Morgan Spurlock Is Opening His Own Fast-Food Restaurant
Believe it or not, it’s been 12 years since Morgan Spurlock achieved fame by chronicling the effects on his body during his monthlong, self-imposed experiment consuming a McDonald’s-only diet, which became the film Super Size Me. After all, the image from the movie poster—a wide-eyed Spurlock, his mouth stuffed with french fries—hasn’t quite disappeared from our collective cultural consciousness. What’s the renegade director up to nowadays?
It may come as something of a surprise (and yet, no surprise at all) to learn that Spurlock is gearing up to open his own fast-food restaurant in Columbus, Ohio—a relative hop, skip, and a jump from his home state of West Virginia. The “no surprise” part? Rather than the tangled global supply chains and dubious claims to sustainability that often characterize fast-food chains, Spurlock’s Holy Chicken! promises grab-and-go grub that is “made and backed with integrity and openness, including closing the loop in sustainability by raising our own chickens,” according to a company statement. “The food is not only hormone free, it’s antibiotic free, cage free, free range, farm raised, humanely raised and 100 percent natural!”
Spurlock “is determined to prove that fast food doesn’t have to be unhealthy,” reported IndieWire. He’s a little late to the game.
Super Size Me—along with Eric Schlosser’s best-selling 2001 book, Fast Food Nation—brought a new level of skepticism to the fast-food industry, transforming the public perception of a mainstay of American popular (food) culture from, at worst, a guilty pleasure into something more like an insidious social ill. But Spurlock’s latest venture might seem like a latecomer to the revolution his film helped to inspire.
Year after year, growth in the fast-casual segment of the U.S. restaurant industry—which includes popular chains, like Panera Bread and Chipotle, that have made fresher, healthier, more sustainable eating central to their business model—has outstripped growth for conventional fast-food chains overall. In 2015, fast-casual restaurants grew 11.6 percent, according to the market research firm Technomic, just a slight dip from the 13.5 percent growth rate posted the year before. Those are about double the rate for the restaurant industry as a whole.
There’s been an explosion in quick-serve restaurants offering kale-and-grain alternatives to the classic burger and fries and plenty of feel-good variations on the burger-and-fries classic as well. In Boston, for example, at b.good you can get an “all-natural, house-ground” burger made from beef sourced from a “Maine-based co-op of family farms.” While these trendy lunchtime haunts often cluster in the hip urban hubs of blue state America, the big players have hurried to hop on the food-with-integrity bandwagon too. Hardly a week seems to pass without one chain or the other announcing a commitment to antibiotic-free chicken or cage-free eggs or no artificial ingredients. For any number of commentators, that McDonald’s, the target of Spurlock’s landmark documentary, now has kale on the menu would suggest that the tipping point toward healthier, more sustainable fast food in America has come.
Not so fast.
Among the many characterizations of Donald Trump that have been made, it would seem the prospect of his soon being sworn in as America’s “fast food president,” per a New York Times article, should perhaps be among the least of progressives’ worries. Yet as with so many of our president-elect’s retrograde positions, his unapologetic embrace of Big Macs and buckets of KFC can be seen as part of his nativist movement’s crusade to “retake” American culture. This would, in part, seem to include a repudiation of the Obama-era emphasis on healthier, more sustainable fare and a restoration of McDonald’s Super Size option as one of those things that might just make America great again.
After Spurlock cuts the ribbon at Holy Chicken!, he might consider a rerelease of Super Size Me—if only as a refresher course in why we needed a fast-food revolution in the first place.