Freedom and the pursuit of calorie info

This week, a New York City judge threw out a law requiring certain city restaurants to have the calorie information of all of their dishes printed on the menus.

Why?

It conflicted with another federal regulation describing how restaurants should list calories on a voluntary basis.

This brings both good and bad news.

The good? I can go to a restaurant in New York and not be forced to contemplate how many calories and fat grams I'm consuming. If I want to know, I can ask. But I don't have to know.

The bad? It's only a matter of time. True, the rulings and regulations were aimed almost entirely at national chain restaurants and not at more local joints, but the trend is disturbing.

Health departments and their officials say that knowing the number of calories you consume at any given time is a way to make an "informed choice about your health." They are always bringing up the absurd level of alarm at today's "obesity epidemic".

I find this amusing. For about as long as I can remember, there have been calorie and nutrition facts printed on packaged foods. Also for as long as I can remember, people have been decrying how fat we're getting and how much it's getting worse. Which leads to the following conclusion: if knowing how many calories you were consuming would help people lose weight, you would think they'd figure it out in about 20 years.

I don't know anyone who isn't aware of calories and fat grams and weight loss. You'd have to be living under a rock not to know. I will confess that people are stupid. But they're not that stupid. At least not all the time.*

So maybe it's not that people don't know or don't care, because I would bet they do. Most women are dieting or want to lose weight. They believe it's good for their health, and they'll look better, too! Moms want to set a good example for their kids. Or children for their parents.

I think the main reason why this stuff doesn't work: our bodies did not evolve to calculate how many calories we "needed" to consume each day. We are not wired to count calories and eat the same exact damn thing every day. You ate what carrion you and your sweetie managed to scavenge, and that was that. Your body didn't tell you to eat when it didn't need fuel because it was detrimental in the long run. We have better things to do.

Ruby Tuesdays tried printing calorie info on their menus because they thought customers would want to know what they were eating.

They didn't. Eventually, the company received so many complaints that the offending numbers were removed from the menu.

I am well aware that calorie and food information can be helpful to some people in some circumstances. But I don't need any help to make myself feel guilty when tucking into a nice dinner. If I want it, I'll order it. If I end up ruining my health, that's too bad. No one is going around and offering to sue Weight Watchers on my behalf because of how they promote a diet mentality.

I never thought the First Amendment would be used to help me retain my freedom to eat whatever the hell I want with joy and without guilt, but there you have it.

*Then again, in this time frame we also went from Ronald Reagan to Dubya, so go figure.

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3 comments:

Sarah said...

very interesting post!

how has this week been for you?

xoxo
Sarah

Jeanne said...

Hello Carrie,

Well written.

My thought is that the public needs to refocus from weight/outward appearances to feelings and thoughts.

Personally, if restaurants want to help customers make informed choices, all they really need to do is describe what each item contains. (Like a hamburger has burger, bun, lettuce, tomato, pickle, onion, ketchup, mustard, etc.) That would help people with allergies/intolerances/sensitivities/perferences from having to ask what is in particular items.

Or better still, if the point is truly to better our health, why don't the restaurants take the money they would have spent on new menus and use it to include whole grain rolls (or those white-wheat ones) or leaner cuts of meats or including more veggie options?

Or even better, why doesn't the government spend money on educational programs/ads/what-have-you that teach the benefits of "Listening to your body" and "trusting" it knows what it needs??? Why does everything need to be "scientifically" measured?

And what a load of hogwash it all is when the kilogram isn't even a stable measurement anymore.

Pardon me while I dismount from my soapbox... lol

All of this angers me, too.

thinking of you,
jeanne

bookgirl said...

I actually think it's a good thing. I think it's unfortunate they put a slant on weight and calories though. That part makes it hard for people w/ e/d. But, I think for everyone else its a good thing. I know so, so, so many people that have no clue what they are putting into their bodies every time they eat at a restaurant. And mabye if they knew, some would care and exercise some portion changes or even change what they eat. Information is supposed to be power and used responsibly, I think that's good. My brother-in-law is at risk of dying from a heart attack right now because he doesn't understand why his food choices are killing him. I think he needs to know the nutritional content to save his life. He doesn't realize how much he's eating when he gets a full restaurant meal and I think a lot of people are like that - in denial.

I'm recovering from an e/d and I still look at calories but I try to not look at with a guilt thing. I will chose the higher calorie yogurt - but I want to know that they aren't putting fake stuff in it. If something has too many sugars or sat. fat, I may chose something else. But not out of guilt, more out of I want good things in my body.

That doesn't mean it wouldn't be startling to look at how many calories are in a slice of cake! But it's my choice to eat it, and if I feel guilty it's only me that is making me feel guilty.

Ultimately we can chose to stop and look at the calories or not. I have a bathroom in my scale and I have to chose whether to get on it or not and if I do get on and look at that number, I have to decide how much power I'm going to give it. Sometimes when I'm wigging about calories, I just have to throw out a wrapper before I look, even when it's there.

Intriguing topic - thanks for bringing it up!

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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nour·ish: (v); to sustain with food or nutriment; supply with what is necessary for life, health, and growth; to cherish, foster, keep alive; to strengthen, build up, or promote



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