Friday, May 23, 2008

Bad Menu

From Hit and Run, the reasons why mandated posting of nutritional information for restaurants is a bad idea. According to the study cited, the actual fat and calorie counts at a number of restaurants were drastically different from what was actually being posted in the restaurants. Writing at Hit and Run, Katherine Mangu-Ward is right- this incorrect information could provided the basis for a lawsuit alleging some sort of fraudulent advertising.

But having experience at both a laboratory involved in nutritional testing and in the legal field, my head is spinning. First, as anyone who does nutritional testing will tell you, there is always going to be some variability between the product and the nutrition label, even when that product is meticulously manufactured. What you see on a nutrition label is the product of rounding, so it is not precise in the first place- and, even the most stringent QAQC program can't ensure that every single item that hits store shelves has the exact right weights and proportions of every ingredient.

The story here isn't really talking about such minor differences, but the principles are still the same. The problem is that restaurant food is not prepared in the precise manner that processed food is prepared in. Rather than a machine distributing a precise amount of ingredients, you may have a minimum wage worker putting a dollop of sour cream on your challupa. When it comes to something like fat content, those dollops could make a big difference. The point is that having individually prepared items- even certain sorts of fast food- introduces the human element and makes it near impossible to have any sort of consistency in nutritional information. Yet the food nannies continue to push mandatory labeling, even though the result is people may rely on faulty information.

As Katherine Mangu-Ward notes, the only real solution to this problem is eliminating the human element and requiring prepackaged meals at every restaurant. Of course, such "eliminate restaurants because they're bad for us" arguments fly in the face of .. well .. everything.

There is also the real legal problem associated with these ridiculous labeling requirements. Imagine if customers actually could sue for fraud because of posted nutritional content that didn't match what was served. You could see lawsuits left and right, all because restaurants were forced to post this information in the first place. It's just insane- adults should be allowed to be adults.


Blogger McMc said...

Do you even read things or do you just see what you want to see?

You immediately take the side of the restaurants because you have a problem with the nutritional labeling, yet you ignore the fact that it wasn't just a few calories here or there, but hundreds!

"The Macaroni Grill sample showed the widest variance from the menu's claims. Its "Pollo Margo[sic] Skinny Chicken," which was supposed to have 500 calories, actually had 1,022, according to the testing. The chicken dinner was supposed to have 6 grams of fat. It had 49...."

As Hit and Run points out, that is fraud. And this isn't merely a manner of someone liking their chicken different than others, but just an outright lie. It's not a bad idea at all to force restaurants to put nutritional info on their menus because we as adults have a right to know what we are eating. And I know what you're going to say, "if you don't know what you're eating, then don't eat it", but that's garbage. You shouldn't be allowed to serve people food if you're preparing it in an unhealthy manner, but you definitely shouldn't be allowed to tell people the food you're giving them is 500 calories when it's actually double that. Again, that's not just a manner of cooking it differently, but a matter of lying. People eat out because they trust they're getting a decent meal, maybe not totally healthy, but not completely unhealthy.

Obviously you won't hit the mark every time, or at all, when figuring out nutritional info, especially when food is individually prepared. But it is unethical to just low ball everything.

You say adults should be allowed to be adults, but if adults can't even be somewhat close to honest on their menus, then they waive their right to anonymity.

3:57 PM  
Anonymous b.rose said...

george likes his chicken spicy

6:42 PM  
Blogger lonely libertarian said...

The point I was trying to make was that it's literally possible to get these drastic variations from food preparation- that is that same chicken dish could have that much variation in the fat and calorie content based upon who's preparing it. The more "homemade" a dish is so to speak, the more variation you're going to get. 1 cup for one chef may literally end up being 2 cups for another. Even in terms of fast food, something as simple as a dollop of sour cream on your taco- as I suggested- could literally double your fat content depending on who's judging that dollop. Cooking is an art and the further you get away from preprocessed prepackaged food the less the reported nutritional information from the lab actually means. In the end, you're talking about human beings preparing each item.

My point is that forcing restaurants to post nutritional information is a waste of time because if restaurants were actually forced into meeting those posted requirements you'd literally be taking the human touch out of cooking and that's not what people want when they go to a restaurant. Posting this sort of information only provides people with bad information that they may think is sound.

Again, if I haven't been clear, for any sort of a real restaurant, posting nutritional information is a waste of time because it will never be remotely accurate, unless, as I suggested, you literally rely on nothing but prepackaged and premeasured ingredients.

8:24 PM  
Anonymous joey porter rose said...

maybe macaroni grill should put an asterisk next to their food items in question.

12:39 PM  
Anonymous CookedApple RD said...

Consistency during preparation as well as supplier information will continue to be an issue with restaurants in regards to how accurate their nutrition facts are. Most restaurants have standardized recipes and portion control practices to limit variance among servings. As people begin to rely on their nutrition facts more and more, restaurants will need to keep tighter control over their preparation practices. Companies like the one I work for ( can help by providing nutrition information on standardized recipes. It is then the restaurant’s responsibility to follow those recipes. What was once a cost control issue is now an issue of what’s right and wrong.

4:36 PM  

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