Don’t Eat This Book: Fast Food and the Supersizing of America by Morgan Spurlock is probably best thought of as the companion book to the author’s award-winning documentary, Super Size Me. They both cover a lot of the same ground: fast food is EXTREMELY unhealthy for you, fast food corporations are predatory in their marketing practices, schools are negligent in their duties to facilitate good nutrition and physical education, and beneath its thin veneer the “big food” industry is more unwholesome as you can even imagine. The slight difference is that while the movie spent most of its time following Spurlock’s McDiet, the book branches off a bit. But not a whole lot.
Now, I have some issues with Spurlock. Following the success of Super Size Me he produced and sometimes starred in a television show called “30 Days.” Each week someone did something improbable and diametrically opposed to his/her worldview for 30 days to see what we could all learn. Examples included a Christian fundamentalist living with a Muslim family and a soccer mom binge drinking like her college age daughter. It’s the evolution of the neat hook that Super Size Me had, but my problem with Spurlock is that even when he’s making arguments that I agree with, many of the supposedly genuine situations were obviously forced and contrived for the sake of whatever point he was trying to ram through. (If you want examples, ask in the comments of this post and I’ll provide them.) The disengenuineness got so bad that I quit watching the 30 Days show.
So that’s where my mind was going into this book. Fortunately, it’s not that bad. Spurlock mainly sticks to straight forward arguments in the book, railing against McDonalds and its ilk. He also gives some background information about how the documentary came to be and what his life was like afterwards. None of this was news to me –I know fast food is awful and awful for you, and I know that most Americans (myself included, most weeks) don’t exercise enough. Yet Spurlock does manage to communicate the degree to which all of this is true, and that’s pretty motivational and got me to think more about my eating habits (not to mention those of my young daughters). So that was good. It certainly had an impact on me.
On the other hand, Spurlock continues to have problems with credibility. Not that I necessarily disagree with most of his statements, but he often comes across as puerile in his ranting. This is most apparent when he makes stupid puns at the expense of his targets, like referring to fast food as “McCrap” or calling the late Robert Atkins (of the Atkins Diet fame) “Dr. Fatkins.” And in the audiobook version I listened to, when Spurlock –who himself narrates the audiobook– reads quotes from his opponents he often does so using an exaggerated and mocking tone, like he’s providing the voice for some cartoon weasel. Quotes from those supporting his arguments aren’t given the same treatment. These kinds of ad hominem arguments are probably meant for comedic effect, but they distract from Spurlock’s own credibility even more. And then there’s the stuff about how he accuses the providers of McDonald’s beef of feeding ground up bits of cows to other cows (a practice which the FDA banned years ago, though he doesn’t mention it) and how the omission of the word “Milk” from the name of McDonald’s shakes is due to their containing some unholy chemical instead of dairy (even though McDonald’s own website lists “whole milk” as one of the main ingredients).
So, all in all I’d suggest that before picking up this book you watch the movie, Super Size Me instead. It’s a lot better and more to the point. If you’ve already done that or if you’re still hungry (figuratively) for more, read Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation. It’s a better book on the same subject and it’s free from many of this book’s faults.