Five Minutes With
If you can’t quite place him, he’s the guy with all the fries in his mouth. Morgan Spurlock, everyone’s favorite McDonald’s critic, has returned to the limelight after 2004’s critical and financial success Supersize Me. Aside from picking up an Academy Award nomination, the film ranks as the third highest grossing documentary of all time. Now, after some serious detox and the release of Don’t Eat This Book, which chronicled the impact of the film, Spurlock is back with a TV series for FX Networks called 30 Days. The premise? Switching things up – the first episode of six finds Manhattanites Spurlock and his fiancee Alex Jamieson living on the minimum wage in Ohio for, you guessed it, 30 days. Other episodes include a Christian fundamentalist living with a Muslim family and a homophobe living with a gay couple in San Francisco. Wife Swap for the Nickel and Dimed crowd, perhaps?
The day before the Center for American Progress hosted the D.C. premiere of 30 Days, Campus Progress had a chance to talk to Mr. Spurlock himself about the living wage, the red state/blue state divide, and his secret vegan agenda (shhh!). Enjoy, but please – don’t eat this interview.
CP: What surprised you the most as you were filming 30 Days?
MS: For me there were a lot of things that were surprising. One is just how difficult it is, how stressful it is to live check to check. It was an incredible strain on my relationship with [my fiancée] Alex. Suddenly we were exhausted when we were around each other. We had no energy to really give to one another. We were so tired at the end of the day. We ate dinner together, and then we were just done. You know, you see how the quality of your life devoted to relationships can really deteriorate quickly. One thing we talk about on the show is that it’s no surprise that families that making less than $25,000 a year are twice as likely to get divorced as a family that makes $50,000 a year.
CP: So, the experience obviously affected every area of your life. As someone who seems pretty focused on food, how did living on the cheap affect the way that you eat?
MS: Luckily, Alex is a great cook, and Alex is just really talented and sensible. We were living on about $35 a week for groceries but she was cooking very healthily, a lot of fruit and vegetables and rice and beans. You know, the only food that we ate out of boxes, like prepared food loaded with preservatives and sugar and stuff, was food we got from the food pantry. So, the free food that they give people was the unhealthiest food we got. I went to a few different food pantries – every time I went to a food pantry, they gave me a whole cake. I got a full-on cake! I got boxes of sugary cereal, and candy and all this stuff, the quality was unbelievably bad.
If it had just been me on my own, it would have been so much more difficult. It’s so much easier to just come home and throw some microwaveable thing in – well we didn’t have a microwave – but to have thrown something in the oven that you just whip out of a box and heat up, you know food that’s just loaded with a lot of chemicals.
CP: Clearly, the show resonates with folks working on living wage and minimum wage issues. Where do you want to take this living wage debate?
MS: It really has to hit home with the people making those salaries, and it has to hit home with the people who are paying those people these salaries. For me it just seems like the debate is falling short in the federal government. I’ve been really surprised to see state legislatures really taking it upon themselves to change their own state minimum wages, like what just happened in Florida in the last election. I think that you have to focus state-wide, because I think that the federal is just never gonna happen.
CP: Why is the living wage conversation such a partisan one in general?
MS: It seems to me like the partisan divide is much more about the people who are pro-business vs. people who are pro-citizen. And the long line of Republican stances have been pro-corporate. And that’s what you’re seeing – that’s where the divide is. This is the longest the country has ever gone without raising the minimum wage. The question is, are we going to see a change during this presidency? It would be great if we did, but I don’t know if that’s going to happen.
CP: Well, you’ve definitely tackled this issue in a pretty interesting way. It seems to be something you have a knack for. Do you feel like it helps you reach a different audience?
MS: For me the key is to put an issue in context. When you’re just reading about it and you’re hearing about it, there’s no face to an issue. And by my going through this journey, suddenly there’s a conscience, there’s a personality, there’s something that you can now attach to the struggle and the problems that are happening, putting it in a much different context than just seeing the news story on television or reading about it in a newspaper.
CP: Definitely. You clearly showed your talents for doing that with Supersize Me. What was the most outrageous response you saw in response to Supersize Me?
MS: Oh, well, I love the conservative lobby groups in Washington DC that love to say I’m doing this to push my vegan agenda. Me, me – one of the greatest carnivores on the planet. The guy who dies for bacon, ham, and steak. Believe me, my vegan girlfriend will be the first person to tell you that that’s not the case. But I love that. I love that they say that because my girlfriend is vegan, then I’m just trying to push an agenda. For me that’s the greatest.
CP: What about the fact that you’re from West Virginia? You’re basically a red-stater with blue politics.
MS: You gotta think that West Virginia was a Democratic state for a long time. You know West Virginia was the state that got Kennedy elected. Look at Sen. Byrd, Sen. Rockefeller. We had been a Democratic state for a long time. It’s only in recent years that it’s sort of swayed towards Republican voting. So for me, I’m just carrying on a long tradition of West Virginia ideals.
CP: So in some of these states like West Virginia, are we being too simplistic by naming them red or blue?
MS: After the 2000 election, everyone really jumped on the bandwagon with this driven by the news. You know, people from blue states drink lattes, and people from red states only like coffee, and suddenly there’s all these things that have been likened to each of them. And I think for me, it’s just pushing the divide in this country further. We need to think like we’re citizens of America; we are. Believe me – minimum wage and poverty is not a red state or a blue state issue; poverty is an American issue.
Check out the rest of our coverage on the minimum wage and living wage issues:
Cents and Sensibility
Students fight and win on living wage at campuses nationwide.
Campus Debate Crib Sheet: Living Wage
Right-Wingers tell you why it can’t work. We tell you why they’re wrong.
Illustration: Matt Bors
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