The case for caloric labeling
You have to give Subway props. If nothing else, they are more or less honest about their food. There's not a lot of mystery involved with eating a Subway sandwich, salad, or wrap. You get to choose what goes on it, you get to see it being made, you get to annoy the sandwich artist with your demands ("No green peppers! Extra jalapenos!"). And you get a pretty good idea of how many calories you have consumed, because Subway provides visible labels for its food, with calorie and nutritional information. Now, Subway prides itself on its "Subway diet", but the best thing about Subway is that they tell it like it is, more or less.
This can't be said of other restaurant chains. Fast food restaurants, for instance, were notoriously secretive about their food's calorie levels until very recently, and even now, you have to pry the nutritional information out of the restaurant (of course, you can look for it online, but that involves more planning than most people are willing to do).
New York City has been leading the fight to legislate caloric labeling at chain restaurants, hoping that an open display of just how many calories are in that burger will cause some diners to make healthier dining choices. Chain restaurants are the only ones being targeted by this law, partly because their food can be incredibly unhealthy, and partly because, as megacorporations, they can afford to change their signage to accomodate the law.
Businesses that are affected by the law have balked of course. Although they cite the cost of creating signs and menus that list caloric info, we're talking about businesses that spend billions of dollars on advertising every year, and who make billions of dollars in profits.
Some argue that calorie labeling won't make any difference in diner's choices.
“Do you think people will stop eating McDonald’s French fries and Big Macs?” asked Rick Sampson of the New York State Restaurant Association, which is suing New York City over its law. “It doesn’t keep me from eating a candy bar even though the calories are listed on it right in front of me.”
This is a disingenuous argument. For one thing, no one is suggesting that people should stop eating at McDonald's. But knowing how many calories you are consuming CAN help you realize that, since you're eating a Big Mac, you don't need the fries. The comparison to a labeled candy bar is also useless; most candy bars contain a couple hundred calories, maybe as many as 400 - a chicken Caesar's salad at Chili's has over 1,000 calories.
That's right. A chicken salad. Over 1,000 calories. That's over half a day's caloric intake for an active person who is not trying to lose weight. Think about that. How many women order salads at lunch as a part of being "healthy"? Can you imagine how much longer it would take to lose weight if you were consistently eating 400 more calories than you should?
The truth is, chain restaurants don't want you to know that your salad has 1,000 in it. If you knew that, you wouldn't order dessert or a soda with your meal. You might actually eat less when you go out, or you might start eating out less frequently. The truth is, the labeling WOULD be bad for business. It's not that your local McDonald's would be shuttered overnight, but you'd think twice about returning as often if you had to scour the menu for a meal with under 800 calories in it.
This fun this video from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (via Consumerist) does a nifty job showing how the food at popular "Italian" chain restaurants stacks up against junk food, calorically.
I understand that Americans really hate being told what to do, and businesses especially balk at additional rules and regulations. Some might argue that Americans need to take charge of their own lives and their own health, and not wait around for the government to come to their rescue. But how can Americans take charge of their health if they can't figure out how many calories they are consuming? It might seem like a no-brainer to some that a salad coated in dressing and parmesan cheese isn't healthy, but 1,000 calories? That one surprised even me, and I'll look for any reason not to eat at Chili's.
Wise Bread readers know, for the most part, that the healthiest meals are the ones that you cook at home. But for the occasional times that we dine out, shouldn't we have the right to know what we are consuming?