Greetings again from the darkness. What we expect in a documentary is a presentation of the topic in a manner slightly slanted towards the filmmaker’s beliefs. What we hope for in a documentary is to learn something new or to be exposed to a different way of looking at a subject. We don’t typically expect a great many laughs or even a film with significant entertainment value. For those who recall Morgan Spurlock’s 2004 Oscar nominated SUPER SIZE ME, you likely won’t be surprised that his latest is heavy on humor and entertainment, and a bit light on education. Still, his formula works – and we allow ourselves to be dragged along.
Spurlock kicks the film off by announcing that he wants to open his own fast food restaurant. He proceeds to confer with some celebrity chefs, a marketing firm, and a business strategist. Capitalizing on his success as a documentary filmmaker is a key element to the strategy, and of course, his mission is to once again expose the fast food industry for perpetuating myths of healthier fast food options.
He legitimately asks, “Have things gotten better?” We are meant to interpret this as … have things gotten better since 2004 when Spurlock documented his self-imposed all-McDonalds food every meal for an entire month. It’s at this point where the research kicks in. Facts and statistics are discussed. We learn that 44% of us eat fast food regularly, and that chicken overtook beef a couple of years ago as the protein of choice. We first assume this must be due to consumers making the “healthier” choice, but then we are informed that fried chicken outsells grilled chicken – and the gap is widening.
The most interesting segment of the movie occurs as the buzzwords and their meanings are discussed. Having “nutrition” broken down from a marketing perspective truly exposes the outright fraud being perpetrated on the public. “Health Halo” is the moniker applied to descriptions like “fresh”, “all-natural”, and “no added hormones”. Even “crispy” is used in place of the more accurate “fried”, which is obviously a word no consumer would associate with healthy food. Spurlock is in his element when providing a startling visual for what qualifies as “free range” according to the FDA.
‘Big Chicken’ is compared to ‘Big Oil’, as 5 corporations control 99% of the chicken farming industry: Tyson, Perdue, Pilgrims, Koch Foods, and Sanderson Farms. We get an explanation of how these corporations apply enormous pressure on the farmers, keeping them in a constant state of debt – or worse for farmer Jonathan Buttram who has been blackballed for helping Spurlock make this movie. Spurlock bounces from Columbus, Ohio to Boulder, Colorado to Tennessee to Kentucky to Washington, D.C, to Alabama; and from Chick-Fil-A to Wendy’s to 7-11 to Popeye’s, and even to McDonalds – Spurlock’s first visit in 12 years to the establishment that put him on the movie map.
Very little new information is provided here, but Spurlock does what he does best – entertain with examples of extremes. While his “fried grilled” chicken sandwich is a publicity stunt, the real story is how menus and labels are used to manipulate the consumer, many who don’t seem to much care.