I read an article in the paper today about a forced change being made to some items being offered at a restaurant in downtown Portland. The change is part of a federal grant to help fight obesity, and among items being removed are whoopie pies. Other items will be reinvented with healthier ingredients – whole wheat pasta and reduced fat milk for mac and cheese, for instance – and the nutritional information for all items will be available. Other, healthier options in general will be added to the menu, and some portion sizes cut down.
Now, I’m all for providing healthy options. It drives me bonkers when I go somewhere and all I can get is junk food. Portion sizes are also important. It’s a bit daunting to see how much you get served in some places, since most of us are conditioned to eat everything in front of us. And telling me what’s actually in the food I’m eating is a big plus in my book.
That being said, I’m very, very worried about restaurants or businesses being told what they’re allowed to serve. This seems to go against free enterprise, for one, but more than that, it gets at one of the biggest problems, as I see it, with diets or weight-loss programs – creating forbidden foods.
I know from personal experience that if you can’t get something that you want one way, you’ll find some other way to get it. Removing those menu options will not stop people who want them from getting them, but it will take away that business from the café. Additionally, it starts annoyance and rebellious tendencies festering, making people feel ashamed of eating certain foods, and in general creating a very unhealthy relationship with food.
I would much prefer that they simply make smaller versions of the items, and publish the nutritional information. This allows people a choice, and doesn’t place a stigma on those foods. Plus, what these measures always seem to forget is that certain people have to eat those sorts of foods, some of them all the time because of high metabolism, others because of lots of exercise. Say you just came off a 100-mile bike ride, and went someplace that you could only get salads and low-fat mac and cheese? That would be as bad as going someplace with no healthy options.
It’s all about choice, and what bothers me is that in this case, choice is being removed.