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Jewish World Review April 26, 2004/ 5 Iyar, 5764

Suzanne Fields

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Consumer Reports

Downsizing the 'victim' | Call it the McDiet or Ronald McDonalds' Revenge, or Downsizing without the Supersizer, but you really can dine out under the Golden Arches, lose weight and not waste your time finding a lawyer to sue somebody else for the damages you inflict on yourself.

That's what Soso Whaley of Kensington, N.H., an animal trainer and outraged citizen, has set out to prove. For the month of April she's dining out daily only on McDonald's fare, and at the time of this writing she has lost five pounds. Her aim is to drop 10 pounds on a 1,800 daily calorie count. On a typical day she orders a McGriddle sandwich (egg, bacon and cheese) for breakfast, a fish sandwich for lunch and a salad or yogurt parfait for dessert. She doesn't have to clean her plate.

Soso doesn't intend to franchise her menu or try to turn it into a best-selling book, but she does have a point. She's an adjunct fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI); a public policy organization dedicated to free enterprise and limited government. CEI argues that the most fortunate customer is one who isn't fettered by government regulations or lawsuits. The consumer makes free choices. Soso Whaley thinks obesity isn't about what's available, but about what you choose to eat.

Soso, whose name belies her passionate challenge to the powers-that-be, corporate or federal, is a teacher and filmmaker out to emphasize personal responsibility in the pursuit of health and happiness.

Her crusade, which she is documenting with a diary and photographs (available at is in direct reaction to an award-winning documentary film called "Super Size Me!" by Morgan Spurlock, a satirical jab at the fast-food fat boy who is supposedly preyed upon by pernicious purveyors of delicious cheap eats. These sinister pushers of high caloric "junk" food, in the Spurlock scenario, look to hook the hapless, unhappy, unhealthy victim who can't help but put the Big Mac where his mouth is. Mr. Spurlock gained 25 pounds as a performance poster boy to attack the fast-food industry, but he merely provides food for thought(lessness) with his attitude that "McDonalds made me do it".

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"This anti-corporate, anti-fast-food take on the 'evil' McDonalds is nothing more than simple junk science and should be relegated to the comedy section at Blockbuster once it is distributed," says Soso. "I've had it with all the doom, alarmist, anti-everything attitude of certain individuals and organizations who want to control my life, your life, everyone's life with little regard for individual tastes, freedom of choice and personal responsibility."

This is more than a food fight for a political year. Last month the House of Representatives passed what's popularly called the "Cheeseburger Bill" banning class-action lawsuits against food companies for weight-related health problems. Speaker Dennis Hastert put the issue at the feet of the trial lawyers who are big Democratic contributors: "Trial lawyers need to stop encouraging consumers to blame others for the consequences of their actions just so they can profit from frivolous lawsuits against restaurants."

Though the White House supports the bill, it's not likely to pass the Senate. But the issue for voters is more than being able to choose what they put in their tummies, big or not. The fast-food industry employs almost 12 million persons and is the largest employer in the country, second only to the government (speaking of supersize).

McDonalds is sophisticated enough to anticipate increasing numbers of educated consumers. It not only cut out its supersize portions, the chain has recently added the Adult Happy Meal to its menu. If variety is the spice of life, the Happy Meal is but a bland contender of boxed salad, bottled water or diet drink, a book of physical training tips and a pedometer to encourage exercise. Ronald McDonald's new slogan might well be "Less Taste but Good for the Waist".

It shows they're providing choices and that what you order determines what you gain. So let's shut down the blame game that creates "victims" who know better. In Washington, where banquet food is where salmon swims upstream to snuggle next to an inedible hunk of meat on a plate euphemistically described as "surf and turf," the caloric content is certainly supersized but nobody in the working press complains because what they eat is free.

It's long been a cliche in Washington that if you hang a lamb chop in your window, guests will come. The only difference between McDonalds customers and the dinner crowd is that the latter dine on tablecloths. The powerful are as likely to be as portly as the plebes.

"Imprisoned in every fat man," Cyril Connolly once said, "a thin one is wildly signaling to be let out." Only one person in all the world can do that.

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