The Chain Gang, Ctd

by Patrick Appel

A reader writes:

Regarding Conor Friedersdorf's commentary on NYC's Nutrition labeling law:  I like innovative cooking and "Mom and Pop" places too; but these establishments are exempt from the requirement.  The rule applies to chains with 15 or more units in the City, excluding your local burger joint, pizza parlor, my friend's Buttercup Bakeshop (best cupcakes in the City!) and virtually all "local" establishments.

Another reader advocates for a calorie range:

I share Conor F.'s taste for unique, "one-off" restaurants. I also have a soft-spot for Wendy's. And pertinently, I live in New York City, so every time I walk into Wendy's I see the calorie counts on the menu. I'm a fan of the spicy chicken sandwich, and the calories listed are (approximately) "460-890 calories." I have little doubt that even a small restaurant could estimate their calories in a similar fashion -- regardless of their potentially ever-changing food suppliers.

Now, you might say that such a broad caloric range really isn't that informative. But, studies like the ones Ezra Klein often blogs about, show that we wildly underestimate how many calories are in a meal, so even a 430 calorie range can prove useful. And that value, in my view, far exceeds the minimal cost of requiring smaller chains to similarly label their offerings.

One more reader:

I too am a fan of one off restaurants, but let's be clear about the burden imposed by providing nutritional information. There are any number of fine recipe programs that cost less than $50 and are easy to learn that provide excellent nutrition information, per serving. You type in the ingredients and the number of servings and the software does the magic as the nutrition info is resident in the off the shelf program. Many people routinely do this for their families. I want to know if that delicious risotto was tasty because it's got 200 calories worth of butter in it.

A number of my relatives work in restaurants, and it is typical that a well run restaurant calculates the food cost per serving of menu offerings. They can and should provide nutritional information.

This whole debate is reminiscent of the debate over food labeling...which was aggressively opposed by industry. Can you imagine not having info on the side of the box or can? How could a person eat a low sodium diet without that nutrition label?

Obesity is one of our most serious and expensive national health problems. It's hard to make a wise uninformed food/health choice. Give us the info.