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Fat of the land
July 15, 2003 11:26 AM   Subscribe

What's on the menu? Perhaps fat and calories. "Five states have taken up similar bills this year, with none being passed so far." Will bills like these ever get passed? Will we ever see nutrition facts on fast food wrappers? Will consumers ever bother to read them?
posted by sharksandwich (35 comments total)

 
Sounds like a good idea, but I'm suspicious of anything that involves CSPI. It sounds like they're printing the total number of fat grams, not saturated or trans fat - that's based on pretty oudated nutritional wisdom, but printing calories is a good thing. Of course, the restaurant association guy, who says that "It's hard for me to believe that people wouldn't know that meat and dairy products are fattening," seems to to operating on even more obsolete knowledge.
posted by transona5 at 11:31 AM on July 15, 2003


Yes, Yes, and No.

You can't legislate people into doing what is good for them. Otherwise, drugs wouldn't be a problem, booze and cigs wouldn't be popular, and condom usage would be 100% except in instances where both partners had been tested for all STDs and wanted to breed.

Next question?
posted by swerdloff at 11:36 AM on July 15, 2003


But it's not like they're requiring some kind of warning label to persuade people into making healthy choices. It's just neutral information. It's very hard to estimate the amount of calories in a food item. I had no idea until recently that a slice of bacon has about a tenth as many calories as a bagel.
posted by transona5 at 11:44 AM on July 15, 2003


I've been pining for something like this for a long time. They don't even have to be on the menu, just make them available separately for those that wish not to know what they're putting in their body. I think a lot of what restaurants don't recognize is that this could help them to get some health-conscious eaters that don't know that menu item x is actually not as bad as we think. Not to mention, I may pay an extra dollar to get the lighter appetizer if I realize that it's got 12 less grams of fat in it.
posted by Ufez Jones at 11:47 AM on July 15, 2003


Do people really need nutritional information to know that a Big Mac is unhealthy? Or that "super-sizing" an order of french/freedom fries means more fat and calories? Requiring this information besides every item on a menu seems excessive and unnecessary. Wouldn't a simple 1-sheet that lists all nutritional information suffice? And don't many fast food chains already provide this?

Also, it seems unfair to single out chain restaurants. Can't people gain just as much weight eating at locally owned restaurants? Why not require labels there as well?
posted by herc at 11:57 AM on July 15, 2003


They are available already, for the most part.

This sort of lawmaking disgusts me.

Damn statists.
posted by trharlan at 12:06 PM on July 15, 2003


Do people really need nutritional information to know that a Big Mac is unhealthy?

No, but you'd be surprised how many people think that a Filet-O-Fish is healthy, or think that supersizing that order of fries is "no big deal".

(FWIW, I'm pretty sure McDonald's already provides this info)
posted by mkultra at 12:07 PM on July 15, 2003


Yes. Yes, they do. Nutrition is anything but obvious. Sure, a supersized anything is bigger than the non-supersized version at the same place, but how big is a regular portion compared to what you'd normally eat for lunch? A fast-food hamburger is small, a lunch at a restaurant is probably not. Maybe more people will eat at chains if a bill like this passes, since they know what they're getting - I assume they just left out local restaurants for logistical reasons.

And I think you're right - McDonald's does give out this information. This would have more of an effect on places like the Cheesecake Factory.
posted by transona5 at 12:12 PM on July 15, 2003


The more information the consumer has, the better. That's all there is to it. Retail merchants in any industry have very little incentive to provide the consumer with information. You can't legislate how people eat, but its a mistake to think that people who are educated won't make better decisions. They may not always, but in general, they will. If people wish to disregard information, that's fine, but it should still be presented to them. Most people probably aren't aware that nutritional information is available upon request. Printing this information on the menu will help educate consumers and make them more aware of what exactly they're putting in their bodies.
posted by PigAlien at 12:15 PM on July 15, 2003


a slice of bacon has about a tenth as many calories as a bagel.

An egg bagel

Calories: 163
Fat: 1.4g
Protein: 6g
Cholesterol: 8mg

Bacon (1 slice)

Calories: 36
Fat: 3.1
Protein: 1.9g
Cholesterol: 5mg

Overall though the problem with Bacon is nitrates. Nitrates are added to bacon in the USA to prevent food borne bacteria. However, bacon can be made correctly without nitrates and be safe, just as it has been for thousands of years and still is all over the world. But Americans would rather eat nitrates and get cancer then spend the extra money to make bacon correctly. Bacon also has a lot of quality highly absorbable Vitamin B12.
posted by stbalbach at 12:17 PM on July 15, 2003


I've seen 350 calories for a bagel - maybe it's those enormous, overstuffed bagel-chain ones, though.
posted by transona5 at 12:25 PM on July 15, 2003


Actually, for your nitrate free bacon needs I recommend prosciutto. If made properly it's only cured, no preservatives or even smoke. A nice thing piece in the frying pan is very tasty.
posted by substrate at 12:28 PM on July 15, 2003


This sort of lawmaking disgusts me.

Damn statists.


trharlan- What's so infuriating about mandating that information be provided? Restricting people's freedom to choose is a very bad thing, I agree, but where's the problem with allowing people to make more informed choices?
posted by COBRA! at 12:29 PM on July 15, 2003


Herc: I agree, some of the greasy spoons out there must have huge monthly butter bills. I shudder to think about the calories/fat in a Monte Cristo. I can just imagine how it's creation went down..."Hmm, this sandwich is good, but missing a certain something. Let's deep fry the fucker!"
posted by sharksandwich at 12:29 PM on July 15, 2003


herc: signaling out chain restaurants, as you say, has three benefits. One, you cover a majority of restaurants (as the conglomeration process of American restaurants is pretty much complete) with a minimum number of points of contact, and therefore a minimum amount of enforcement overhead. Second, you minimize the total private economic impact of the action, since most chain food is prefab and can therefore be tested once for the entire nation, and the menu printing and signage processes are largely centralized (I have no idea what food labs make on stuff like this, but my guess is the printing cost dwarfs the testing cost, and can therefore benefit even more in absolute dollar value from centralization). Lastly (and I'm making this one up, but it seems reasonable), locally owned restaurants are under greater competitive pressures from the chains (not that this seems to matter as much in the restaurant market as in the rest of our commodity economy) and are far more likely to voluntarily follow suit than the chains would.
posted by Vetinari at 12:30 PM on July 15, 2003


I use this as a resource: Dotti's. Admittedly, it's Weight Watcher's biased, but basically, this women checks the restaurant websites and, when necassary, writes letters requesting the information.

I've noticed some fast food places do post this information. The local KFC has a posterboard with most of the nutritional information for the menu items.

I'm all for adding nurtitional labels to fast food. As I am watching my food intake, having the information there can help me decide how much I can indulge.
posted by Karmakaze at 12:41 PM on July 15, 2003


The local KFC has a posterboard with most of the nutritional information for the menu items.
KFC has this? Do they also list the LD50?
posted by substrate at 1:17 PM on July 15, 2003


Well, COBRA!, as I linked earlier, they provide the information already, in print at the restaurants, on the web, etc. Anyone with a library card can get the information, via the web. Anyone with a phone can call 800 555 1212, get the number for any fast food chain, and I'm sure the vast majority would mail it gratis. As far as I know, there's no law requiring it.

What these laws amount to, IMHO, is a slap in the face to free speech. The government is compelling the companies to speak.

Should the Hyundai dealer put signs on his car that state "Risk of dying in this car- Much higher than a Volvo"? Or maybe your insurance agent should print, on the first page of the policy, "I made $1,000 on you today. You could have bought a policy from a better insurer via the internet at half the price"? Maybe the ER physician should have to wear a t-shirt that says "You are four times more likely to die under my care than you would be with this hospital's average physician."

Perhaps the average MeFi user could have a placard on his desk, showing the number of hours he goofs off every day. That would help the employer make informed personnel decisions.

If you support mandatory fast-food labeling, but you are opposed to the other disclosures I suggest, I'd like to know why.
posted by trharlan at 1:26 PM on July 15, 2003


Also, it seems unfair to single out chain restaurants. Can't people gain just as much weight eating at locally owned restaurants? Why not require labels there as well?

For fair practice all eating establishments would have to follow these laws?
Think this may kill the better eating places, especially since most have daily specials. Then this could have percussion back on the consumer; Burger King: sorry can't have it your way, only what the ingredient card has on it.

The restaurant chains and especially fast food places will prosper under this bill, because their menu rarely changes. Wal-mart food industry you will see with these bills.

Go to your local-oversize-store with groceries. Check out the meat dept; each package weighs the same and has the ingredients on it. But weighs the same? I'm talking steaks, pork chops and fish fillets. Every cow, pig & fish are not identical or are they now?

Where will the responsibility lie, with the knowledge or the unknowing ones? Look not saying ok to lie about ingredients in food but don't be so lazy that everything you don't want to do has to be spelled out for you too.

Just because Paul Newman's salad dressing is used at McDonalds, does that make McDonalds heathy. The adds would have you think this, your not a robot so don't answer because I'm sure you can think too. If calorie count is so important take a dietician class and be knowledgeable and you may able to pass this knowledge on too. Being informed does take work on one's own part.

Next you won't have to read because they will by law tell you the fine print, just saying.
posted by thomcatspike at 1:42 PM on July 15, 2003


Hmm, this sandwich is good, but missing a certain something. Let's deep fry the &ucker!"

or maybe a customer said can you deep fry this and the owner said yummy. Fried food is bad for you too, known that as an uneducated child.
posted by thomcatspike at 1:48 PM on July 15, 2003


Actually, for your nitrate free bacon needs I recommend prosciutto.

Prosciutto isn't a bacon; it's a ham. Perhaps you're thinking of pancetta, a classic Italian bacon? Traditionally-prepared pancetta should also be nitrate-free.

You could certainly fry up a piece of prosciutto and have it with your eggs and hash browns, but it won't give you the same sort of greasy crunch that you've come to expect from bacon. Mmmm...bacon.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:52 PM on July 15, 2003


In defense of several fast food chains: I recently was diagnosed with serious hypertension. Part of the solution to it is an equally serious change in diet. McDonald's, Wendy's, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Culver's (a Midwestern chain) all gave me nutrional information on their menus right there in the store, no big deal, simply for the asking. Sometimes in this debate, people make it sound as though they're refusing to give the information to people who ask for it; my experience is that's not true.
posted by JollyWanker at 1:57 PM on July 15, 2003


I use CalorieKing for such information.
posted by sadie01221975 at 2:00 PM on July 15, 2003


You shouldn't have to take a nutrition class to puzzle out what might be in your food. Were you guys against mandatory ingredient labeling too? The Hyundai example doesn't hold up. The labels don't say "This food is more likely to make you die than a piece of spinach." They say, "This food has 400 calories and 5 grams of fat."

And it's far from clear that fried food is bad for you. A piece of fish panfried in non-hydrogenated vegetable oil is a whole lot healthier than some fat-free white bread.
posted by transona5 at 2:53 PM on July 15, 2003


Thanks for clearing that up mr_roboto. I almost shed a tear when I read the comment about frying prosciutto... a matter of opinion of course. But I just think it's much better as is. Fresh bacon can be had from a butcher too. The butcher shop rules in general.

I think the point is, transona5, that the information is already available and has been for quite some time. If I bought a Big Mac off the shelf at a gas station (with no MacDonald's in sight), then nutritional information on the wrapper might be a good idea. But the only way I know of purchasing that sandwich is at an actual MacDonald's... where the information is only a simple request away.

Nutritional labels on Keebler cookies are there because you're buying the box at grocery store that isn't responsible for actually making the cookies, so there's nowhere else the information could be obtained exept for on the package.
posted by Witty at 4:56 PM on July 15, 2003


Will consumers ever bother to read them?
No.
posted by dg at 4:59 PM on July 15, 2003


But the important part of this legislation is that it applies to places like Denny's or Applebee's, not that it makes the information more accessible at McDonald's.
posted by transona5 at 5:12 PM on July 15, 2003


Will consumers ever bother to read them?
No.


I tend to agree. Before going to just about any chain restaurant, I'll read up on the nutritional information on the website, if it is available. I think if people aren't already doing that now, I doubt it will change anything. I've never seen anyone go up to the big nutrional chart at McD's and read the information.
posted by gyc at 5:38 PM on July 15, 2003


If you support mandatory fast-food labeling, but you are opposed to the other disclosures I suggest, I'd like to know why.

Because for the other types of disclosure you mentioned, no-one has yet put together a fair and comparable set of benchmarks that can be easily and objectively understood by the consumer. Food labels, on the other hand, are pretty black-and-white. Here's what's in your food: no room for argument or misunderstanding.

Besides, to follow your argument to its logical conclusion, there is no justification for placing warning labels on anything: not cigarettes, nor poisonous materials, or hazardous construction sites.
posted by plenty at 2:41 AM on July 16, 2003


Two points:

Should the Hyundai dealer put signs on his car that state "Risk of dying in this car- Much higher than a Volvo"?

Not the same thing, as others have already pointed out better than I could. It'd be more appropriate, I think, to suggest an analogy where the Hyundai dealer is forced to disclose a list of all the parts in the car.

What these laws amount to, IMHO, is a slap in the face to free speech. The government is compelling the companies to speak.

This doesn't hold up for me because corporations DON'T have the same rights to free speech that individuals do (the same reason none of your other examples hold up, trharlan; they all represent individuals being forced to label themselves, rather than a corporation being forced to tell its customers just what they're buying).

Take the laws regarding false advertising. I believe last year a company actually tried to sue for the right to lie in its ads, claiming it was protected free speech (This is the closest thing I found at 5:30 in the morning, though, meaning I may not have my facts straight or it's the wrong hour to be awake. Possibly both). There's the rub in this case: Corporations don't have the right to lie to their consumers or shareholders, and if they have to provide more information about just what exactly is in their product, I'm for that. More disclosure isn't the same as not lying, but it is getting closer to the truth.
posted by nath at 3:24 AM on July 16, 2003


What if the restaurant is a sloe proprietorship, nath?
posted by trharlan at 6:33 AM on July 16, 2003


err, sole.
posted by trharlan at 6:34 AM on July 16, 2003


Should the Hyundai dealer put signs on his car that state "Risk of dying in this car- Much higher than a Volvo"?
Not the same thing, as others have already pointed out better than I could. It'd be more appropriate, I think, to suggest an analogy where the Hyundai dealer is forced to disclose a list of all the parts in the car.

True enough; I don't put a Hyundai in my body, or use it for fuel and energy.
posted by tr33hggr at 6:38 AM on July 16, 2003


What these laws amount to, IMHO, is a slap in the face to free speech. The government is compelling the companies to speak.

That's an interesting angle to free-speech protection. I've never thought of it that way.

However, I still don't have a problem with this labeling. I'd be against government-mandated labels that said "this stuff tastes like a greasy ass," or even "you should be eating something healthier." But objective facts? Not a problem.

To address your examples:
A) I wouldn't have a problem with a mandate that car-safety information should be provided with a car.

B) Talking about price is a false comparisons. Insurance companies DO disclose exactly what you're buying. You may not read it, but, then, you may not read the fast food label. As is your right.

C) Physician statistics like you mention would also be wonderful, but I don't think you'd have much chance to read a t-shirt after they put you under.

D) Personnel: hey, a man's got to do something while a process runs.

The companies already have the information in question. Redesigning the labels to include it isn't much of a hardship.
posted by COBRA! at 7:43 AM on July 16, 2003


It looks like sole proprietorships aren't covered under the proposed bill (it only affects chains, from what I gather).

So to answer your question, I don't know. But even disregarding that I think the other points still stand.
posted by nath at 1:40 PM on July 16, 2003


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