In Defense of McDonald’s


Graphic by: Cassie Jeong

By Jordan Blackburn

I was recently subjected to the documentary film “Food, Inc.” as part of my Environmental Science curriculum. “Food, Inc.” highlights many of the major problems with the food production industry in America. Although the shots of massive slaughterhouses did little to dissuade me from enjoying hamburgers, it did cause me to think about the way food is produced and marketed in the U.S., especially with regards to fast food. There’s been much debate about obesity in America and “Food, Inc.” reminded me of another film I was forced to watch multiple times in the name of food education: “Super Size Me.”

Graphic by: Cassie Jeong
Graphic by: Cassie Jeong

For those who miraculously escaped viewing the film, “Super Size Me” is a 2004 documentary directed by and starring Morgan Spurlock. He designed, filmed, and executed an experiment in which he ate only McDonald’s food for a month and limited his exercise. The experiment required him to eat every bite of what he ordered and to “Super Size” the meal when asked.

Shockingly, Spurlock experienced many ill effects, including a weight gain of 24.6 pounds in one month, as well as symptoms of depression and a drastic increase in his cholesterol levels.

Initially, the results of Spurlock’s experiment are interesting, if a bit redundant; we all know that fast food is bad, but the experiment’s results seem to indicate that merely setting foot in a McDonald’s is hazardous to one’s health. Upon closer examination, however, Spurlock’s “experiment” falls apart.

Spurlock refused to publish a log of what he ate. Those who have attempted to replicate Spurlock’s experiment based on the parameters set by the film have been unsuccessful in replicating his results. Eating all food on the plate is an extreme requirement and not necessarily in line with the actual behavior of individuals eating at fast food establishments. Throughout the film, Spurlock ignores suggestions from his doctors and personal trainer to drink soda less often or to take vitamin supplements.

Spurlock’s film is not a genuine attempt to examine the overall health effects of McDonald’s, but pure entertainment designed for shock value and maximum reaction on the part of the audience.

Still, “Super Size Me” became incredibly popular, grossing $30 million at the box office, and even spawning an “educational” version of the DVD that was made “classroom safe.”

Nutritional health is an important topic that people should be able to discuss in an informed way, but “Super Size Me” is not the method with which to do this.

Although Spurlock’s film, combined with the messages of “Food, Inc,” could provide a more complex criticism of American food production and distribution, Spurlock’s film alone is not enough. Clearly, the American system of food production has major flaws. The U.S. Government subsidizes crops such as corn and soybeans, causing farmers to produce significantly more than we actually need. As a result of this, we’re getting crafty with our usage of grains, especially corn, which finds its way into an astonishing range of foods in modified forms that are nearly impossible to trace back to the original plant itself.

The corn we don’t eat gets fed to our cattle. This causes cows to gain weight very quickly and makes them unable to regulate the levels of E. Coli in their stomachs, leading to more bacteria in the meat we are consuming.

These practices are inhumane and unsafe, but the reduced prices of corn make them the most cost-effective way to produce cattle.

On top of all of this, farmers use machines that consume mass amounts of fossil fuels to run tractors and factories, help to distribute pesticides and even plant seeds.

Producing food with our current methods and at our current speed depletes the soil more quickly than it can recover, meaning farmers are forced to use inorganic fertilizers such as phosphates and nitrates which can make their way into our water supply and are toxic to humans and animals alike. McDonald’s is the product of a broken system filled with corn subsidies and artificially reduced food prices.

This doesn’t excuse McDonald’s actions, but as people search for a “solution” to what is often called America’s “obesity epidemic” it’s easier to blame a single corporation than decades of problematic policy and resource mismanagement.

There are solutions to these problems, and as public awareness grows about the methods by which we produce our food we will continue to develop further solutions.

McDonald’s is a problem, yes, but the reality is far more complicated than “fast food is ruining our lives,” as Spurlock would have us believe. Instead of attacking McDonald’s, advocate for government subsidies of organic farming rather than current methods of farming such as chemically created fertilizers, feedlots and growth hormones.

The easiest and most powerful thing to do is vote with your wallet: research and try to buy foods that are organically and sustainably produced, including free-range chicken and grass-fed beef.

Although organic food is currently more expensive than many people can afford, a lack of government subsidies on organic foods will only further this problem, keeping traditionally farmed food prices artificially high. If consumers switch to sustainable products, farmers will change the methods with which they produce our food.