie Bly, who exposed nightmarish conditions inside women's lunatic asylums in the late 1800s for the New York World newspaper, Spurlock went undercover to expose the dark underbelly of America's fast-food industry.

Spurlock spent a month eating three fat-filled meals a day at McDonald's -- nothing but Big Macs, super-sized fries and milk shakes -- and guess what happened? He got fat. He put on 25 pounds. And documented the outrage on film, gleefully holding up fries and saying to the camera, "Look how much they give you!"

His film, "Super Size Me," sent shock waves through film festivals where people are easily shocked, but I suspect the film surprised absolutely no one else in the real world. Is there anyone in Hawaii or anywhere who believes you can eat nothing but fatty fast foods and not get fat?

Shortly after Spurlock's spurious expose came out, another crusader ate at McDonald's for a month and lost weight. Soso Whaley ate occasional burgers -- which she points out are merely beef, lettuce and bread -- but also had salads, diet sodas and other low-fat offerings from the Golden Arches. "It's just food, it's not evil," she said.

I DON'T understand why anyone would pay any attention to Spurlock's pointless escapade anyway. Look, McDonald's provides relatively healthy food, that is prepared in a hygienic manner and served in what Hemingway would call a "clean, well-lighted place."

That is different from Third World countries where writers like P.J. O'Rourke describe the outdoor "fast food" offerings as 10 pounds of flies on a hook.

I'm not sure what Spurlock's point is. McDonald's publicly posts all of the nutritional information on every food item, and it offers low-fat alternatives. What is the company supposed to do? Have food bouncers at the counter to slap the double cheeseburger out of your hand? Or, worse, a Federal Calorie Intake Agent?

Spurlock's point seems to be that people are just too stupid to choose what they want to eat. He could only have looked more stupid if he had filmed himself running through a Safeway holding up bags of potato chips and cartons of ice cream yelling, "Look how much they give you!"

Spurlock, buddy, you don't HAVE to eat it. In a supermarket you have the choice to buy ice cream or low-fat yogurt. Or you can go to a health-food store. And you don't have to go into McDonald's. It's your choice. But if you do, you don't have to super size anything. It's not mandatory.

Upton Sinclair and Nellie Bly lived in times when getting healthy, affordable food in sanitary surroundings was difficult. If Spurlock's work is what passes as a riveting expose, our country must be doing pretty well.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Charles Memminger, winner of National Society of Newspaper Columnists awards, appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. E-mail


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