Earning an Oscar nomination for his fast food exposé Super Size Me—which debuted out of Sundance in 2004—documentarian Morgan Spurlock is back 13 years later with a sequel to that cultural staple. Titled Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken!, the film provides penetrating insights into the food industry of today—an industry which uses trigger words like “all natural” and “free-range” to sell people on the illusion of health and self-improvement.
In the making of Super Size Me 2, Spurlock ambitiously set out—alongside producing partners Jeremy Chilnick and Matthew Galkin of New York-based production company Warrior Poets—to open up a restaurant of his own. Bringing a food truck to the Toronto Film Festival in support of the doc premiere, Spurlock opened this restaurant not to demonstrate the better restaurant practices that are possible, but to attempt the same deception of consumers that so many restaurants pursue, all to demystify an industry that prefers to keep consumers at a remove.
Sitting down with the Warrior Poets producers at Deadline’s Toronto studio, Spurlock reflected on the unexpected success and cultural impact of the original Super Size Me, and the way in which the food industry has shifted since the time of that film. “When we made the first film 13 years ago, it resonated with audiences in a way that none of us anticipated. It really kind of affected people personally—their families, the choices they made—so we talked about making another film that looked at the food world, and we just felt like now was a great time,” the director explains. “We said, ‘Well, how do we get into this? How do we tell this story?’ and we thought it would be much more interesting to tell it from an industry side, rather than from a consumer side.”
“I think the genesis of what’s happened in the food business since the first Super Size Me is there’s been this wave of what I’d call ‘healthier foods.’ There’s been a massive green washing of the industry, where suddenly salad’s popped up, all these other things that are good for you, better, all natural, fresh—all of these things that make us all believe that these companies have our best interest in mind, that they’re doing things that are better for us.”
He continued: “I think that what the film does a great job of showing is how misleading a lot of this is, how we are continuing to be sold things that take advantage of us, that we are being manipulated as consumers.”
Going into the process of making the doc—and opening his own restaurant—Spurlock had many more questions than answers, led on by his endless curiosity about unexamined facets of American culture. “‘What does it take to open up a restaurant? What goes into it? What are their marketing practices? How do they grow their food? What is everything that goes into those choices that we don’t know about?” Spurlock poses.
Looking at this project at a distance, as the director set out to open up his restaurant, one might wonder: Why chicken? “The whole reason we picked chicken is because it’s the most eaten animal on the planet. There’s 20 billion chickens a year that get eaten around the globe, so this is an insane number,” he says, comparing chicken’s ubiquity to that of the McDonalds franchise observed in Super Size Me, which, every day, feeds more people than “the entire population of Spain.”
“Chicken is that cornerstone, that way of getting in,” he explains. “It’s something that we all believe is better for us, it’s something we all believe is healthier for us, and we felt that it was the best way to tee up a conversation that might actually be able to make people look at things differently.”
For Galkin, the urgency of this project stems from the incessant, ubiquitous madness of false advertising in the food industry, which poses a hidden threat to the health of consumers. “We all feel like the collective marketing of all of these restaurants has reached a fever pitch of the catchphrases in the marketplace of, ‘All natural, organic, free-range,'” the producer explains. “Part of this movie definitely blows the lid off of the entire labeling process. We deal with a lot of topics, but that’s sort of the centerpiece of the film.
“We want to believe, as consumers and as citizens, that our government’s there to protect us—that, at the end of the day, somebody’s going to be there to have our best interest in mind. What the film really shows you is that is not the case,” Spurlock summarizes. “None of these people have your best interest in mind, none of these people are there to look out for you. The entire government agencies are now run by people who come out of the food industry, and the whole goal is just to get you to eat more, to spend more—not to make a better you.”
To view Deadline’s conversation with director Morgan Spurlock and the producers of Super Size Me 2, click above.
Deadline Studio at TIFF 2017 is presented by Calii Love, Watford Group, Philosophy Canada, and Equinox. Special thanks to Dan Gunam at Calii Love for location and production assistance; and Ontario Camera for equipment assistance. Video producer: Meaghan Gable; lighting and camera: Neil Hansen; design: Dialla Kawar; sound recording: Ida Jokinen.