We toss around “supersizing” as if it has always been a word in our language and a concept such a familiar part of life. But it does have a history as a concept, and an origin dating back less than fifty years, according to research from Jill Richardson, author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It, presented in a recent article. I found it both fascinating and horrifying all at once to see how the history unfolded. How did it all begin? Richardson notes:
The idea can be traced back to a man named David Wallerstein, who ran movie theaters in the 1960s. He tried method after method to get his customers to buy more than one order of popcorn. Nothing worked. Then he realized why: people thought they would look like pigs if they bought two popcorns. So he tried increasing sales a different way, by offering a jumbo size popcorn. The trick worked. Popcorn sales went up.
We are all familiar with the notoriously large containers of movie popcorn, so it’s clear the idea caught on. But how? How did one man’s idea become our societal norm in the movie theater and now in our restaurant and fast food chains? She reveals:
Wallerstein’s brilliant idea might have stayed in his theater chain, but in 1968, he became a director of McDonald’s. In the 1970s, the economy was not on McDonald’s’ side, and customers were visiting the restaurants less and less and then only buying very little. Wallerstein convinced the chain to offer larger sizes of fries to boost sales — and, of course, it worked. Incredibly, the large size of fries from the late 1970s is the small size of fries today! The same is true of other menu items. The largest soda in 1955 was a mere seven ounces, smaller than the 12-ounce child size offered today.
And we know that the Morgan Spurlock documentary Super Size Me has left a lingering impression on popular culture as supersizing traveled from the movie theater to McDonald’s. It’s ironic too that the movie popcorn nowadays can have even more calories than some of those super size McDonald’s menu items, yes, including those large fries, which clock in at 500 calories and the large soda at around 400 or 500. A study revealed some of those movie popcorn buckets have as many as 1,200 calories. And if you would like saturated fat with that, you’ll have that too, some 60 grams! But in the end, your full meal at McDonald’s would still prevail should you choose a Big Mac, a large order of fries, a large Coke, and the apple pie, rest assured, that’s 1701 calories and 72 grams of fat, so yes, McDonald’s still “wins.”
And consider, too, it is not just the quantity of the food that has changed over the years, so has the quality (or lack of same!), as Richardson goes on to note:
To help encourage diners to eat more than ever, food manufacturers have discovered how to make all that food go down quick and easy. Former FDA administrator David Kessler calls it “adult baby food” in his book The End of Overeating. In one case, he cites meat that has marinade injected into it with hundreds of needles that tear up the connective tissue, quoting an industry executive who called the meat “pre-chewed.” Another industry source described the food at Chili’s by saying “All of this has been processed such that you can wolf it down fast… chopped up and made ultrapalatable.” Kessler then weighs in, saying, “By eliminating the need to chew, modern food processing techniques allow us to eat faster.”
I highly recommend reading the full article: ‘The History of Supersizing: How We’ve Become a Nation Hooked on Bigger Is Better’. It puts supersizing in its historic perspective and reminds us that we have not always lived super size lives.
Watch video below and see what happens when we turn back the clock to 1967 and we find a McDonald’s commercial before the supersizing era … it’s absolutely quaint!
As always, let us know what you think of supersizing and its history in the comments section!
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