Robust health requires nothing more than a little exercise and a daily dose or three of fast food. That’s the message of the new 20-minute video 540 Meals: Choices Make the Difference (viewable here, short teaser above), being promoted in high schools and middle schools by McDonald’s and uncovered by the superb school-food blogger Bettina Elias Siegel.
The video focuses on the dietary and exercise regimen of John Cisna, who identifies himself as an “Iowa HS [high school] Science Teacher who lost over 50 lbs eating only McDonald’s,” who “now travel[s] across the country sharing my message about food choice.” Cisna gained notoriety when he mimicked the self-experiment of documentarian Morgan Spurlock, the director and subject of the famed Super Size Me (2004), by taking his meals exclusively at McDonald’s for six months straight. Unlike Spurlock, who saw his weight rise and his health falter, Cisna claims his weight plunged and his health improved. One key difference: Whereas Spurlock famously assented to any plea by a McDonald’s employee to “supersize” his orders, Cisna stuck rigorously to a limit of 2,000 calories per day.
Apparently still haunted by the specter of Super Size Me a decade since its release, McDonald’s embraced Cisna, taking him on as a paid “brand ambassador” and now pushing his message to school kids, both through the 540 Meals film and through appearances at schools, documented on Cisna’s Twitter feed. Siegel uncovered this McDonald’s-produced “teachers discussion guide” to 540 Meals. It recommends using the film “as a supplemental video to current food and nutritional curriculum,” particularly in “plans that incorporate Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me.” She also points to this August press release from McDonald’s franchisees in the New York tri-state area, flogging 540 Meals to “high school educators looking for information to demonstrate the importance of balanced food choices.”
As Siegel shows in this handy list of quotes from the film, it brims with agitprop for the famous burger-and-fries purveyor, including such wisdom as “through careful planning and mindful choices, you can still enjoy your favorite McDonald’s items.”
So what’s wrong with pushing Cisna’s message to school kids? Plenty, writes Siegel in her post, which is well worth reading in its entirety. Here’s a sample:
First, neither 540 Meals nor the discussion guide ever offer young viewers the critically important disclaimer that “Your calorie needs may be significantly lower than John Cisna’s,” nor do they even discuss how one might go about calculating one’s daily caloric requirements. Instead, students are left with the vague but reassuring message that “choice and balance,” along with a 45-minute walk (which might burn off about 1/5 of a Big Mac) will allow them to eat whatever they want at McDonald’s on a regular basis.