Stu·pid (ˈst(y)o͞opid/)

Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.

–Martin Luther King, Jr.

I had intended to write another post about information from the last Scientific American article. I also plan another recipes post. But my attention was drawn last night to this article, and the stupidity involved was so spectacular that I couldn’t let it pass without a comment.

It really makes me depressed, and what makes me depressed isn’t the behavior of the McDonald’s patrons. Instead it’s the spectacular ignorance of human nature displayed by the designers, analyzers and reporters in question. It’s so stupid that I sat here for a few seconds just now trying to decide if I even had the heart to discuss it.

The article is entitled “Attempt to steer McDonald’s diners toward smaller meals backfires.” All the problems can be summed up in the very first paragraph:

You might think that customers buying their lunch at McDonald’s would order meals with fewer calories if someone handed them a slip of paper reminding them that women should eat no more than 650 calories at lunchtime and men should not exceed 800 calories. But you would be wrong.

Has this author ever met a human being before? That’s what I want to know.

Leave aside questions of whether those calorie counts, or any calorie counts, would actually have any effect. That’s higher reasoning skills than these researchers are capable of. All I want to address is the fact that everyone knows that as soon as you start telling people what to do, their natural instinct is to do exactly the opposite.

Instead, researchers found that diners who received these supposedly helpful reminders actually purchased more calories than those who didn’t, according to a new study in the American Journal of Public Health.

The study authors — from the Department of Social and Decision Sciences at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and Cornell University’s Department of Applied Economics and Management — stood outside two McDonald’s restaurants in Manhattan and Brooklyn. They approached diners on their way in and asked them to save their receipts and conduct a short interview after they ate their lunch.

In addition, some diners were handed information on the number of calories men and women should eat at lunch, and some were given information on the total number of calories men and women should eat in an entire day. A control group was not given any advice on the calorie front.

Sister-In-Law 3 was telling me this summer about my nephew. He’s just turned one and knows the word “no” very well. He was doing something or other recently, and she told him “no.” He looked at her with that winning smile of his, combined with a slight glint to the eyes, and proceeded to go straight back to it and do it again. Any parent that tells you they haven’t seen this same behavior in their own child is lying or blind.

The only thing more idiotic than the behavior of these people in front of the McDonald’s is the impossible contortions the researchers twist themselves into trying to explain what could possibly have happened:

The study authors have a theory. Perhaps their plan backfired because people compared the calorie count of their entree to the calorie information on their slip of paper and got “a false sense of staying within the calorie allowance,” they wrote. That, in turn, may have made them feel safe ordering a bigger soda or to supersize their fries. A Big Mac packs 550 calories, which doesn’t sound so bad, until you add in 500 calories for large fries and 280 calories for a large Coke.

We already know they’re stupid, because they’re eating at McDonalds and are minorities. So probably they can’t add, either.

Anyone can tell you exactly what happened here:

Sanctimonious Know-it-All: Hello, poor and disproportionately-likely-to-be-minority-person-in-this-area! You are stupid!

McDonald’s Patron: Um, what?

SKIA: I know you are stupid, for you are eating at McDonald’s today.

MP: I see.

SKIA: Here is a paper. If you can read, you will notice that it explains that fat men like you should not eat more than 800 calories at lunch. Please bear this in mind when ordering today at McDonald’s. Then please bring your receipt out here afterward so we can see if you are as stupid as we think.

MP: Wow, thanks. I wouldn’t want to lose this paper. I’ve thought of a place you can keep it for me. I can stick it there myself; you mind?

I’ll bet you anything you like that at lot of people who got this ridiculous paper immediately ran in and ordered twice as much food as they planned on, just to spite the sanctimonious know-it-all. I know I would have. I’m not sure if I should admit it, but if someone did this to me at the door of a McDonald’s, I’d immediately go in and order four Big Macs, a couple orders of fries and a bunch of desserts. Of course I’d throw away the desserts and the fries, as well as all the buns in the Big Macs and most of the sauce. But I wouldn’t tell them that, and the article here specifies that these researchers assumed that patrons ate everything they ordered.

And that’s just talking about people who would be made angry by this thinly-veiled accusation that they are too stupid to know what to eat. It doesn’t even take into account the simply mischievous. You know, the ones that just want to mess with the idiots at the door? “Oh, yeah, sure I’ll help you,” and then give fake information about exactly how much they weigh; give fake zip codes; go in and buy weird stuff or unusually large or small quantities just to mess with the researchers’ heads.

If you doubt that these people exist, you clearly haven’t checked your spam folder much lately.

Perhaps the most depressing thing of all is that I went down to the comments, hoping to see some sane people point out these very things. Instead, the first comment was a lot of Freudian nonsense about eating to feed ego and you can’t stop the ego and blah, blah, blah. It feeds their ego to eat at McDonald’s….

Come on, you goofball.

People don’t go to the fast food joint with the worst reputation in the entire world for making us all fat for the purpose of stroking their own ego. And they especially don’t do it after some sanctimonious know-it-all at the door has just reminded them that they’re fat and stupid for doing it.

Other commenters suggested that perhaps these people couldn’t read, and so they couldn’t figure out what the calorie counts were.


And of course, there were the inevitable suggestions that these stupid patrons couldn’t not order all that food because once they walked into McDonald’s they lost all self-control and independent ability of action. Not like the person who wrote the comment, of course, who has the wisdom and self-control to eat only what’s good for him.

All I feel like saying at this point is to quote Tom Naughton in a recent post on a different fast food question:

This is the basic-economics stuff activists…can’t grasp: people don’t buy burgers and fries because fast-food chains sell them; fast-food chains sell them because that’s what people buy. 


Plato says he’s hungry

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2 thoughts on “Stu·pid (ˈst(y)o͞opid/)

  1. What’s actually true is that people really can’t help what they eat at fast food places. The slick advertising and food additives are designed to lure you into eating more and unhealthier. You probably wouldn’t bother to find this out, but studies show that people who go into a fast food place planning to eat grilled chicken almost always choose the fried option. Idiot.

    1. I did a quick hunt for that study. Can’t find it–if you provide a link to it I’ll read it and comment on it. From what you’ve described, all I can say is that people choosing fried chicken over grilled at a cheap eatery is by no means proof that they are somehow forced to do so by the Evil Fast Food purveyors. On the one hand, grilled chicken is disgusting unless it’s done just right–it has to be fresh, and it very quickly and easily becomes dry. When you’re talking about the frozen chicken patty fastfood places use, which is defrosted and then slapped on a grill to be overseen by a 17-year-old making minimum wage, we can all agree good things aren’t going to happen. It’s not shocking people are easily swayed out of eating that garbage.

      On the other hand, fat is good for you. That’s why you crave it. The disgusting seed oils used in industrial fryers and fastfood fry machines is not good for you–but it mimics somewhat the taste of oils and fats that would be good for you, so it makes sense that people crave it. It’s not addictive, nor are they forced to eat it in any way, but it is perfectly natural to crave it since it mimics in flavor something that is very good for you: fat–covered protein. And, incidentaly, Southern grandma’s and fast food joints alike used to fry in healthy lard and butter. It was activists like CSPI sticking their noses in where they didn’t belong that got McDonald’s to stop using lard and start using cancerous Frankenoils like they do now.

      Finally, I would like to express my deepest sympathies to you. It must be terribly hard on you, being forced to eat fast food all the time. I’m sorry those companies have been tricking you into eating their food all the time.

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