Don't Eat This Book
By Morgan Spurlock
For those of you who've been on another planet for the past year or so, Morgan Spurlock is a filmaker who spent an entire month eating nothing but McDonald's food and filming the decline in his health, expanding waistline and other alarming consequences of this damaging diet.
The result was the gripping documentary, Super Size Me, which earned a well-deserved Oscar nomination.
Don't Eat This Book, although an obvious offshoot of the film, is a worthy project in its own right, with plenty to offer Spurlock fans and newbies alike.
If you've seen the movie, you'll appreciate the behind the scenes perspectives revealed in Don't Eat This Book. But the main thrust of the book should appeal to anyone with an interest in the fast food industry and its role in modern society. Certainly, if you're a parent or teacher who cares what children eat, you should own this book.
The title - Don't Eat This Book - is a spoof on the warning labels emblazoned on virtually every US product.
The warnings are aimed at warding off court cases from the kinds of people people not only stupid enough to put their hands into a whirring grass cutter or to mistake silcone gel sneaker inserts for mints, but also shameless enough to blame the manufacturer for their ensuing, and well-deserved, misfortune.
Spurlock has no time for such frivilous litigation. But he convincingly argues that such cases are very different from the kinds of class actions being pursued against giant tobacco and food companies.
It should be obvious to anyone but the most brain dead that putting your hand into a power mower's blades is bad for you. But until recently it was not so obvious that cigarettes and fast food were bad for you.
For decades tobacco companies hid evidence that their product was a health hazard, cunningly designed to be addictive. At the same time they spent staggering amounts of money on marketing to create the image that cigarettes were "cool".
With the success of the initial tobacco class actions, attitudes began to change.
As Spurlock points out, "Suddenly it was apparent that sticking a cigarette in your mouth was not quite the same thing as sticking those sneaker mints in your mouth. No one spent billlions and billions of dollars in marketing, advertising and promotions telling that guy those sneaker mints would make him cool, hip and sexy. Big Tobacco did exactly that to smokers."
He spends much of the rest of Don't Eat This Book building a similarly damning case against the fast food industry.
The parallels are inescapable. Fast food chains like MacDonalds spend billions on convincing kids that eating their unhealthy, fattening products will make you popular and cool.
Their "Super Size" policy, cynically designed to prey on the natural human instinct to get value for money, is roundly criticised, with the author's own experience in filming Super Size Me serving as chief witness for the prosecution.
And if it wasn't hard enough to keep your kids from eating junk food outside of school, there's the growing trend of fast food chains to offer funds to cash-strapped schools in exchange for branding and advertising opportunities. In several cases, fast food chains have even set up shop inside school cafeterias.
Thankfully, all is not doom and gloom. Spurlock heaps praise on schools that provide healthy, local food in their cafeterias. He also provides advice and a list of resources for parents and teachers seeking to turn the tide in their own communities.
This, combined with Spurlock's casual, humorous writing style make for a quick, breezy and ultimately optimistic read. If you prefer a more measured, investigative style of journalism, Don't Eat This Book may be a little lightweight for your liking - Eric Schlosser's brilliant Fast Food Nation will probably be more to your taste.
But buy Spurlock's book anyway and give it to your children, grandchildren or local school. In fact, its accessibility makes Don't Eat This Book an ideal educational tool, especially when combined with Spurlock's Super Size Me documentary.
I'll end with one word of caution. If you do print out this review, please don't eat it. It may give you indigestion and I can't afford the lawsuit!
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