Calorie Counting

Starting this past summer, New York chains with more than 15 stores were required to post calorie content of food next to the price on the menu. It seems that the wait is over for those who were wondering what sort of impact new nutrition labeling laws would have. The New York Times dining section today has an article titled “Calories Do Count”, which examines the effect (or lack of effect) that the new rules have had on not just the public but the restaurants.

There’s a clever tip of the hat to the current economic crisis:

For the last few decades, the most popular diets were complex formulas that promised abundant eating with just the right combinations of fat, protein and carbohydrates. Now those regimens are starting to look like exotic mortgages and other risky financing instruments. And just like a reliable savings account, good old calorie counting is coming back into fashion.

And the requisite “both sides of the coin” reporting about the consumers (even more of that in the comments on the article).

But I found it interesting that one connection that the article doesn’t appear to make is between the consumers and their rapidly thinning wallets. (No, I wasn’t going to say “waistlines”!) The article works on the assumption that most people will visit a chain restaurant at least once a week, if not once a day. I understand that this is pretty common in our country, particularly in our cities, where these chains thrive, but will this still be true in a time when people won’t have the money to spend on eating out? It’s pretty clear from the article that restaurant prices are not coming down, even as portions decrease to make the calorie count less eye-popping.

I’m not so much interested in what the restaurants are doing to respond to the consumer response to posting calories as I am in seeing whether the consumers go back to cooking from scratch and following other, simpler eating guidelines like Michael Pollan’s “Eat [real] food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” and “Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.” As someone who used to love to eat out, I find it increasingly difficult to do so – unless I’m really going to splurge on an excellent restaurant that offers food that meets my criteria beyond taste (local, sustainably raised, organic…), I’d rather keep my money going to the farmers’ market and cook it myself.

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