As an incoming freshman to Santa Clara University, I was largely unaware of the issues involved with the food we consume daily. Sure, I knew that the animals in factory farm were treated unethically and I had heard that GMOs were not great for your health, but I did not know how bad it was. But, now that I have two quarters of college under my belt, that has changed.
Through my critical thinking and writing class, I have researched the food industry. Extensively. Our class focused on food, self, and culture, which eventually developed into the broader topics of human, animal, and machine. With the aid of primary and secondary research, class discussions, and assigned readings, I have gained a new and complex understanding of the horrible things occurring in our food industries today. And, while the practices utilized in factory farms are unbelievably inhumane and the food we eat is killing us, the aspect that interested me the most is the effect food has on our mental health. The psychological side of food is one that is often overlooked. Maybe because it doesn’t seem as pressing as the ethical treatment of workers or animals. But, it is important – it is the ethical treatment of the consumer.
Morgan Spurlock became a household name after his celebrated documentary, Super Size Me premiered in 2004. Spurlock, an independent American filmmaker, took on the challenge of eating McDonald’s three times a day for thirty days. He did this to explore the long-term effects of fast food. The film quickly opened the public’s eyes to the consequences of a fast food diet. He set strict restrictions on himself. For one, he was only allowed to consume food that was offered at McDonald’s. Besides walking as much as an average United States’ citizen would: five thousand steps per day (that was a number provided during the film by the former editor of Walking Magazine, Mark Fenton), no outside exercise was permitted. Spurlock gained a total of twenty-five and a half pounds during the thirty-day process. But, the weight gain was expected. What was not predicted was the way that the food would effect Spurlock’s mental health. After filming, he articulated, “I felt depressed and exhausted most of the time, my mood swung on a dime…”. Spurlock’s experience is one mirrored by our own experiences with eating fast food.
Studies are showing that fast food can lead to a higher risk of developing depression, as seen in Spurlock. The weight gain that comes hand-in-hand with a diet containing highly processed foods is a key factor in the depression. A study supervised by scientists from the University of Granada, offers support for Spurlock claims. Published in the Public Health Nutrition journal in 2012, the study provides proof that there is a direct link between fast food and depression. The journal reported that after only six months, 493 participants were diagnosed with depression. It was revealed that participants who ate the most fast food were “more likely to be single, less active and have poor dietary habits…” (Link).
The look, colors, and branding of McDonald’s also influences us on a psychological level. They provide a consistent experience every time you enter its doors. “Each time our customers enter a McDonald’s restaurant, they enter the McDonald’s brand” (Restaurant). Its interiors are a part of their branding and the stronger the branding, the more likely you are to associate what you are eating with the brand itself. According to color analyst, Judy Scott-Kemmis, the colors used in branding impact our mood and how we eat. Red, a dominant color found in McDonald’s, “can stimulate the appetite, often being used in restaurants for this purpose. It also increases craving for food and other stimuli” (Scott-Kemmis). Yellow, another color frequently used “can be anxiety producing as it is fast moving and can cause us to feel agitated” (Scott-Kemmis). These two colors are featured everywhere in the world of McDonald’s, causing patrons to feel hungrier then they might be, increase cravings, and cause them to eat quickly.
Not only is fast food damaging us mentally, but these establishments know how our brain works and are tricking us with words like “low-fat” and “low-calorie”. Costumers have been requesting better options and they are being provided. Well, sort of. Salads are now being offered in addition to fruits and vegetables. Ordering a salad makes us feel like we are being healthy. Everything we have been taught about basic nutrition is that salads are good for us, so we congratulate ourselves when we choose the green leaves over a juicy hamburger. Yet, if you take a look at the McDonald’s website, you will see the how we have been tricked. According to their nutrition page, a salad has 450 calories. That is only one hundred less then a big mac, which has 550 calories. By using trigger words like “salad” and “low-fat”, fast food companies are deceiving our brains.
Why does this matter? Well, it seems that McDonald’s and other establishments have found their way into our heads and know what will cause us to crave their food. The examples above are only some of the way in which our mind is being taken advantage of. The culture that fast food has created has left us yearning for a fast-paced lifestyle that is only causing us harm. It is changing our psychology towards food and eating. We must take a step backwards and regain control of our eating habits. Before we put food into our mouth, it would be valuable to stop and think about how we came to this choice. Doing so will help us to make better choices for ourselves. Putting ourselves first will improve our health, mental and physical. And, by doing so, the consumption of meat will decrease, which will aid in solving the problems found in factory farms. We must take care of ourselves in order to take care of others.
Big Mac vs. Salad. Digital image. http://www.bbc.com/news/health-18767425. N.p., 11 July 2012. Web.
Golden Arches. Digital image. Http://spoki.tvnet.lv/upload2/articles/67/673125/images/_origin_Fakti-par-McDonalds-4.jpg. N.p., n.d. Web.
“Link between Fast Food and Depression Confirmed.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, n.d. Web. 09 Feb. 2014.
“Restaurant Interior.” McDonald’s Virtual Press Office. McDonald’s Europe, 2014. Web. 13 Feb. 2014.
Scott-Kemmis, Judy. “The Color Red.” Empowered By Color. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Feb. 2014.
Scott-Kemmis, Judy. “The Color Yellow.” Empowered By Color. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Feb. 2014.
Super Size Me Poster. Digital image. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0390521/. N.p., 2004. Web.
“Super Size Me: Quotes.” IMDb. IMDb.com, 2004. Web. 13 Feb. 2014. <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0390521/quotes>.