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Menu calorie counts now mandatory nationwide

Posted Mar 23 2010 7:49pm
Let me subtitle this blog post as: Excuse me while I jump off a cliff.

Whatever your feelings on the passage of the Health Care Reform Bill this past Sunday (and I have many of them), I read the following in an AP Newswire article this evening
A requirement tucked into the massive U.S health care bill will make calorie counts impossible for thousands of restaurants to hide and difficult for consumers to ignore. More than 200,000 fast food and other chain restaurants will have to include calorie counts on menus, menu boards and even drive-throughs.
Like I said: excuse me while I jump off a cliff.

My annoyance and irritation at this is mainly related to the fact that all throughout my recovery, my treatment team has drilled into my head that I shouldn't be obsessively counting calories, that my body doesn't need to count calories in order to maintain a healthy weight, and that one meal out is one meal out and if I want to have a burger and fries, I should have the burger and fries. Dammit. So if what my team is telling me is true, then what the hell is this push for calorie labels on everything?

Do I still count calories? In a more existential sort of way, yes. I am acutely, painfully aware of how many calories are in the food I eat. I might not always tally everything up like I used to, but I'm aware. I remain very wary of restaurants because I don't know what's really in the food I'm eating. I don't know how it was prepared, and I don't know exactly how many calories it has or what ingredients were used. Generally speaking, my tactic has been to order the item on the menu that seemed like it had the fewest calories. I'm pretty good at this. It's still my default menu scanning effort- any butter or cream sauces mean "loaded with fat," fried is also bad, sauteed could be dicey, broiled or grilled is okay, pasta and cheese are not good...and on and on it goes.

Yet again, my treatment team has tried to convince me that I don't need to scrutinize the menu for "hidden" calories and the minutiae of how my dish is prepared. Does it sound good? Okay, then.

The idea with placing calorie counts on the menu is that they will (in theory) change what people order. (For the record, research shows that it really hasn't changed ordering habits .) Taking the idea further, the idea is that if people knew how many calories were really in that dinner they ordered, they would order something different. Which, okay, fine, but shouldn't your criteria for what to order include a little more information that just calories? Are we really that stupid that we need to be (ahem) spoon fed our health and calorie information like this?

If some of my friends and relatives are to be believed, this healthcare reform bill may have saved us from dying of TEH FATZ only to help us die of TEH SOCIALISMZ. I'm not necessarily anti-government, but I'm just scratching my head over the wisdom of this idea. Our culture is more obsessed than ever with food and weight, and that hasn't seemed to change our average BMI by very much. And really, if the only reason people were fat was because they were stuffing their gullets with Big Macs at McDonald's, then I think we would have figured that out.

Another issue is that this law is aimed at chain restaurants, which tend to be (on average) cheaper and more affordable than swanky, upscale joints. Research has already shown that the higher your socioeconomic status, the lower your risk of obesity, and a Scientific American article last week pointed out the connection between obesity and food stamp recipients . In a sense, these rules imply that poor people are just too stupid to figure out what (and how much) to eat. Maybe eating fast food is the lack of better alternatives. Maybe it's being too damn tired to cook. Maybe it's all the food your kids know because it's the only restaurant in your area. Regardless, simply adding labels to the menus won't help if there's nowhere else to eat.

I'm just...annoyed. Irritated. And unsure what to make of it all.
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