Wednesday, March 14, 2012

"Super Size Me" and The Fast Food Epidemic

At church on Sunday, a few of us got on the topic of fast food and the Morgan Spurlock documentary "Super Size Me."

It got me thinking.  Thinking about how fast didn't really change since it was released, or has remained relatively unchanged in a lot of ways, about how it effects not just your health but also your budget, how their "healthy alternatives" are not as healthy as you think, how you are no longer asked if you want it "super sized," among other things.

Since "Super Size Me" was released, I've noticed that not many things have changed about the fast food industry.  They still offer you greasy burgers, deep fried food, etc..  With all the facts presented in the documentary and throughout the history of the industry, you'd think they'd try to change stuff for the better.  But as you can see there has relatively no change.  If there has been change, than show me.  I'm talking about big change.  Not some some insignificant change that means nothing.  The fast food industry is due for a change.  But there seems to be an unwillingness for all the fast food joints out there to change.  They only mask it with clever wording, advertising, dumb jingles, and add stuff to their already crap menus (for the most part).  Even if they don't add stuff to their menu, they are probably thinking "why bother mess with what is working..."  It's only working because the world, especially the western world is has become a slave to fast food.  But I digress, change needs to happen!

Along with that change, fast food joints are trying to offer "healthy alternatives."  But is it truly healthy?  Lets take a salad for instance.  By looking at a salad, it seems healthy, right?  Sure, I guess.  But if you examine stuff you put on the salad like the dressing, it can defeat it's purpose of being healthy.  Some dressings can be made with high fat ingredients.  I'm not saying this because I don't like salad.  I'm just saying that their so-called "healthy alternatives" are not as healthy as they want you to believe.  Even a chicken snack wrap from McDonalds is filled with tomatoes, lettuce, and whatnot; but the sauce put in it is filled fat and calories because they'd rather use that instead of the low fat sauce.  It seems like "healthy alternatives" is an oxymoron in the fast food industry.  With clever advertising and spin, anything can be presented as a "healthy alternative."

Fast food is not healthy.  If you've watched "Super Size Me" before or have viewed it all through, you will see that people have tried to sue McDonalds because it made them fat.  The problem is nobody forced them to eat it.  They bought in to the catchy jingles, subliminal advertising, the images they see in all forms of media that drove them to going to McDonalds or any other fast food joint.  In fact, I can probably say for certain that they consciously made the choice to go McDonalds and eat their food thus it making them gain weight.  Nobody forced them to go to McDonalds.  As bad as fast food is, nobody is to blame but themselves.  They knew before hand that fast is bad, but they still partook in it.  Hell, I do it, but I'm not blaming anybody for going to there and getting it.  People need to stop looking for a scapegoat and snap back into reality and blaming other people for the fact they gained weight.  It has been proven that fast food is not a healthy choice.

Aside from fast food not being healthy, it effects your budget.  For instance, to buy a burger, fries, and a drink at A&W costs almost $10.  I'm bad for buying fast food, but I keep being told that you can buy stuff to make a meal for about that much.  Plus the money you can save on not buying fast food, you can save it in the bank.  I've been better at not buying fast food lately.  It does leave you with more money because even the cheaper fast food joints it can add up.  In this day in age when people are complaining about not having any money because they can't find work, they sure do spend a lot of money on fast food.  The proof people spend lots on it is because the fast food industry in the United States is worth $126 billion.  That proves people don't care that it effects their budget if the industry is worth that much.

The only thing I've noticed is that McDonalds, for instance, doesn't ask you if you want to "super size" it.  Super size is just large in essence.  But they stopped asking you if you want after "Super Size Me" was released.  The Western world specifically had this idea that bigger was better, but not always.  Sure I always upsize my meal to large.  But it's out of habit I do and not because it was ever offered to me.  I remember working A&W back in the day and the cashiers were told to offer "bear size."  It's becoming common practice to go for the smaller size.  But than again Tim Hortons changed their cup sizes and made their medium a small, large a medium, extra large a large, and a new extra large size.  But than again, Tim Hortons is a coffee shop and not a fast food joint.  So that's probably a moot point.  Either way, the offering to upsize your meal has become pretty much an obsolete practice.

Fast food is still such an epidemic especially in the Western world.  We are still a slave to it and we don't seem to care.  We are feeding the fast food machine keeping it going.  I admit, I've helped feed the fast food machine and I need to stop.  But, as I've said, I've vastly reduced feeding it lately.  Speaking terms of the United States, they must not be in a financial crisis if they can make the fast food a $120 billion plus industry.  As long as we continue to support this industry like we do and keep it an epidemic, than nothing will change.


Matthew said...

There may be some people who do not realize how bad most 'fast food' is for them to consume on a regular basis but I think you're right in suggesting that most people in our culture are very aware, to at least some degree, that it's harmful to one's health.

The issue, in my mind, isn't so much about fast food as it is about health. Why do so many of us choose to be less healthy than more healthy? I think there are quite a few factors involved, habits and patterns that aren't easily changed.

It seems to me that if people stopped eating unhealthy 'fast food' then fast food places would go out of business or start to offer what people wanted, which is what McDonald's has done really well at, adapting its menu, to at least some degree, to the preferences of the area its located.

"I admit, I've helped feed the fast food machine and I need to stop. But, as I've said, I've vastly reduced feeding it lately."

In terms of changing anything, this is probably the best place to start.

Mark said...

Let me see if I understand everything you've said.

First, you claim the fast-food industry has failed to make a major change and think one needs to happen. If this is correct, what do you think would constitute a major change? Are you thinking of systemic change, change within individual's attitudes? From what I understand, McDonalds tries to meet people half-way by giving healthier alternatives (salads, real beef/chicken, muffins, yogurt, etc.), but you don't think these are adequate changes? I take you don't think so because you claim, "I'm just saying that their so-called 'healthy alternatives' are not as healthy as they want you to believe" and also "It seems like "healthy alternatives" is an oxymoron in the fast food industry. With clever advertising and spin, anything can be presented as a "'healthy alternative.'" You also mention the issue of people downsizing their meals, which I think has good intentions and can be helpful for people who actually want smaller portions. However, if people want more, all they have to do is eat in the McDonalds to get free refills of pop or upsize or order double portions. So, it seems the issue is in the hands of the consumer as far as making the decision to eat the food ethically. Should there be a third-party to regulate things like portions, the amount that can be sold, etc.? Or does this infringe on the rights of consumers to have the freedom to purschase and consumer what they please? Just some questions.

With Super-Size me I think you point out the one-sidedness of it in that it was that man's choice to eat that much. He willingly (well at times I started to wonder) ate that unhealthy food. The thing that makes the film so dull is that it leaves you waiting for something everyone already knows will happen. I don't think the film added anything substantial to what we already knew about fast food. Although, I wonder if McDonald's published those little pamphlets with the nutritional information prior to Supersize Me? If that's true, I think that strengthens your case that a lot of people don't have an excuse to blame McDonald's for their obesity. However, if its true that obesity is genetic and that those urges for fatty foods are uncontrollable then I guess I'm wrong, but I still think people can discipline themselves over time (but that's just me). But you are also right in that we are all contributors to the problem. Who can deny basking in the glory of the golden arches and scarfing down a double big mac and extra large chocolate shake (homer simpson drooling sounds) from time to time? In this way humility and taking responsibility seems like an appropriate posture, which you seem to be doing. But is it enough?

Mark said...

You also mention how fast food takes up your budget. I agree, it plays into your argument about choice. I would also add that it's an unnecessary waste of tax dollars that goes to healthcare so that it can pay for something, like obesity, that could have been prevented. People get obese and their health suffers and our tax dollars go towards taking care of those people for their mistakes. I'm not saying pull the plug on obese people (grace, right?), but in the long end of things doesn't it seem like a waste of money when we could have prevented these health problems by eating a little healthier? That money could have gone to something like medical research for the treatment of cancer, which in, by the way, is, in certain forms, correlated to fatty foods.

These are issues close to me. I'm sure you remember when were at CBC, Rob and I would jokingly identify ourselves as communists, partly to irritate the Americans, but also because we saw something problematic about how businesses conduct themselves these days. I really wrestle with the idea of often wrestle with the idea of what an ethical economy looks like, and so I'm oscillating around my socialist-Marxist sympathies and assessing them, but also trying to be fair to what my more economically-savvy, conservative friends have to say. I remember at CBC after the RAs did a critique of Wal-Mart in a worship service and afterwords Todd Slechta told them, "Wal-Mart exists because we want it to." I think this is a fair criticism, given that contemporary discourse and activity is governed by "rights and freedoms" language. We can't hate on the system when we are willingly perpetuating it. At the same time, however, I would say that the system also makes us in that capitalism operates on a certain logic and actually structures our sense of what freedom is in our daily life. So, we need to try and not be ignorant to how our economy works. It is one of those both-and type of things.

Like I said before, these are issues that we just gotta do the hard work and think over. We can't just jump back to old ways that have been shown to be ineffective (and I would argue unethical), nor can we just be protesters who just stand around holding signs and bitch hypocritically. Like my old Grammpa Roy used to say, "You gotta get organized, ma boy."

How's that for a comment, C.C.? More like an essay, eh? Heh.

So, have I understood you correctly?