Monday, November 10, 2008

Sharon, tell us how you feel about restaurant labeling

I'm a person with lots of opinions. And here's one of them. I'm opposed to restaurant labeling...that is, labeling the menu items with nutrient content. Here's why:
First, it's almost impossible for a cook to adhere to an exact recipe when cooking on the line. Line cooks do not have time to weigh and measure each ounce of liquid or pinch of salt as an order comes in from the floor. The public is being deluded if they think that the dish they eat today is identical to what they will eat tomorrow. Most of the time, the cook who prepares it today is not even the one who will prepare it the following day. Sure, the food always tastes the same to us but if two or three of the same dishes were prepared individually and served side by side, you might actually be able to discern the differences in taste. Unless you weigh and measure all your ingredients at home, each time you prepare a dish the flavor and the nutrient content will be different. We don't notice the sometimes subtle differences because the food tastes about the same. It isn't.
Now if people use the menu information just as a guide, then maybe it isn't so bad. But that's where having only a little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing. I don't think that's how it is going to work. I think someone will look at the menu, scan the calories and make a decision based solely on calories. I think people will ignore all the other calculations and look at calories and maybe fat as the criteria for making a choice. But there's more to making healthy choices than just calories and fat. Remember, an avocado, a very healthy food, is very high in calories and very high in fat. Yet it is a food we should all be eating.
Maybe even more important is that food will, I think, become less about pleasure and more about whether it is fattening or not. Pleasure. Maybe I put too much emphasis on pleasure for myself but by making the menu read like a nutrition textbook, the emphasis will shift to numbers and what the food provides rather than the pleasure the food gives us. I see that as a dangerous trend that could possibly backfire.
Go out and order a grilled chicken breast served with quinoa pilaf and roasted cauliflower, for instance. Now, that actually sounds pretty good to me. But if you order it because it's the lowest calorie option on the menu rather than because it sounds like a tasty offering, then you might....just might...consider that you have the right to indulge in a "sinful" dessert afterwards because look at how virtuous you were in choosing your meal.
Sure, there's really nothing wrong with that except that it sets up the notion that if we eat good food, we can have dessert. Remember when your mommy promised you a dessert if you ate your vegetables?
So you chose the lowest calorie option and then you indulge in dessert. Voila. Calories are now much higher...maybe even double. But you really didn't want the grilled chicken breast. You wanted (I wanted!) the fried chicken breast. Perhaps you would have been satisfied with the fried chicken breast, mashed potatoes and gravy and you wouldn't then order the sinful dessert to reward yourself for your virtuous entree choice.
I'm just sayin'.....It's okay to know what's in your food as long as you understand that it isn't exactly what's on your's an estimate and it's variable depending on who is in the kitchen, how well she is trained, and how much time and effort the cook puts into being exact. I'm just sayin'....It's okay to want to know what's in your food as long as the calories and/or fat content isn't the only criteria you use to make a choice.
I'm just sayin'....So far none of this has worked. Labels on food and labels in restaurants and all the carb free food and "value" added foods haven't kept us from getting fat and fatter.
I don't have the answer. I only have a criticism.

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