Food Freedom

Lo-Cal So-Cal?

Menu labeling laws

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Menu labeling laws are sweeping the nation—or have swept from New York City to L.A., anyway. In September Los Angeles passed a law requiring restaurants with more than 15 locations to post calorie counts on their menu boards, following the model of the Big Apple, whose menu labeling rules went into effect on August 1.

Leave it to diet-conscious Angelenos to take menu labeling to the max: The boards must indicate not just calorie counts but amounts of trans fat, saturated fat, carbohydrates, and more. Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is poised to sign into law a similar statewide requirement for all restaurants with more than 20 locations.

"No one can just look at food and know how many calories it contains," Andrea Giancoli, school nutrition coordinator for the Los Angeles Unified School District, told the Contra Costa Times in September. "Even professional dietitians can't tell by looking at a Big Mac what is in it." (Five hundred forty calories, in case you were wondering).

It's true that no one has magic calorie-counting vision, but it's hard to imagine that anyone is mistaking a Big Mac for health food. And with no definitive studies available on the topic, the jury is still out on whether menu labeling reduces calorie consumption. New Yorkers are discovering that tracking calories is trickier than expected, with portion sizes and seasonal ingredients confounding diners and restaurant owners alike.