July 17, 2007

Should we force restaurants to show calorie counts?

Would you like to see the calorie count displayed on the menu? Consider this:
If you were watching calories, would you go for the chicken Caesar salad at Chili’s or the classic sirloin steak? Subway’s tuna or roast beef sandwich? A Starbucks chai or a cappuccino?...

The chicken Caesar salad at Chili’s is one of those items that might appear to be a healthier choice, but brace yourself: it contains 1,010 calories and 76 grams of fat, while the sirloin has 540 calories and 42 grams of fat (not counting side dishes).

Nor is a tuna sandwich the low-calorie choice at Subway: it has 530 calories, significantly more than the roast beef sandwich, which has 290. And a chai latte almost always has 100 more calories than a cappuccino of the same size prepared with the same kind of milk....

Some entrees and appetizers provide a staggering amount of calories in a single dish, sometimes more than the 2,000 recommended daily for the average adult. Notorious among nutritionists is the Bloomin’ Onion at Outback Steakhouse, a battered, deep-fried onion resembling a flower that is served with a dipping sauce. The damage, nutritionists say, is about 2,200 calories and more than 100 grams of fat, most of it trans fat.
The sheer difficulty of estimating the calories in restaurant food suggests why it would be good to see the numbers, but a law requiring restaurants to show the numbers has some problems. For one thing only some restaurants are covered -- chain restaurants.

Why pick on chain restaurants? Is their food any more fattening or mystifying than the food served in nonchain restaurants? What is a nonchain but a local restaurant that hasn't branched out yet? Is there some idea that a chain restaurant has standardized the product, so it's easier for it to come up with calorie counts? But small differences in preparation can affect the calorie count -- like using 6 tablespoons of dressing instead of 4-- and that can make the displayed counts wrong. Are you going to punish these restaurants if they don't get their cooks to calibrate the ingredients precisely?

Wouldn't it be better to let businesses decide whether they want to respond to customer demand for calorie counts? To facilitate this market process, a more helpful law would be one that excluded any punishment or action for fraud if a restaurant got the calorie count wrong, so that a restaurant that wanted to try to provide this information wouldn't take too much risk. (Remember the low-fat frozen yogurt episode of "Seinfeld"?)

The law could require some additional notice before the restaurant could take advantage of the exclusion from liability, something like: This calorie count is only an estimate and may be incorrect. Please use your own judgment. Then, let anyone who cares about overeating learn a little about portion size and the density of calories in various foods. We may end up just as fat, but we have a chance of getting a little smarter.

83 comments:

Paddy O. said...

I would also like to see menus include exercise advice that would address the specific calorie count of an item and preferably waiters who are also personal trainers. "So, that's the steak, followed up by a 2 mile run and twenty minutes of weight training."

Maybe they could also include fashion advice on how best to highlight the effects of any particular dish.

Mike said...

"Wouldn't it be better to let businesses decide whether they want to respond to customer demand for calorie counts?"

OK, I'm finally beginning to see why you're reviled by the liberal side of the bench.

Welcome to the Dark Side, Ann. You'll like it. It's freer over here.

MadisonMan said...

The implicit assumption in displayed calorie counts is that the consumer is too much of a moron to figure things out on his or her own.

Gee, who would have thought that a batter-fried onion might have a lot of calories!? I'm shocked! Shocked I tell you.

Justin said...

MadisonMan said...

The implicit assumption in displayed calorie counts is that the consumer is too much of a moron to figure things out on his or her own.

Not necessarily. Sure, anyone who doesn't know that a Bloomin' Onion is a heart attack on a plate is a moron. But that's different from not know if the vegetables were cooked in whole butter, low-fat margarine, or oil. It can make a big difference in the calorie count.

Now, this doesn't exactly mean that the restaurant has to provide the calorie count. They could just list the ingredients. But it also doesn't mean the customer is a moron.

Henry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David said...

The real problem is that people think that it is dieting to think of something really fattening they could theoretically eat, and then eat something somewhat less fattening.

Mike said...

MM said: "The implicit assumption in displayed calorie counts is that the consumer is too much of a moron to figure things out on his or her own."

Yep. None of the examples Ann provides is surprising to someone who cares about calories. And those who don't care aren't going to use the calorie count information if it's provided.

To Justin's comment: There is no magic elixer you can fry a Bloomin Onion in to make it low fat.

If we must have a calorie count law, I do see the logic behind requiring this only for chains. With a standardized menu and more resources, it'd be less of a burden on them.

Henry said...

The other assumption is that Calorie Counts are meaningful data.

What about fat counts? How about allergen information? What's worse -- for many people to get fat or for some few people to go into anaphylactic shock and die?

Wouldn't it be better to let businesses decide whether they want to respond to customer demand for calorie counts?

Exactly. There are a lot of restaurants that publish nutritional information on their menus -- spa restaurants.

And there is a national chain that positions itself as a low calorie alternative -- Subway.

So what the hell?

Troy said...

"This calorie count is only an estimate and may be incorrect. Please use your own judgment."

That sentence encapsulates modern Americ'a sense of commitment. I concur with the freedom position: I want Chili's to put calories on the menu because I ask and get my freinds to ask, not because Nurse Bloomberg makes them do it. Besides, there are plenty of websites with calorie counts. Calorie King, dottisweightlosszone.com, etc.

Put THAT on t-shirt troll boy.

Troy said...

Come on David.... If I can save a couple of hundred calories drinking Diet Coke with my chicken-fried steak smothered in gravy and my Bloomin' Onion appetizer and ginormous chocolate orgy volcano cake what's the harm? Besides -- I had the salad with bleu cheese dressing -- on the side (before I smothered said salad with it. -- "On the side" is code for I want to appear healthy, but I like to lick the finger bowl afterwards.") It adds like, 2 minutes to the end of my life.

the Rising Jurist said...

Ruby Tuesday did this for a while (they may still) and I hated it. I don't go out to eat food that's good for me. Seeing the calorie count just makes it that much harder to enjoy the meal guilt-free.

MadisonMan said...

People who are interested in calorie counts should ask their server how the food is prepared. If they can't find out, eat elsewhere. Even if they don't want to tell you, there are creative ways of asking: I'm very allergic to most oils: are your foods prepared with only butter or olive oil, just about the only oils I can tolerate?

Jeff said...

Bloomberg's Uber-Nanny State is already way ahead of the rest of the country - a new law there mandates that chain (and only chain) restaurants have to display complete nutritional information for every possible combination of food on their menu boards.

Wendy's, unsurprisingly, told them to go to hell, as that would make their menu boards three miles long:

http://www.wendys.com/nyc.jsp

hdhouse said...

bloomberg is right on issues of public health.

the calorie counts and fat content don't have to be exact but close so that we have an idea.

what is the problem with this? aside from the typical neo-gop over reach rants.

Troy said...

Dave -- the Wendy's one -- not the troll -- would be proud. Troll Dave may be proud too, but who cares?

Troy said...

hdhouse... it's called "liberty". Why should Wendy be forced -- exposed to liability, fines, etc. to do something any individual with half a brain and some gumption can find out on their own? It raises prices -- is unfair in that it applies to chains only and not Mom and Pop stores (also just as likely to kill you in the long run if not moreso), and is too much. Wendy's menu board would be ridiculously long and the menus would become book length and for what? So folks could still order the same thing at a higher price?

Maybe in isolation it wouldn't be a big deal, but coupled with red light cameras, constant surveillance, smoking nazis, labrynthine traffic codes with little utility other than revenue raising, licensing reg and fees on just about EVERY activity, etc. I am an adult -- most of us are reasonable adults or the children of reasonable adults.... This collective punishment regime is getting to be too much and too expensive. It's a subtle but important shift.

Henry said...

the calorie counts and fat content don't have to be exact but close so that we have an idea.

How about a sign on the front door of every franchise:

"Our food has lots of Calories."

That seems in the ballpark -- not exact, but close.

Troy said...

The last sentence in the prior post should've been edited out -- I missed it.

bill said...

Should we force restaurants to show calorie counts? No. It is not the restaurant's fault if the customer doesn't understand that croutons and an egg/mayo dressing (yummy fat and fat!) will give a pile of lettuce more calories than a steak. A resturant's job is to feed you, not give you a degree in nutritional science. So, educate yourself lardass or at least stop your whining.


sirloin steak
roast beef sandwich
cappuccino

These aren't hard questions.

Notorious among nutritionists is the Bloomin’ Onion at Outback Steakhouse, a battered, deep-fried onion resembling a flower that is served with a dipping sauce. The damage, nutritionists say, is about 2,200 calories and more than 100 grams of fat, most of it trans fat.

Is that one person eating the whole thing (which I'm sure happens) or being shared by a group (more likely)?

Universal truths:
1. Fat, salt, and color (browning, toasting, etc) add flavor to food.
2. Fat tastes good and there are good fats and bad fats.
3. Foods that sell low fat versions have most likely replaced the fat with sugars have more calories and carbs than the high fat versions.
4. Eat less, exercise more.


There are no bad foods, just bad habits; in other words, blame yourself not what you eat.

Bissage said...

"Should we force restaurants to show calorie counts?"

Of course we should! What kind of a question is that?

Our swallow is our vote and we have the right to vote and that right becomes meaningless without complete, officially certified disclosures.

Calories. Itemization and point of origin of all ingredients; including Earth friendliness, cruelty freenessiness and fair-trade-itudeiness.

But we won't stop there. Oh, no!

We demand to know the race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, immigration status, political affiliation and interpersonal niceness (death to meanies!) of all persons having anything to do, whatsoever, with any potential restaurant-related purchase, defined as broadly as possible, so as to promote substantial justice.

IT'S IN THE CONSTITUTION!!!!

We can't let them get away with this conspiracy of non-disclosure!

Let's go get 'em! It's payback time! To the barricades!!!

And if you're not outraged, that's because you're NOT PAYING ATTENTION!!!

Roost on the Moon said...

"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly vegetables." -Michael Pollan

We have such a big health problem in this country that I'm not prima facie opposed to some kind of governmental effort to fix it. But this calorie counting idea would be an unfair burden on the restaurants, an aesthetic blight, and worst of all, wouldn't work.

I don't like Ann's 'pro-market' (for lack of a better term) solution, either. It has all the aesthetic drawbacks of a mandating system, plus grants sellers the right to misrepresent the contents of their products. I imagine you'd start to come across an awful lot of suspiciously decadent low-fat brownies.

Under both systems, you're encouraging a 'hard numbers' approach to food. But even if the sellers are honest about the content of that low-fat brownie, is a big olestra-fried piece of nutra-sweet really better for our health?

Internet Ronin said...

Should we? No. Will we? Yes, eventually. It is just another stage in the long-running campaign to infantilize the populace by those who "know better."

Anyone with half a brain can figure these things out, but those convinced that the masses are too dumb to tie their own shoes without state intervention will wear us all down. They usually do.

Mike said...

hdhouse asked: "what is the problem with this?".

We don't need another thing for you to control. We don't trust you.

bill said...

We have such a big health problem in this country that I'm not prima facie opposed to some kind of governmental effort to fix it.

If we look at another famous NY Times article, What if It's All Been a Big Fat Lie? (Gary Taubes, July 7, 2002), government efforts may directly have contributed to this big health problem:

It was Ancel Keys, paradoxically, who introduced the low-fat-is-good-health dogma in the 50's with his theory that dietary fat raises cholesterol levels and gives you heart disease. Over the next two decades, however, the scientific evidence supporting this theory remained stubbornly ambiguous. The case was eventually settled not by new science but by politics. It began in January 1977, when a Senate committee led by George McGovern published its ''Dietary Goals for the United States,'' advising that Americans significantly curb their fat intake to abate an epidemic of ''killer diseases'' supposedly sweeping the country. It peaked in late 1984, when the National Institutes of Health officially recommended that all Americans over the age of 2 eat less fat. By that time, fat had become ''this greasy killer'' in the memorable words of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, and the model American breakfast of eggs and bacon was well on its way to becoming a bowl of Special K with low-fat milk, a glass of orange juice and toast, hold the butter -- a dubious feast of refined carbohydrates.

Some of the best scientists disagreed with this low-fat logic, suggesting that good science was incompatible with such leaps of faith, but they were effectively ignored. Pete Ahrens, whose Rockefeller University laboratory had done the seminal research on cholesterol metabolism, testified to McGovern's committee that everyone responds differently to low-fat diets. It was not a scientific matter who might benefit and who might be harmed, he said, but ''a betting matter.'' Phil Handler, then president of the National Academy of Sciences, testified in Congress to the same effect in 1980. ''What right,'' Handler asked, ''has the federal government to propose that the American people conduct a vast nutritional experiment, with themselves as subjects, on the strength of so very little evidence that it will do them any good?''

Nonetheless, once the N.I.H. signed off on the low-fat doctrine, societal forces took over. The food industry quickly began producing thousands of reduced-fat food products to meet the new recommendations. Fat was removed from foods like cookies, chips and yogurt. The problem was, it had to be replaced with something as tasty and pleasurable to the palate, which meant some form of sugar, often high-fructose corn syrup. Meanwhile, an entire industry emerged to create fat substitutes, of which Procter & Gamble's olestra was first. And because these reduced-fat meats, cheeses, snacks and cookies had to compete with a few hundred thousand other food products marketed in America, the industry dedicated considerable advertising effort to reinforcing the less-fat-is-good-health message. Helping the cause was what Walter Willett calls the ''huge forces'' of dietitians, health organizations, consumer groups, health reporters and even cookbook writers, all well-intended missionaries of healthful eating.

Justin said...

Mike said...

To Justin's comment: There is no magic elixer you can fry a Bloomin Onion in to make it low fat.

I was referring to the vegetable sides that often come with entrees. Most people think "Vegetables are healthy" but they don't realize they are often cooked in butter. If the restaurant put the nutrition information on the menu, we could see which are the healthiest.

My point is that including nutrition information is not just for the morons who don't know fried onions are unhealthy. It's also for people who want to know if the grilled salmon has more fat/carbs/sugar/etc. than the baked flounder.

For the record, I'm not in favor of requiring restaurants to include this information on menus. We can't protect people from themselves. And even if we could, I'm not sure we should.

Joe said...

We have such a big health problem in this country that I'm not prima facie opposed to some kind of governmental effort to fix it.

There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever of a big health problem in this country. Quite to the contrary, we are living longer and healthier than ever! If there is a health problem it is actually among those whose body fat it too low (this is a fact: the underweight have more heart attacks and health problems than the overweight--those damn scientific studies--you know the ones with statistically valid measurements and double bind methodology and control groups--just keep getting in the way.)

Joe said...

Most people think "Vegetables are healthy" but they don't realize they are often cooked in butter.

And that is bad why?

Mike said...

Fair enough, Justin. But unless you're eating out more than you're eating in, you can't go wrong with either (the grilled salmon or the baked flounder).

P. Rich said...

And maybe every restaurant should be required to provide staff who spoon-feed their helpless, ignorant patrons.

Mike said...

Most people think "Vegetables are healthy" but they don't realize they are often cooked in butter.

Joe asked: "And that is bad why?"


Yes, butter's reputation is in the process of being rehabilitated. As Bill points out, science's idea of good nutrition is changing yet again. And this is the ultimate answer to hdhouse's question: "what's wrong with that?"
What's wrong with that is that the control freaks, being human, aren't as smart as they think they are. And given that fact, it's not a good idea to cede to them the responsibility for looking after yourself.

Mike said...

Hi P. Rich: Thanks for your answer in the "too many lawyers" post. If you'd have written 10 to 1 the first time, I would have got it the first time.;-)

PatCA said...

What is happening to NYC!? Why not just assign a government minder to every person. They all can wear Bloomberg masks and so will be readily identifiable. This is really almost Stalinist.

I wonder if there is a connection between the increasing hysteria of the "safety" lobby and their increasing shrill denial of real threats, like terrorism.

Roost on the Moon said...


"There are no bad foods, just bad habits; in other words, blame yourself not what you eat." -bill

"We don't need another thing for you to control. We don't trust you." -Mike

"I am an adult -- most of us are reasonable adults or the children of reasonable adults.... " -troy


...and yet most of us are unhealthy and likely to die of heart disease.

I agree with you Mike, the government isn't going to regulate us out of this mess, and I don't trust them enough to want them to try.

But I'd like to see a little more distrust of big business from the you guys on the right. Hydrogenation of fats is a fine example of a cost-cutting measure (a preservative enabling more flexible supply) used at the expense of public health. There are national marketing campaigns to attempt to normalize drinking an unholy amount of soda-pop. We would be disgusted at the suggestion that sitting down with a spoon and 3/4 cup of sugar would be a habit of a 'reasonable adult', but at McDonald's, they call that a Hugo and charge $.89.

We can blame obese people for being 'stupid lardasses' and admonish them for not taking responsibility for themselves, but that doesn't do much to solve the problem of (everyone's) rising health costs.

Of course, neither does blaming "The Corporations", but recognizing that advertising and consumer culture plays a big role in our predicament is a good place to start.

Whether we did this to ourselves or it was done to us is an interesting question, if unanswerable. We are free people and we can live as we please, but we live among powerful cultural forces with controllers that profit from us being fat, sad, and dependent.

It sounds spooky, but I'm not a nut. I'm not saying there is some dark plan to make the citizenry complacent. All it takes is the observation that raising portion size raises profits. Well, that and a disregard for the customer's health. ("It's not our responsibility.")

PatCA said...

Oh, and "Why pick on chain restaurants?"

Because when you are taking away personal freedoms, it's always best to start with the undesirables. "First they came for..."

I await eagerly the media denunciation of the gross invasion of personal freedom by the Bloomberg administration.

the Rising Jurist said...

How about a sign on the front door of every franchise:

"Our food has lots of Calories."


Henry, that's a great idea. It reminds me of the nutrition info offered by the Chocolate Shoppe here in Madison:

Don't even ask. This is the best ice cream made in Wisconsin, and it tastes so good because it has gobs of rich Wisconsin cream, tons of real ingredients for boat-loads of luscious flavors. That means it's not low-fat, low-calorie or low-anything, and that's why everyone loves it. You want nutrition, eat carrots.

Smilin' Jack said...

From
Steven E. Landsburg

The '90s were the era of low-fat foods. At fewer calories per serving, it makes sense to eat more servings.... For example: Suppose a scoop of ice cream a night would add 10 pounds to your weight, and you've decided that's not worth it, so you don't eat ice cream. Now along comes a low-fat ice cream that allows you to eat two scoops a night and add 10 pounds to your weight. That's a better deal, and a perfectly rational being might well opt for it. So when low-fat foods come along, some people sensibly decide to become fatter.

Justin said...

Joe said...

And that is bad why?

I didn't say it was bad. If the people who think "Vegetables are healthy" knew that their vegetables were being cooked in butter, they would probably have a different opinion.

Roost on the Moon said...

This is Joe:

There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever of a big health problem in this country.

This is the Director of the CDC, published in the Journal of the AMA:

"Overweight and physical inactivity account for more than 300,000 premature deaths each year in the U.S., second only to tobacco-related deaths. Obesity is an epidemic and should be taken as seriously as any infectious disease epidemic, " says Jeffrey P. Koplan, director of the CDC, and one of the authors of the JAMA article. "Obesity and overweight are linked to the nation's number one killer--heart disease-- as well as diabetes and other chronic conditions."

Skeptical said...

I don't get why people are uptight about this. You go into a grocery store for junk food, and there's all the information on the label. Is it ruining your precious Snickers bar experience to know that it's a 280 calorie experience?

It is, prima facie, a good thing for folks to know what they are doing when they make a choice. The ones who control this information are the ones who prepare the food. So, unless it is incredibly burdensome to them to reveal this information, pony it up. Put it in small print on the back of the menu if you want.

This isn't about restricting choice. It's about making choice informed.

Mike said...

"But I'd like to see a little more distrust of big business from the you guys on the right."

My "trust" of big business extends only to the fact that I "trust" that they are trying to get me to buy their product. I know their motivation, and I factor it into my decision making. It's the self-rightous, "we're looking out for you" motivation of the government that I'm frightened of.

Calorie counts on the menus of chain restaurants are not the end of the world. But 1) anybody who thinks they are going to do any good is deluding themselves, and 2) I don't trust the government to use common sense in the enforcement of said laws (I bet you don't either).

Henry said...

skeptical - Put it in small print on the back of the menu if you want.

That's not exactly what NYC is asking for.

The new rule would also make it compulsory for restaurants to place food details right next to the price and in the same size lettering.

Smilin' Jack said...

...let anyone who cares about overeating learn a little about portion size and the density of calories in various foods. We may end up just as fat, but we have a chance of getting a little smarter.

Calculating the calories in a restaurant meal isn't going to make me smarter, it's just going to waste my time. Restaurateurs are in a much better position to obtain this information than their customers, and if it's such a great "burden" on them, how are the customers supposed to do it? Customers have a legitimate interest in knowing what's in their food, and I don't see anything wrong with requiring restaurateurs to provide it. Making every customer figure it out for himself is a silly waste of everyone's time.

And you smokers should know that when we ban smoking in public places and say it's for your health, we're just being polite. The real reason is that you stink, and we don't like being around people who stink.

bill said...

Skeptical said...
I don't get why people are uptight about this. You go into a grocery store for junk food, and there's all the information on the label. Is it ruining your precious Snickers bar experience to know that it's a 280 calorie experience?


Why pick on junk food? If it's in a bag or box, it's labeled. Because these are controlled portions, and except for neglible amounts of insect parts and other minutia, we know exactly what is in it --be it fresh spinach, frozen lasagna, or potato chips--and we government regulations defining what is a "portion."

A made to order kitchen restaurant can't guarantee the nutritional information on the menu is exact. Fast food will be close, being pretty close to a factory experience, after that it gets iffy. Two people order the exact same dinner, but maybe one gets served a slightly larger portion of pasta and a heavy ladle of sauce. Both plates look exactly alike, except one now has 100 more calories (plus more fat and carbs). In a restaurant, there are too many variable to account for.

If restaurants want to publish the information to the best of their abilities, I think that's wonderful. Just don't think it should be mandated.

Quasimodo said...

The problem does not result so much from what we eat. The problem is far more often, how much we eat. Quantity is more important than quality, most of the time.

Kirby Olson said...

I think it helps. I think also it should be mandated in the household. When someone serves dinner, there should be a clear calorie count and portion guide that comes with the dinner. Otherwise, social services should descend out of the ceiling screaming their heads off about abuse. I need to feel protected from food. It's taking over my life! Excuse me while I eat another slice of lamb with chutney and guzzle some ginger beer.

rana said...

If only some of my backwards Mississippi relatives were alive to experience this brave new world! How were they to know that daily helpings of eggs, sausage gravy, green beans simmered in salt pork, and mashed potatoes made with the cream of Jersey cows would cut them down in the first bloom of youth? My grandmother and grandfather might be alive today, instead of dying at 90 and 96, respectively. Thank goodness, my aunt, age 95, still has time to change her ways!

AJ Lynch said...

Fing no. It is like a heat alert- are we getting dumber? We have to be told when it is very hot or very cold or it will make us fat, drunk, stupid or all of the above.

No matter what nannies think, we can't legislate risk and chance out of the lives of five billion inhabitants of this planet. And if they keep this crap up, an awful lot of us will pack up and find another planet.

SGT Ted said...

Why pick on chain restaurants?

Because the target is fast food restaurants; McDonalds, Burger King, etc(like anyone thinks they serve "health food"). They are more evil than independent steak houses and rib joints. "They have standardized menus" is the excuse.

Mike said...

"And if they keep this crap up, an awful lot of us will pack up and find another planet."

Why should we be the ones who have leave? Throw em' out the nearest air lock, I say.

SGT Ted said...

what is the problem with this? hdhouse

Because it's bullshit, HD, thats why. Why does Taco Bell have to post this information for one of their tiny burritos, but Heche en Mexico down the street doesn't have to for their burrito which is five times bigger?

Joan said...

Justin said: But that's different from not know if the vegetables were cooked in whole butter, low-fat margarine, or oil. It can make a big difference in the calorie count.

Unfortunately, Justin is confused. Fat is fat, and the calories in butter, oil, and margarine are exactly the same. Low-fat margarine would be different, but restaurants don't use it. What Justin really wants to know is whether or not the veggies are sauteed in fat (butter or oil) or are steamed, which does make a big difference, calorie-wise.

I'm sure everyone here knows that a boatload of the calories in the salads and appetizers discussed above are in the dressings and mayonnaise, which are notoriously calorie-dense.

As someone who calculates nutrition information for recipes I create on a regular basis, I can attest that 1) it's not exactly rocket science and 2) small differences in ingredients -- a tablespoon of butter here, a quarter cup of flour there -- can have large impacts on total calories and everything else.

It's fairly impossible to gauge from the typical restaurant menu description how many calories will be in a dish -- we don't know how many ounces of meat and/or cheese, nor do we know the precise amounts of the various ingredients used in all the sauces and accompaniments.

I don't care about all that hoo-ha, anyway. I eat real food at home and eat out infrequently, and when I do, I eat what I want -- like today's awesome lunch of fried clams and scallops. I only have this lunch once, maybe twice a year. I don't care how many calories are in it. (I doubt I'll eat much more than a salad for dinner tonight, after all that.)

There are a bunch of reasons I really don't care about calories on menus. I'm a nutritionally well-educated consumer, but I'm sure most of my reasons apply for the Average Joe, too.

Sigivald said...

One wonders how much of the calorie count is in the sauces, for such things - the limited samples I've looked at suggest "a surprising amount", since the sauces are usually nothing but fat and sugar. (Mmmmm.)

I never use the sauces, myself, because I don't like them.

(The other huge issue with a requirement like this is that if you don't exempt non-chain restaurants, they can't possibly comply in any sane way.

They can't calorimeter all their specials; hell, they can't calorimeter all their dishes, sensibly.)

Mike said...

"I don't care about all that hoo-ha, anyway. I eat real food at home and eat out infrequently, and when I do, I eat what I want"

There you go. That's what I'm talking about!

SGT Ted said...

Why are you food nannies acting like everyone is forced to subsist at restaurants, or that anyone at all eats the majority of their food at restaurants?

AJ Lynch said...

Mike said:

"Why should we be the ones who have leave? Throw em' out the nearest air lock, I say."

Mike: Excellent idea you have there. In stage whisper: But that was my secret plan and now the nannies know my secret plan.

Synova said...

The information is available to those who care.

Other than punishing fast food places for delivering the least expensive per-calorie food on the planet, someone is deciding that people (not the restaurants) must be forced to care for their (our) own good.

So... what *does* the market do?

Subway *does* advertise low-fat including grams of fat for its products on the menus in its stores.

Menus often include a special symbol by low fat or diet items. They *also* frequently identify vegetarian or vegan selections.
I've often seen notes that a menu item contains or may contain something that many people are allergic to.

This is the market giving people information they want to have.

(And lying about it would be illegal wouldn't it? Or at least basis to sue, and publicity would ruin the business if, for example, a "vegan" dish had animal fat in it or a "kosher" dish contained bacon.)

A law is just a way of saying that the market *should* demand this but people aren't capable of demanding the things they ought to demand.

The whole idea is stupid (and offensive and contrary to liberty and...) I don't care if it's not *fair* that some restaurants get excused, I care that someone thinks they need to protect me for my own good from something like calories.

If you want to monitor the mercury level in fish, fine. But this reeks of someone desperate to be seen "doing something" in order to prove that he or she "cares."

Pogo said...

"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."
-- C.S. Lewis

Synova said...

Sgt Ted, good point.

Maybe it's because those obsessed with taking care of the little people who don't know enough to take care of themselves all eat primarily at restaurants.

Synova said...

Oh, and McDonald's, where I can feed myself and four tween and teen children for $12... $15 if I buy sodas... also sells yogurt and fruit cups on its dollar menu and a variety of salads... because a market (not government) made up of mothers with children who like Happy Meals (apple pieces or fruit juice optional) want salads or yogurt cups.

So that's what they get.

Pogo said...

Or we could be like Cuba, where people are doled out a food ration every month, one which is just slightly beneath the calorie requirements needed to sustain weight. We'd all be skinny and the health crisis solved!

Better yet, I proposed in the past we move to forcing people to eat one cup daily of People Chow®, handed out by the Food Nannies, composed of Just What's Right For You.

Korrekte nahrung macht frei.

Mike said...

Sorry for spilling the beans*, AJ

*May contain one or more of the following: Black Beans, 1 cup, 241 calories; Kidney Beans, 1 cup, 225 calories; Lima Beans (yuc), 1 cup, 215 calories; Garbonzo Beans, 1 cup, 269 calories

Jim Howard said...

The proposed law clearly has only one real purpose. To obtain further undeserved enrichment for the very worst subset of the legal profession.

Why only 'chain restaurants '? Because until a restaurant opens a second location it's probably judgment proof and not worth the [strike]sharks[/strike] professionals time.

Consider the wonderful possibilities for the class action [strike]looters[/strike] professionals. They can send the double cheesecake with chocolate to a lab and certainly come up with a calorie count different than that on the menu. (Like all science, the legal profession rejects the notion of error bands.)

With that different calorie count the class can get a coupon for a free cheesecake, and the 'professional' can loot a few million dollars.

And of course the poor will be hardest hit.

Justin said...

Joan said...

Unfortunately, Justin is confused.

No, I'm not.

Fat is fat,

Unless it is saturated fat, unsaturated fat, polyunsaturated fat, transfat, etc. Different fats have different effects on different people.

and the calories in butter, oil, and margarine are exactly the same.

That may be. But I wasn't talking exclusively about calorie count. I'm talking about nutrition information; the more detailed information you get when you buy packaged food at the grocery store. There are many health conditions that come with special dietary requirements. Knowing how many calories, carbs, fat (of all types), sodium, sugars, peanuts, etc. are in your food make it much easier to stay healthy. A weight-conscious diet is quite a bit different from a hypertensive, diabetic diet.

Low-fat margarine would be different,

Yes, it is. Which is why I included it in my list.

but restaurants don't use it.

How do you know they don't use it if they don't put it on the menu? j/k :)

What Justin really wants to know is whether or not the veggies are sautéed in fat (butter or oil) or are steamed, which does make a big difference, calorie-wise.

No. This information is readily available. It is either on the menu already, or can easily be obtained by asking the waiter. I know that steamed vegetables are healthier than sautéed vegetables. What I want to know is, what were they sautéed in. Because sometimes I want sautéed vegetables instead of steamed vegetables. But if they are sautéed in lard, as opposed to low-fat margarine, I would rather have steamed. I'd also like to know if any salt has been added. If I have high blood pressure and low cholesterol, the steamed (but salted) veggies could do more damage to me than the sautéed (in butter) veggies.

Internet Ronin said...

Stage 1: Mandate that all chain fast-food restaurants make available extensive lists of ingredients and calories of all goods sold.

Stage 2: Limit by law the ingredients that all chain fast-food restaurants can use.

Stage 3: Mandate that all chain fast-food restaurants prominently post caloric content of all goods sold, preferably in same size lettering as menu items.

Stage 4: Obtain landmark legal decision that rules cannot be applied selectively but must be applied to all restaurants.

Stage 5: Prohibit the advertising of all prepared food deemed unhealthy by a new permanent federal commission regulating restaurants.

Stage 6: Prohibit any tyoe of
restaurant from serving any patron more than 1/3 of the recomended total caloric intake for the average adult or child at a single sitting or point of purchase.

Stage 7: Require that all prepared meals comply with government regulations w/r/t balanced diet.

Stage 8: Require that all servers of prepared food determine whether or not the patron suffers from diabetes, heart disease, asthma, all known allergies, or hyper-tension, accommodate those special needs without additional cost while refusing to serve any item deemed harmful to such a patron's health.

Stage 9: Dictate approved menus and portion sizing for every type of restaurant within the United States.

Stage 10: Provide extensive retraining for the hundreds of thousands who become unemployed as the restaurant industry collapses, and its suppliers go bankrupt.

PatCA said...

And, as so often happens, the know-it-alls have dialed back on their dire analysis. Can I have some french fries now? Do I still have to die someday?

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/11/24/health/main657636.shtml

Mike said...

Well, I'll meet you part way, Justin. If the green beans are sautéed in lard I think the menu should say green beans, sautéed in lard.

Jay Leno had a great "headlines" item a few years ago. It was a newspaper ad for a Chinese restaurant. The fine print at the bottom said "Prepared by Mexicans". I guess they thought truth in advertising required it.

Susan said...

For those restaurants relying on Sysco for their food (see this
article
in Slate for Sysco's takeover in much of the restaurant
business), reporting calories would not be much more difficult than for chain
restaurants. But, a law making everyone report calories would be so cumbersome
as to drive out of business the very restaurants that serve the best and probably
healthiest food: restaurants that change their menus daily to offer the freshest
locally grown vegetables in season and fresh locally caught fish, imaginatively
prepared at the whim of a good chef.

Baby Pop said...

I carry the CalorieKing 2007 pocket-sized book in my purse. It's pretty awesome. I would love it if restaurants chose to show calorie information but I think if you're one who *really* cares about that stuff anyway, you're going to look it up beforehand anyway, as much as possible. Some things (like veggies) can be tricky, but you can always ask how they are prepared. Being that chain restaurants are the only ones that usually have this information, if at all, I often patronize them out of convenience. I wish that local restaurants would see this as an asset rather than a liability and consider doing it as well, though I understand their menus vary daily and depending on season, so it would be more burdensome for them.

Justin said...

Mike said...

Well, I'll meet you part way, Justin. If the green beans are sautéed in lard I think the menu should say green beans, sautéed in lard.

I agree. But I'm pretty sure I can find a restaurant within 2 miles of where I'm sitting that serves green beans sautéed in lard and doesn't label it as such.

By the way, regarding your earlier comment: I do eat out more than I eat in. So I'm probably going wrong with both the flounder and the salmon.

Revenant said...

Notorious among nutritionists is the Bloomin’ Onion at Outback Steakhouse, a battered, deep-fried onion resembling a flower that is served with a dipping sauce. The damage, nutritionists say, is about 2,200 calories and more than 100 grams of fat, most of it trans fat.

The Bloomin' Onion and the Bacon Cheddar Fries are are two appetizers at Outback that are meant to be shared by multiple people, not eaten entirely by a single person.

Nobody could eat the whole thing himself. Nobody would WANT to eat the whole thing himself -- that's like three pounds of onion.

Mike said...

Justin, I'm sure both the flounder and the salmon are fine choices.

The real issue here is that the nannystaters have taken us to the point that we view food as poison (it's what they do). Any sensible food choice (baked flounder, fine; grilled salmon, fine: deep-fried cod; not so fine) is healthy. And I say this from my position in a cardiology department.

The obesity problem stems from people just eating too damn much. No amount of calorie listings is going to solve that.

P. Rich said...

Hi Mike:

Sorry for the misunderstanding.

Mike said...

I enjoy a good math joke, P. (In country A the ratio is 1-to-1, whereas in contry B, it's exactly the inverse.)

ricpic said...

The obsession with health belies morbidity.

Joan said...

Justin, if you're going to nitpick me like that, I'll do it right back: you said, and I quote: it can make a big difference in the calorie count.

The calories for butter, margarine, and oil are all exactly the same. You are, of course, correct about the differences in fats, saturated, unsaturated, mono-, poly- and trans. You're also right about all that other stuff you mentioned in your reply to me, but what you said, first, was that it would matter to the calorie count. Which it won't.

I know that restaurants don't cook with low-fat margarine because it makes no sense for them to do so. There may be restaurants that offer it in little tubs for you to spread on your toast, but low-fat margarine is not manufactured for cooking with, it's manufactured for eating as a spread. There are problems when you try to cook with it -- it has too much water and too little fat, and it's pretty much a disaster for sauteing.

That said, if you can post a link to a restaurant that says they cook with the stuff, I'll be more than happy to apologize and admit I was wrong.

Terri said...

Here is something that I have an opinion about, for a very good reason. Five years ago, my son (who was twelve) ended up in the hospital and was diagnosed with type I diabetes. We went through four days of education about insulin doses, and the carbs that were needed (and when they were needed) to balance out the insulin. At twelve years old, he learned to read labels on food because he had to have a specific number of carbs with his meals at specific times. When you go out, you have to estimate. Five years later, he is on an insulin pump, and he is pretty darn good about estimating how much insulin he needs to counteract the carbs he eats. For those of you that aren't familiar with diabetes, it isn't so much about 'sugar' as it is about carbs, and what types of carbs, and how quickly they are absorbed into your system. Several chain restaurants directed me to their website for more information on their menus. The ones with the best information were the ones we patronized the most.

So I would appreciate their having at least an estimate of the nutritional information available to me. It doesn't even have to be on the menu, as long as it is available on request. That would be very helpful. I do not want to see it become a legal requirement, however, because I think that if enough people request it and they realize it is good business practice, then they will make it available. Let them decide for themselves. Just as I decided which restaurants I want to patronize.

Mark said...

I'm not aware of any fines, prosecution, or civil lawsuits for faulty nutritional disclosure, whether by restaurants or by packaged food manufacturers, and we are in the business of following these things. This is not an issue. Virtually every packaged food product in the U.S. carries a Nutrition Facts label, and over 500 restaurants disclose data today (including some single unit restaurants), according to our database.

The example of Ruby's mentioned by a commenter shows why disclosure laws are useful. Ruby's went out on a limb and lost business. If every similar family dining and casual dining table service chain were required to disclose, there would be nowhere to flee, and you might see the introduction of smaller portions and more of an effort to develop tasty lighter dishes, instead of just the bland stuff they have on the menu to prevent the "veto voting" healthy family member from nixing a visit to their restaurant.

The argument that nobody would be influenced by disclosure and that everybody who cares knows anyway is an overstatement. Most, perhaps, will not change, but there are many people who care but honestly are not aware of the calorie hit of restaurant foods. Of course, this is just one piece of the obesity puzzle, not the total solution.

Pogo said...

Re: "Of course, this is just one piece of the obesity puzzle, not the total solution."
The total solution is of course that the government completely take over all food decisions for you, and dole out your food in monthly rations in order to defeat obesity, which apparently Must Be Defeated At All Costs.

including the loss of liberty by an ever-encroaching Nanny State.

"Ruby's went out on a limb and lost business. If every similar family dining and casual dining table service chain were required to disclose, there would be nowhere to flee"
So the market did not want this data, but you know better. The leviathan State always seems to know better, at least according to folks like you.

Jill said...

Here's the thing...people say they want to know how many calories is in their food. What are we all posting on right now...the INTERNET. Guess what? Most chain restaurants already have caloric information on the internet. Lovely place to find this kind of information. Granted, not all restaurants provide it, but a good number do in this health-conscious age. The people who care will figure it out. Restaurants are responding to the people who want calorie counts by providing a specific area of the menu with low-fat and/or low-calorie options with information. Next thing is a tax on fatty foods...for the good of the people of course.

P.S. For anyone that likes to count calories at chain restaurants, www.caloriesperhour.com has a nice compilation.

Kirby Olson said...

Even if you prepare a sandwich for yourself, you should tally up the calories and write them down in a booklet. If you exceed 2000 calories in a day, you should kill yourself for it. If everybody who overate would do this, we wouldn't have to worry about these silly guidelines, or how to get through a grocery store without all the fatsos driving motorized carts blocking the way to the lard and knocking us down in their frenzy.

paul a'barge said...

Yes.

And put the carb count up there as well.

Justin said...

Joan said...

...but what you said, first, was that it would matter to the calorie count. Which it won't.

You're right. I didn't realize that's what I typed. What I meant to write was "it can make a big difference in the nutritional value." Or something like that.

I know that restaurants don't cook with low-fat margarine because it makes no sense for them to do so. There may be restaurants that offer it in little tubs for you to spread on your toast, but low-fat margarine is not manufactured for cooking with, it's manufactured for eating as a spread. There are problems when you try to cook with it -- it has too much water and too little fat, and it's pretty much a disaster for sauteing.

That said, if you can post a link to a restaurant that says they cook with the stuff, I'll be more than happy to apologize and admit I was wrong.


My statement "How do you know they don't use [low-fat margarine] if they don't put it on the menu? j/k :)" Was a joke. Note the "j/k :)" at the end. I was trying to be funny. I guess it didn't work.

I don't know what restaurants use to cook their food. That's one reason I'd like to see it all on the menu. I'm content assuming you're right that they don't use it. However, I've eaten at some terrible restaurants, and I wouldn't put it past them to use anything they can get their hands on.

Chef JP said...

I think forcing restaurants to show calorie counts is another link in the chain of abdicating personal responsibility and common sense---it goes hand in hand with the ridiculous notion of people suing McDonald's because they eat that type of food every day and it affects their health! Has the average person lost reason? Can they not decide that the deep fried chimichanga has more calories than the house salad? No one wants to take responsibility for their actions. They need to be able to blame someone, anyone, for their inability to have any willpower. Lord Have Mercy! chefjp