TCS Daily

Don't Eat This Book -- It's Indigestible

By Duane D. Freese - June 3, 2005 12:00 AM

Well, credit Super Size Me producer, director and guinea pig Morgan Spurlock one thing for his just-released book, Don't Eat This Book. The title is right, it's pretty indigestible.

This review comes from a deputy editor of TCS, which Spurlock has dubbed "among my most rabid McCritics" that "puts out a right-wing Internet magazine" with support from corporations acknowledged "on its own website" to include "McDonald's."

Thank you, Morgan. "Mc" is a label I've learned to like, as a former member of the editorial board of USA Today -- known as "McPaper" -- which gave me awards the editors had dubbed "McNuggets."

That isn't what makes his book so indigestible. It's all the crap that's in it. Literally and literarily.

Spurlock's favorite word is "crap." He not only calls McDonald's food "crap," but just about everything else that is American is "crap."

His chief complaint, for example, is that in

        "2002, the retail industry in this country spent $13.5 billion telling us what to 
        buy, and we must have been listening, because in 2003 we spent nearly $8 trillion 
        on all kinds of crap. That's right trillion. How insane is that? ... We buy almost 
        twice as much crap as our nearest competitor, Japan. We spend more on 
        ourselves than the entire gross national product of any nation in the world."

Forget the fact that Japan has less than half the population of the United States. And forget, too, that the only nations with larger populations are India and China -- countries that are, relative to the US, poor.

One still needs to ask, what is the crap that Spurlock is so upset about our buying? Well, in 2003, it included $1.2 trillion for housing, about $345 per person per month. To fill the house, we spent $340 billion for furniture, about $100 per person a month. To heat and cool it, we paid $166 billion, or $47 per person per month. To keep the plumbing fixed, put on new roofs, etc., we paid $267 billion, about $76 per person/month.

Not a lot of crap there. Must have been when we left home that we really got crappy in our spending.

On that score, we spent $314 billion for shoes and clothing, or $90 bucks a month for each of us. Vehicles and vehicle parts cost us $444 billion, or $127 a month per person. Gasoline and oil? There's another $211 billion, or $60 bucks a month. Planes, trains, buses and subways, meanwhile, grabbed $296 billion, or $85 a month. Is that it?

Or is it that we spent $1 trillion on food -- $9.45 per person every day.

Or maybe it's the $330 billion a year we spend on recreation that he considers crap, including something like $30 million spent last year by people seeing a film called Super Size Me.

Spurlock, who is being sued by a company that gave him free rent in return for 25 percent of the profits from the film, says he hasn't even made $1 million from that $30 million. Most of that, he says, has gone to distribution and marketing -- another name for advertising, which he finds so reprehensible when done by food companies and other retailers.

Now he no doubt wouldn't consider that or advertising his book promoting crap, but he very well could on a basic premise -- crap in, crap out.

In his case, he made a big point in the movie and now again in the book that his agitation was all about Americans' health and well-being. "Being overweight doesn't just mean you get called names by other kids," he writes. "Fat is deadly. Obesity-related illnesses will kill around 400,000 Americans this year -- almost the same as smoking."

Well, no it doesn't. Obesity related illnesses will not kill 400,000, nor 300,000 people, nor 200,000 people, nor even 100,000 people next year.

The Journal of the American Medical Association article he referred to for his number of deaths was simply wrong. The Centers for Disease Control last month put the possible death toll from obesity at less than 26,000. And it finds that "being overweight," as long as you aren't severely obese, may be healthier for you. Overweight people actually live longer than normal weight people.

This doesn't mean people should go out and get fat. But it does means they should not live in fear of food.

The crap of Spurlock is that he pretends that his anecdotal eating at McDonald's represents the eating habits of most Americans. But most Americans don't do what he did -- gorge themselves on more than 5,000 calories a day, eating everything on the McDonald's menu, and double dipping the desserts.

He then draws a connection that simply does not exist -- that normal weight people and obese people somehow have different diets. They don't. And he tries to draw connections between advertising and consumption that are ridiculous. As he should know from his own film, you can pique an interest in something but you can't make someone like it.

In short, Spurlock's book is even crappier than his movie. It will please those who want to believe that corporations are evil incarnate, making the world fatter. Spurlock goes so far as to condone violence against McDonald's outlets in France and India at one point in the book.

For most Americans, though, it will be just a long anti-American rant. Its call for a total vegetarian diet may play well with a coterie of Vegans, but not average moms and dads. As for anyone with a scientific or economic background, if it doesn't prove indigestible, well, then it may make you laugh. Just don't eat it.


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