Counting calories

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When evil, villainous calories lurk unknown in glazed doughnuts, burgers and other mouthwatering dishes, the city wonders what to do. Recently, the Oregon Nutrition Policy Alliance has come to rescue the helpless consumer from making a poor decision.

On July 27, The Oregonian ran a story about a proposal for Portland and Multnomah County to require some chain restaurants to list the number of calories and fat, sodium and carbohydrate content of each menu item. If this were to take off, other restaurants could be facing the same requirements.

To calculate the calories for every dish on the menu and post a placard listing results would be time intensive and therefore money intensive. Corporations typically have more disposable income than small mom ‘n’ pop cafes.

This mandate would be easier for corporations to follow, but it will be a costly expense for local restaurants that are already struggling with the increase of food costs and rent. Most corporations like Starbucks and Burgerville already have calorie information available on their Web sites and fliers with nutrition information in their stores.

McDonalds had listed nutritional guidelines in their restaurants for nearly a decade. To offset their lawsuits for “causing” obesity in adolescent girls, they began offering salads, apples and other less fattening menu items.

Unfortunately those items have failed, because people don’t buy them. Even though the calories are listed right in front of the viewing public, the public often chooses unhealthy dishes. After all, people typically don’t frequent burger joints and steakhouses for health reasons.

Should restaurants be responsible for peoples’ health? With all of the ongoing media about nutrition, people should already be aware the healthiest dishes are those packed with fruits and vegetables rather than sugar and grease.

People often say that they don’t have enough time to make lunch everyday, but waiting in line or sitting at a table and then waiting for the food to be prepared takes more time than grabbing an apple or a bag of baby carrots in the morning. People that care about their health know how to make smart food choices without a calorie list.

For those who are beginning to get their bodies into shape and all the while are clueless to whether they should eat a bran muffin or sandwich, there are plenty of resources available.

Several calorie-tracking books have spent time on the New York Times Bestseller list, most recently Eat This, Not That. Also, Googling “calorie counter” brings up an array of Web sites that allow you to track your daily intake. Most of these will also track whether you are eating the daily requirement for all of the essential food groups.

This way, everyone can take charge of their own individual health without further burdening the restaurants. Adding more strain to businesses hurts everyone in the long run when they’re forced to raise prices.

Not only would this be taxing to local restaurants, but also to the city that would have to ensure that it was mandated. Inspectors would need to be sent to the several thousand restaurants in Portland to check that the calories are posted. It’s unlikely that these inspectors would be given the time or the ability to make certain that the listed calories were 100 percent accurate.

Taxes would be better spent on schools, parks and other areas, rather than having someone go restaurant to restaurant to make sure that a number of calories is slapped up next to each menu item.

It’s widely spread knowledge that the Oregon Liquor Control Commission struggles to keep underage drinkers out of Portland bars. If an organization established since 1933 cannot even adequately enforce laws, it’s unrealistic to expect that a relatively newer department, such as the Oregon Nutrition Policy Alliance, would be able to implement something as trivial as calorie listings.

The most likely scenario is that some restaurants would comply with the guidelines while others, pressed for time and money, would just throw up some estimated calorie counts and call it good. Customers would still be in the dark, no better off than before.

Not only is this idea a waste of the city’s resources, which could be put to other uses, but this mandate insults the public’s intelligence by insinuating that people are unable to figure out whether or not they should be eating doughnuts, burgers, onion rings, fries and so on.

Most people know that they shouldn’t eat these treats, but they do it anyway, regardless of their nutritional deficiency, because these foods taste good. Anyone who orders a triple fudge sundae and thinks that they’re doing their body a favor needs a nutritionist, not a calorie-informed menu.

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