When it was released in 2004, Super Size Me grossed $11 million, a blockbuster total for a documentary. The film also scared McDonalds enough to change its menu, offering “healthier” options and getting rid of the “super-size” designation. Have things really improved in the fast food world, though? Morgan Spurlock returns to answer that question with Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken! While it lacks the revelatory impact of its predecessor, this follow-up is still informative, entertaining, and slightly disturbing.
Having already tackled burgers and fries, Spurlock sets his sights on another widely-consumed menu item: chicken. He decides to open his own fast food restaurant focusing on chicken sandwiches. This allows him to see how the process works first-hand. Problems begin immediately as he discovers “Big Chicken” – the major chicken companies like Purdue and Tyson – control the vast majority of American chicken farms. This gives them an inordinate amount of power. If a farmer does something they don't like, that farmer might be supplied with poor chicks to raise. That, in turn, gives them less to sell, often leaving them in overwhelming debt.
Once he has his own farm established, Spurlock is informed that most of the labels put on chicken products are meaningless. “Free range,” for example, only means that chickens must be allowed the opportunity to walk outside, if they want to. There are no actual regulations. Other buzz phrases like “farm to table” and “all-natural” are similarly more about making consumers feel good than about providing any sort of useful information.
That leads to the biggest revelation. In meetings with PR and marketing reps, Spurlock is told that “health halos” are a major thing in fast food. Restaurants use psychological tricks, like literally painting grill marks on fried chicken, to give the impression that food products are healthier than they really are. These can range from calling food “crispy” instead of “fried” (because “crispy” sounds healthier) to having pictures of idyllic-looking farms on the wall, despite the fact that chicken farms look fairly horrific.
The finale of Holy Chicken finds the filmmaker getting his restaurant open in Ohio. He vows complete transparency with his customers. Everything he has learned about the fast food/chicken connection is represented in the establishment, and watching diners find out the truth is illuminating.
Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken! probably won't have the impact that the original did. Nevertheless, its in-depth look at how companies attempt to convince consumers that what they're eating is healthy when it's really not hits a nerve. At the very least, viewers will not fall for such tricks anymore.
out of four
Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken! is rated PG-13 for brief strong language. The running time is 1 hour and 33 minutes.