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Spoon-Fed Calories

Tue, 09/01/2009 - 6:58am
Karen Langhauser, Editor-in-Chief

I recently took my first trip to the new Yankee Stadium. In between being overwhelmed by the enormity of the stadium halls, the amazing historical tributes that surrounded me, and Matsui’s game-winning homerun, I had some time to check out the stadium food options.

Offering everything from southern BBQ to sushi, the stadium inundated me with choices. As I intently deliberated between cheese fries or garlic fries (Or both? Can you put cheese ON garlic fries?), I noticed a new addition to the large blue menu boards: Calories. I tried to divert my eyes as fast as possible but it was too late –1341 calories in my precious cheese fries – epic fail.

Yankee Stadium, like numerous other establishments throughout the U.S., is bound by a city menu labeling legislation requiring establishments to post calories on menus and menu boards. Furthermore, the reintroduction of the Menu Education and Labeling (MEAL) Act is now aiming to take these state-level menu labeling laws to the national stage.

The idea behind this legislation is to help consumers make informed menu choices when they are eating out, ultimately combating American obesity. As the editor of Food Manufacturing, I immediately wonder about the impact this will have on the food plants who are supplying these fast food chains.

What I have not seen mentioned in any article is how these fast food establishments are obtaining and constantly verifying the accuracy of this nutritional information. Will the burden of more precise nutritional information fall entirely on those food processors supplying these fast food chains? In addition, will fast food establishments start a bigger push for low-calorie, low-fat menu options, leaving processors of not-so-healthy options high and dry? Furthermore, when consumers see 1341-calorie cheese fries, will they immediately blame the food industry for making America fat?

Contrary to what numerous consumer groups want us to believe, the food industry is not lying to consumers. I think consumers tend to not take responsibility for their actions, and look to blame the food they eat. The question I’ve seen several articles ask is, “Who would guess that a large chocolate shake at McDonald's has more calories than two Big Macs?” My answer is: anyone who truly cares enough and took the time to look this information up. Why does it have to be on huge menu board for consumers to find it?

My personal take: I’m the first to admit I’m quite possibly the worst eater on this planet. If it’s not deep fried and then covered in cheese, butter or hot sauce, I’m not eating it. It is my personal choice to eat horrendously and then exercise responsibly. This is my choice, and I don’t appreciate nor feel I necessitate a national law destroying my blissful ignorance by posting giant calorie counts next to my food choices. Instead, I propose we put more effort towards educating consumers about nutrition, so that they are armed with the knowledge to make their own choices, rather than having to be spoon-fed their calories.

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