Morgan Spurlock, the man who shot to fame with his documentary Super Size Me, you know the one, where he ate nothing but McDonald’s for a month and you all watched as he destroyed his body, and then you shrugged and carried on eating it anyway.
Yes, that guy, well he’s back, I say he’s back, he’s not really been away, he’s done various other documentaries over the years, but none have had that same reach as Super Size Me, not outside the USA anyway.
So, he picks up on the Super Size Me mantel and returns, this time setting up his own chicken restaurant, Holy Chicken.
We follow Spurlock as he finds out all about chicken consumption in the US, how the fast food industry (and others) are playing with the publics perception of what ‘healthy’ really is and how you can’t just buy some chickens.
The latter point sees the documentary take a slight, but necessary, diversion into the world of chicken farming in the US and how it is all run by a handful of companies under what’s called ‘the tournament system’.
This means that, whilst a farmer can control where they put the chickens, and pay for all the utilities associated with them, it’s one of three gigantic companies that provide the chickens, and their feed, and determine how much they’re going to pay the farmer, this latter point seems fairly arbitrary.
These behemoths are manipulating the system, deciding which farmer will be ‘flavour of the month’ and who is required to upgrade their coups, regardless of whether it’s strictly necessary or not. Meaning farmers become more and more in debt to the suppliers.
Spurlock also investigates the words often printed on packaging surrounding chicken in the US. Things like ‘all natural’, ‘fresh’, ‘antibiotic free’, and free range. We hear a lot about the drugs put into US meat here in the UK, but it transpires that, where chicken is concerned at least, it’s never been legal to fill them with antibiotics, so don’t pay more for chicken that claims to be free of them, they all are!
The chickens are selectively bred to grow massively in just six weeks, many dying from heart attacks because of their size, featherless because they grow that quick that their feathers can’t keep up.
In order to call his chickens free range they must have some access to go outside. That’s it. They don’t actually have to go outside, they just have to have access, and because these chickens are bread to be raised indoors, even when he provides the outdoors option, none take it.
Spurlock eventually loses the free range award because the feed he’s using contains pork. That’s right, your chickens are fed pork. Lovely.
He meets with a plethora of branding agencies who show him and devise all manner of tricks of the trade to fool you, the general public, into thinking food is healthier than it actually is. Including painting on charcoal strips to make it look like the chicken was grilled. I kid you not.
Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken is a fascinating documentary, however, for all that Spurlock unlocks here, perhaps the most surprising thing is that, regardless of the facts around his restaurant, the photos of the less-than-appealing chickens, people still come, they still eat the food.
Not just that, but Spurlock was invited to give keynote speeches at major industry events and was contacted by four separate companies about franchising his operation. It’s unreal.
The documentary is also heavily US focussed, not to say that there aren’t parallels with other countries, but we just don’t know what they are so you watch with a detached feeling, “that doesn’t happen here”, when, deep down, you know full well it probably does.