Monday, October 23, 2006

Eat Lettuce

I saw "Super Size Me" a while ago. The story should still be pretty familiar: a guy named Morgan Spurlock eats only McDonald's food for a month and puts on weight and gets sick. While the consensus of the major players in the film, that fast food is through and through dangerous, doesn't stand up to more cautious experiments of the same nature (e.g. eating fast-food salads more frequently [which at least have more fiber and nutritive variety than burgers, if not fewer calories], choosing to stick with standard portions, abstaining from non-diet pop, skipping dessert most nights, and perhaps most significantly, not eliminating exercise for the whole month--see "Alternative Experiments" here, or get a broader perspective from any of the sites here), it does serve as a dramatic object lesson in where a lot of America's obesity is coming from. We eat too much, we don't eat a good balance of food, and we exercise too little. "Super Size Me" isn't so much a condemnation of McDonald's, or fast food in general, as it is of some major trends in our lifestyle in recent decades.

Not that I'm exonerating fast food, but my point is that it's just part of the equation, and a single Big Mac will not have a measurable, detrimental long-term effect on a normally healthy person.

There's also the social justice assertion, that McDonald's targets nonaffluent demographics, so the poor suffer the brunt of malnutritious gluttony. I'm skeptical; you can get a flimsy cheeseburger for under a buck, but a "meal" is closer to five, which--I'll give you a hint--is not less than it would cost someone to cook up some chicken breasts and bell peppers, or beans and rice, what with buying in relative bulk instead of oversizing individual meals to get more "value." After the Just In Time revolution in the 1980s, fast food may not even be faster than staying home and cooking something you planned.

"Oh, but they build in poor neighborhoods!" No, they build in commercial districts. Richer neighborhoods might be farther from mainstream shopping areas, but it's going to take a little more to blame Big Drive-Through for economic gerrymandering. Either way, I'm not going to a restaurant I can't afford just because it's close. If decent grocery stores are farther away, don't they also share some of the blame? It's not like McDonald's suddenly swept in to steal all of A&P's previously established generic-label business.

Still, it's convenient if you're on the go (I can't tell you how many times when I was a grad student that I'd leave work, hit the drive through, and go back to eat in my office and continue working); and maybe they do advertise too aggressively a product that is mostly harmless only in modest quantities (maybe we should talk about the Cola Wars next); and that "meal" typically is a burger or other high-octane sandwich, french fries (not "Freedom" fries; "frenching" is how the potatoes are prepared), and a generous fizzy beverage loaded with more corn syrup than...well, they just put too much corn syrup in everything. Save it for the E85!

So anyway, in a fit of whimsy, I was inspired by Spurlock's piece to open a Spreadshirt store where I could hawk shirts admonishing people to bone up on their roughage. There's no threat to my status as an amateur Catholic; I wouldn't get rich even if I sold a lot, and the shirts cost enough by themselves, and some of the designs are less than professional, but sometimes mediocre quality is charming, and anyway I was amused to bring the idea from virtual space to meatspace, and maybe you would be amused to have something to throw on when you're running Saturday errands that's got a message so direct it's cryptic. If not, I'll still be friends with you. Both of you.

(If for some reason it does appeal to you but you don't like the garment or its color, lemme know. I'd also like to get some "Separation of Church and State does not meat separation of religion and the public" stickers, but last I checked they weren't doing stickers yet, so if you'd be willing to ask them to consider stickers, as I already did, it might have an impact.)

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