The McDonald’s Big Mac is the standard unit of fast food iconography. It has 560 calories, roughly half of one’s daily saturated fat, and when paired with a side of fries and a soda, it comprises an essential cornerstone of the American culinary experience. The Big Mac is also associated with a lifestyle of glut—a facet of its image that the burger chain has been eager to downplay.
Prompted by the addition of the Go Active! Happy Meal to McDonald’s menu, Meat Helmet is an absurdist proposal for a passive exercise machine that is intended to appeal to the company’s health conscious marketing. The helmet is constructed to help customers burn calories through the activity that McDonald’s patrons enjoy most: chewing. In doing so, Meat Helmet permits its users to continue an endless cycle of consumption, to the benefit of McDonald’s sales, while also helping to craft the healthy physique that the company hopes will be associated with its customers.
The Meat Helmet is easy to use and less taxing than standard gym equipment. To operate it, users simply strap on the harness and input the number of calories they seek to burn. A computer interface then prompts them to start their training session and begins to operate the helmet’s pneumatic “air muscles.” These “air muscles” force the user to chew at a regular interval, and continues until the user has met their goal.
Meat Helmet is both a delightful provocation and a withering critique, At the standard rate of forced chewing, one would have to “exercise” for eight hours a day in order to shed the calories from a single Big Mac. This fact underlies both food’s dubious nutritional value as well as the inanity of sedentary exertion. By fusing lifestyle and dietary choices within a single device, Meat Helmet is designed to reveal, rather than conceal, the contradictions inherent with health-conscious fast food.