Ersatz family fun and goode tymes eating establishment Applebee's and Sarah Ferguson workfare sponsor Weight Watchers are being sued for lying (lying!) about the calorie content of their character food. Reports the Cincinnati Enquirer:
At least six lawsuits have been filed against the companies across the country since late last year, when a Scripps News investigation hired a lab to test the food and found that it contained more calories and as much as three times the fat as advertised.
Applebee's spokesman Patrick Lenow said the lab tests are misleading because they are based on testing involving a small sample of menu items from a few locations. He said the menus acknowledged that some variation in fat and calorie content was possible.
"Trying to take a very small number and extrapolate that over a very large chain really isn't possible," Lenow said.
Well, yeah, that's for sure, though isn't that precisely the point of (those mostly state-mandated and/or implicitly coerced) menu information sheets that no one reads? Nevertheless:
The class-action lawsuit seeks unspecified damages from Applebee's and Weight Watchers on behalf of thousands of consumers….
[Plaintiff Pamela] Curry's suit claims that the tilapia dish she ordered contained 14 grams of fat—more than twice the amount claimed on the menu. Another dish, the Teriyaki Steak 'N Shrimp Skewers, contained almost 100 more calories than the 370 claimed on the menu, the suit says.
When she ordered those items, the suit claims, Curry became the victim of fraud and negligence.
Weight Watchers' role in this? They co-branded a series of menu items at Applebee's starting in 2005. No date is set for anything, as the judge decides whether this is a matter rightly decided at the federal or state level. Whole story here.
Paging Ooka the Wise, the mythical Japanese jurist who could solve any difficult case! This raises any number of issues, IMO. First, skip the fat jokes. Of course anyone eating in Applebee's should realize you can't walk out of there without packing on five to 10 pounds, or Imperial quarts or whatever.
Of course, Applebee's and most other restaurants post this sort of thing as much out of fear of regulation by anti-fat nannies, though some of it is done precisely to lure diet-conscious patrons. Etc. You can go on and on about the stupidity of all this, and the tangled roots without exhausting the possiblities, sort of like the chain's exciting new mix and match lunch menu.
Suffice it to be said that diners should expect slippage in calorie counts in real, live restaurants. It's extremely easy to add 100 calories to almost anything, depending on what sort of sauce is where. And that restaurants really should work hard to make sure their published meal totals have some relation to the food they serve.
But then you get to the bigger picture: What sort of damages should be awarded if in fact Applebee's and Weight Watchers were just making crap up (a big if)? How about this: nothing other than public shaming and reputational damage? Seriously, whatcha gonna do, after giving a thick slab of dollars as rich and gooey as the topping on the Maple Butter Blondie to the lawyers? Give the plaintiffs coupons to eat somewhere else? Make each server explain to each diner that they've got no idea how many calories their crap includes? Have the server suggest, like Aristotle, that the best diet is one of moderation and variety? Food has so rapidly become a battlefield in America and the one thing we all know is that war is hell. And so is Applebee's. And so are lawsuits about same.
Anthony Bourdain talked to Reason.tv about food strictures in "Better Enjoy Your Foie Gras Now."