The film “Super Size Me” has acclaimed national attention to America’s growing epidemic: obesity. This documentary was made after lawsuits threw alegations at the McDonald’s corporation, stating that the food served at McDonald’s causes obesity. Based on acting out some of the claims made in the lawsuits, “Super Size Me” revolves around a month in the life of a healthy man who decides to eat three McDonald’s meals every day. This man also restricts his exercise, and researches various aspects of the restaurant chain. What is  obvious is that the consequences of this dietary experience lead to a super sized-unhealthy adult…in just a month. What is less obvious is if McDonald’s is to blame for this health-risk or the autonomous decision made by the man.

Coming from just seeing a clip of this film lead me to begin all sorts of opinionated reasoning inside my head and with my peers. Smaller issues of unhealthy fats and the composition of fast foods arose…as well as larger, more pressing concerns of responsibility, accountability, and media influences on diet. Films like this, though they can be extremely opinionated and blunt undeniably arouse discussion.

As a future English teacher I am on the lookout, always, for topics that will initaite discussions…that could lead to actual thinking. So…how could I use this film to reach a level of productive discussion?

The first part, in my opinion, arises from a comfortable classroom atmosphere. A teacher needs to cultivate a open environment–discussions need to start with high expectations for respect and remain safe for all members and opinions. A teacher, in my opinion, can do this effectively by being the objective negotiator.

Another way to effectively use this film as critical pedagogy is to look at a specific more neutral aspect that the film brings up. How about instead of looking at the issue of obesity and accountability, but look at the overall way that media influences and guides our choices? How about taking a critical eye at fast food companies, and then look at social values of materialistic wealth and the way that we are influenced by the people and media around us? How about looking at a history of our social structure and see really why fast food is so commonplace now?

There are so many issues raised in this movie it would be extremely effective, in a safe environment, to get kids writing!

It would also be a great time to look at the opposite side of the spectrum. What about McDonald’s? What do they have to say about this film? Obviously, the publicity that this film acquired had to affect the McDonald’s corporation. I found an actual web page from MacDonald’s in response to the film. This interactive site tries to take the position that their food can be used in a healthy diet. If you balance their burgers and fries with more healthy menu choices and exercise, no adverse health effects should be seen McDonald’s says:

We do agree with [the film’s] core argument-that if you eat too much and do too little, it’s bad for you. What we don’t agree with is that eating at McDonald’s is bad for you.

This part of the site goes on to explain that McDonald’s has healthier choices on their menus, including bottled water and orange juice to drink instead of pop, salads instead of burgers, and fruit slices instead of fries. It’s your choice, McDonald’s attempts to show–it’s your choice…. With this site, McDonald’s throws a lot of information together, many facts which go completely against the facts stated in the film. They also provide a sample five day all-McDonald’s menu including three meals and two snacks, with what they would consider a “balanced diet.”

Having both the film and the interactive site as resources, teachers could do so much with these, especially to get students to begin writing! After presenting both sides of the issue, teachers could allow their students to write about which they think is a more credible source, or which presents a more believable argument and why. This could even turn into a persuasive writing assignment or speech on various student-chosen subjects.

Bottom line: films and websites like these can provide amazing writing opportunities for students if presented and applied appropriately by the teacher.

“Super Size Me.” Director: Morgan Spurlock. 2004. Website Here

“A Balanced Diet. A Balanced Debate.” McDonald’s Corporation. 2007. Website Here.  

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