Michael Pollan reviews Greg Critser’s new book Fat Land: How Americans Became the Fattest People in the World.
Some of the credit for creating this new environment belongs to an unheralded businessman by the name of David Wallerstein, the man Critser says introduced ”supersizing” to America. Today Wallerstein is an executive with McDonald’s, but back in the 1960’s he worked for a chain of movie theaters, where he labored to expand sales of soda and popcorn — the high-markup items that theaters depend on for their profitability. Wallerstein tried everything he could think of to goose sales — two-for-one deals, matinee specials — but found he couldn’t induce customers to buy more than one soda and one bag of popcorn. Why? Because going for seconds makes people feel like pigs.
But Wallerstein discovered that people would spring for more popcorn and soda — a lot more — as long as it came in a single gigantic serving. Thus was born the Big Gulp and, in time, the Big Mac and jumbo fries. Though Ray Kroc himself took some convincing: the McDonald’s founder had naively assumed that if people wanted more fries they’d buy another bag. He didn’t appreciate how social taboos against gluttony (one of the seven deadly sins, after all) were holding us back. Wallerstein’s dubious achievement was to devise the dietary equivalent of a papal dispensation: Supersize it!