Counting Calories

Ideas and Issues

caloricountNew Orleans     The Food and Drug Administration, FDA, is finally laying out the rules required by the Affordable Care Act for various kinds of food delivery and preparation establishments to reveal the number of calories on various items. When it comes to restaurants, this is mainly for the big guys with twenty of more locations. It also includes things like movie theater popcorn which you already knew was bad for you and now you’ll know exactly how bad, and same-same for some alcohol products.

The National Restaurant Association claims they helped out in the process, so it wouldn’t be worst or, as some might have hoped, any better. Some grocery stores, like Krogers, are bent out of shape. Krogers claims the requirements may cost some jobs, though it is unclear how that might happen, and might raise grocery prices, though they didn’t say more. Their lobbying outfit claims this will cost the industry $1 billion bucks and hundreds of millions annually.

This is old news for some places. Starbucks and Panera chains have already begun posting, and frankly it is interesting reading. New York and Seattle have had these rules for several years.

I remember changing planes in New York’s Kennedy airport when these rules first took effect. I walked from outlet to outlet reading the numbers from item to item. A hamburger place along the lines of Five Guys that I had always liked, was a disaster with one item outstripping the next in a competitive contest of horror and gluttony. Walking back after looking at the pizza place, the Chinese place, the chicken place, and the Dunkin Donuts place, the unsurprising thing was how bad all of the choices were. All of these concessionaires may have owed their place in this space to the public authorities that manage New York’s airports, but it was all about what worked for the cash register, not the chest ticker in the customer. There were no healthy alternatives.

Stuck in the Houston airport for 3 hours the other day in route from Tulsa I ended up with a small bowl of chicken soup, but I would never pretend the calorie count was great. I was just hoping at least it was fresh. Disclosure without alternatives won’t lead to better health, just more depression about bad decisions on limited choices.

I’m all for the disclosures, but am skeptical of the health impact, since all of this nastiness in the food bins and over the counter will still drive our too limited choices. Affixing a calorie counter is not the same as former Mayor Bloomberg’s attempted ban of big gulp sodas. We can hope one path will lead to the other, but in the world of corporate controlled food and rapidly expanding and encroaching food deserts, it’s more likely to lead to bad comparisons around ridiculous choices for a long time until healthy alternatives drive the market and give us a way to eat better at affordable prices, buying both enjoyment and better health.