Obsession Junction

Fishing with Morgan Spurlock, survivor of the 30-day McDonald's diet

I liked Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me even more than I thought I would. From its first shot -- a bunch of cute kids singing a campy song with the refrain "I like food/ You like food/ McDonald's, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Pizza Hut" -- to the acknowledgements in its end crawl (including thanks "to the First Amendment" and to the director's ex-wife's health insurance), I was enthralled, horrified, and continually entertained by Spurlock's documentary about his odyssey through the world of fast food. Inspired by a news report about two overweight girls suing McDonald's for undermining their health, Spurlock decided to eat at McDonald's, and only at McDonald's, three meals a day for an entire month. He had three simple ground rules: He could only ingest what was available there (including water), which eliminated, for example, supplemental vitamins; he couldn't "super size" his meal unless it was offered (but if it was offered, he had to say yes); and he had to eat every item on the menu at least once.

There are 83 McDonald's outlets in Manhattan, where Spurlock lives (including one that delivers -- helpful because Spurlock, a marathon runner, also cut back on his physical activity to mimic the American average), so he could almost have eaten each of his 90 meals on the island alone. Instead he set out on a cross-country Big Mac-and-Egg McMuffin odyssey, during which he interviewed nutrition experts, gym teachers, an ex-surgeon general, the spokesman for the Grocery Marketing Association, and other authorities on why America is now the fattest country on Earth. The pointed commentaries are interlarded with witty graphics (including mesmerizing surreal pop-art paintings by Ron English featuring fast-food icons), bits of found footage, anything and everything Spurlock can use to make us laugh while making his point: Our national diet is killing us.

He began his binge with a breakfast of an Egg McMuffin and a sausage biscuit, coincidentally the same breakfast I treated myself to some six months ago on my last visit to McDonald's. I eat at McDonald's two or three times a year, partly out of curiosity (I've tried, over time, the McLean Deluxe, a burger in which the seaweed-derived gel called carrageenan was supposed to mimic fat; the McDLT, a burger served open-faced so that "the hot [meat] stays hot, the cold [lettuce and tomato] stays cold," solving a problem that had never seemed to be a problem before; and the Big N' Tasty, which wasn't either. I don't remember ever ordering a McRib sandwich -- something about the mold in which the flaked pig was pressed, including fake bones, put me off. But now I regret missing out on it, and partly out of true appetite -- I'm as much a sucker for fat, salt, and sugar as the next geek).

It's No Mickey D's: Joe's Cable Car serves a 
burger with a beefy snap, but not enough 
Anthony Pidgeon
It's No Mickey D's: Joe's Cable Car serves a burger with a beefy snap, but not enough juiciness.

Location Info


Tower Burger

729 Portola
San Francisco, CA 94127

Category: Restaurant > Deli

Region: West Portal


Tower Burger, 729 Portola (at Fowler), 504-6340. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. No reservations. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: easy. Muni: 36, 44, 48, 52. Noise level: moderate.

Joe's Cable Car, 4320 Mission (at Silver), 334-6699. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. No reservations. Not wheelchair accessible. Parking: easy. Muni: 14, 44, 49, 52. Noise level: moderate.

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Unlike me, Spurlock followed that meal, which he appeared to anticipate with pleasure and even to savor, with 89 more. (On Day 2, after experiencing what he terms "McStomachache," "McGurgles," "McGas," and "feeling a McBrick," he throws up after a hastily downed lunch -- again begun with apparent enjoyment.) By the end of his experiment (monitored, with mounting horror, by a trilogy of doctors: a cardiologist, a gastroenterologist, and a general practitioner), Spurlock's 185 pounds have become 210 -- he gained nearly 10 pounds in the first week alone -- and his cholesterol has gone from 168 to 230. His 11 percent initial body fat has become 18 percent. It took him five months on a "detox diet" devised by his girlfriend, a vegan chef -- truth still being stranger than fiction -- to lose 20 of the 25 pounds.

It's that regime I ask Spurlock about almost as soon as we're seated side by side for lunch in a plush booth under the enormous sea-urchin chandeliers in the under-the-sea-Disney-on-acid fantasy of Farallon (450 Post, 956-6969). (I figured he deserved a real break today, and my choice of Farallon was predicated both on its proximity to the downtown hotel he was staying in while the San Francisco International Film Festival showed Super Size Meand on a particularly appalling shot of a Filet-O-Fish in the movie.) "I was sad," I say, "not to see the 'Morgan Spurlock Detox Diet' linked on your girlfriend's Web site," after I have endeared myself to him by blurting out that I always thought "vegan chef" was an oxymoron. He says, reasonably enough, that she didn't want to do so because she believes every body is different, and therefore one shouldn't follow a diet created for someone else. (Lucky for Dr. Atkins, or anyway his heirs, that he didn't feel that way.) Healthy chef Alex, no fool she, is across the bay dining at Chez Panisse while we eat. I reflect, briefly, that the last time I ate there I started with a salad topped with crispy pig's feet and went on to savor roasted goat, served with slices of its liver and kidneys. And that the receipt for the meal, reflecting the purchase at our table of a number of guest chef Fergus Henderson's cookbooks, satisfyingly said "Four Whole Beasts." I'm not in danger of going vegan anytime soon. Nor is Spurlock, who cheerfully announces, "I'm a carnetarian!"

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