Q. If no one really eats at McDonald's nonstop for a month, what are people supposed to learn from your work?
While shooting my film and in the months since its release, I've met countless people who eat a regular diet of fast food—most of them in amounts that exceed what we should be consuming on a daily basis. I've met people who eat McDonald's for breakfast, Taco Bell for lunch, and Domino's Pizza for dinner. While most folks may not go solely to McDonald's for every meal of every day, we cannot deny the excessive amounts that many people eat these days, nor the dismissal of the importance of exercise, and the lack of knowledge of the diseases that can be associated with such actions. The film is a fast-forward of what can happen to you after 10, 20, 30 years of eating a diet loaded with fat, sugar, sodium, and caffeine—the key ingredients of many of these fast-food chains. What you see beginning to happen to me in the film can happen to you over time: high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, liver disease, and elevated cholesterol.
Q. What was your original intent, to take a few swings at a giant corporation, or actually institute some sort of social change?
My goal was to create a film that would make people start to look at the choices they make, and want to change their lives. I wanted people to walk out of the cinema and say, "I need to take better care of me. I need to eat better and I need to exercise more." I wanted parents to walk out of the film and say, "I need to be a better role model to my kids. I need to cook more at home. I need to go down to my kid's school and see what they're feeding them." Lastly, I wanted the corporations to realize that they are part of the problem and that they can play a part in shifting this trend by educating their consumers and offering truly healthy options.
Q. So you believe actual good has come from the film?
It has had a dramatic impact on the industry and on consumers. I'm stopped on the street almost daily by people who have started eating less fast food since seeing the film, who are making a commitment to themselves and to their families to lead a healthier lifestyle.
Charlie Bell, CEO of McDonald's, recently gave an interview to the London Times. When he was asked about the impact "Super Size Me" and [Eric Schlosser's best-selling book] Fast Food Nation has had on McDonald's and the industry, he said, "These people have brought issues to the table in varying ways. We don't necessarily agree with the way that they have done it, but we do want to be part of the solution. We have nothing to hide. We welcome criticism. We are on a learning curve."
I agree. This was the sole reason I picked McDonald's for the film. Because if any company could influence the industry toward change, it is McDonald's. But they have a lot to learn, and millions of consumers to educate.
Q. While some in the restaurant industry laud your efforts, others see you as a villain. What do you say to them?
I welcome both. Do I get a plaque recognizing me as a "Villain of the Year"? No matter what your feelings are on how I brought the debate of obesity, consumption, personal vs. corporate responsibility, and our all-American lifestyle into the forefront of industry and dinner time discussion, you cannot deny that the resulting dialogues are putting many people on paths toward a healthier future.