supersize me and extrainstitutional influence


I finally watched the documentary Supersize Me – I had to watch it after one of my daughter’s (very) disturbing end-of-year school program (see this post).

The general ethos of the documentary most certainly resonates with me. Growing up in Finland in a wheatgrass-drinking, organic food-eating, celery-chomping, sugar-avoiding, burger-disdaining, and generally health conscious household – it was hard not to buy the argument. However, I certainly do not think that suing fast food outfits is the correct solution, I think ‘the market’ will push companies to start providing healthier options. Also, there’s individual responsibility – eating McDonald’s for three meals a day is completely ridiculous (though brilliant in terms of making a point).


The documentary and the general ethos surrounding it might provide an instance of extra-institutional ‘stakeholder’ influence on a large corporation: the documentary mentions how McDonald’s stopped its supersize program subsequent to the release of the documentary. Research-wise, one could imagine a natural empirical study looking at general media-attention to matters related to health consciousness, and associated change in fast food menus (perhaps even extending into a population-level learning type argument).

Written by teppo

August 6, 2006 at 2:58 am

Posted in current events, teppo

7 Responses

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  1. Why would you expect the market to drive the fast-food industry towards more health consciousness when it’s been moving in the opposite direction for years? In general, Americans use the market to get fat, not healthy.

    I don’t think regulation is the solution either (as the Chicago city council recently proposed), but the market isn’t going to encourage individuals to do anything they aren’t already doing.



    August 6, 2006 at 4:19 am

  2. a sociology of food and eating is desperately needed… In addition to the market mechanism, knowledge might be relevant (knowledge on food, cooking knowledge, knowledge on physiology, experience in “natural” taste etc.) – often, people who really get fat from all the junk food, don’t know how to prepare a good meal for themselves and their children in their own kitchen. We are having “Apfelknödel” tonight … the recipe is more than 100 years old :-)



    August 6, 2006 at 4:31 pm

  3. Tina – sociology of food, I am guessing that there are folks working at the edges of this space – e.g., Bourdieu had some things to say. I don’t know where the fast food issue would fit in, and who has studied it…And, Apfelknödel sounds great! Though, I must say, when I lived in Munich a few years ago the heavy Bavarian cuisine (we had an old school ‘Mahlzeit’-type chef) also is not that healthy (a burger and fries may have been a healthier option).

    Brayden – markets and options. I think there are increasingly healthier options out there, and you can even go to McD and eat a sensible 400-500 calorie meal. I would place the emphasis on individual choice and responsibility, though undoubtedly the US presently has a serious obesity epidemic with social consequences.



    August 6, 2006 at 10:10 pm

  4. bourdieu was a driving force of the idea :-))



    August 8, 2006 at 4:54 pm

  5. I feel obligated to draw your attention to an up and coming superstar in the Sociology of food – my colleague, Samantha Kwan. Check out her paper on the debate over individual choice vs. corporate responsibility vs. “fat acceptance.” She’s trying to bring a social constructionist perspective to food and nutrition and the obesity epidemic.

    Others might say that documentarians like those mentioned here are part of a food service field involved in a contest to redefine what we think of as good food and perhaps even corporate responsibility. When we consider the prevalence of natural food stores, organic produce, vegetarianism and veganism, books about “McDonaldization,” etc., does it make more sense to talk about “extra-institutional” forces or might it be two (or more) fields colliding?



    August 9, 2006 at 12:05 am

  6. Thanks for bringing this paper to my attention Jeff. I had never thought of taking an organizational perspective on the definition of food consumption. Great insight.

    Looks like Sam will be presenting this paper in Montreal.



    August 9, 2006 at 4:05 am

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