Nanny State

What's Sauce for Pizza Hut Is Sauce for Famous Original Ray's

|

The health care reform bill moving through the Senate includes a provision requiring restaurants to post calorie counts on their menus. The Los Angeles Times reports that the proposal has provoked a battle between the National Restaurant Association (NRA), which wants to keep it limited to companies with 20 or more locations operating under the same name, and the big restaurant chains, which want it to cover their smaller competitors. Chains such as Domino's, KFC, and El Pollo Loco claim the current cutoff would leave 75 percent of the country's restaurants uncovered. They want to include companies with three or more locations, plus individual restaurants with $1 million or more in annual sales. "A pizza is a pizza no matter where it is purchased," an El Pollo Loco executive tells the Times.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, which faults fast food chains for giving customers too much value for their money, is siding with the NRA and the smaller companies it represents, presumably because it fears a broader mandate would be politically untenable. "It is easier for the big chains to provide accurate information and deal with government regulation," says CSPI's Margo Wootan. But according to the Times, the bill does not require expensive dish-by-dish laboratory analysis:

Technological advances have made it inexpensive to calculate the nutritional content of food, undermining the argument that smaller restaurant companies and large stand-alone eateries need an exemption from the regulations, said [Jonathan] Blum, [a senior vice president at Yum Brands, which owns KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell].

The legislation would allow restaurants to use software that costs $1,000 or less to calculate the nutritional content of recipes. Such programs are frequently used by hospitals and school districts and include 15,000 to 32,000 foods in their databases, depending on the software.

Such lenience raises the question of how accurate the calorie counts will be and the related issue of whether restaurants will be held liable should this government-ordered information prove to be imprecise. I've argued, in connection with lawsuits against Applebee's and other chains that have misrepresented the nutritional content of their food (noted by Nick Gillespie the other day), that consumers have a right to expect the information restaurants voluntarily provide about their dishes will be accurate, allowing for a reasonable margin of error. But when the government forces restaurants to provide calorie counts, in effect dictating a kind of standardization these businesses may not be good at providing and to which they otherwise would not aspire, it seems unfair to sue them when they fall short.

More on conspicuous calorie counts here. My column tomorrow will discuss the mistaken premise underlying the federal menu mandate and other anti-obesity provisions in the Affordable Health Choices Act: that making Americans thinner will reduce medical spending.    

NEXT: "I never asked for a bailout or even monetary damages, just the freedom to earn an honest living in the occupation I love."

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. The legislation would allow restaurants to use software that costs $1,000 or less to calculate the nutritional content of recipes.

    Oh, is that all? I guess it’s not so much…until you realize that forcing compliance on 750,000 restaurants translates to 750 million in increased consumer costs.

    Then it doesn’t seem like such a small number, does it?

    Yo, fuck Tom Harkin.

  2. …the National Restaurant Association (NRA)…

    You can have my calorie counts when you pry them from my cold, dead, greasy hands!

  3. I’m sure every mom & pop restaurant and burger stand easily has $1000 lying around. Not to mention the time for someone to enter all that data. After all, anyone who owns a business has tons of money they are holding back from their poor exploited workers. Bastards.

  4. What, exactly do they expect to gain from this? Do they really think if Bob was gonna eat five double cheeseburgers he’ll scale back to three when he sees the calorie count?

  5. Since everyone gets fucked by the feds in their own unique way, why do people still put up with this shit? Instead of “I hope they fuck you over because they’re fucking me over, too” why can’t it be, “if I help you not get fucked over, scratch my back, will ya?”

  6. I do not want to know how many calories are in my fucking dinner. Perhaps it should be made available, but not on the menu. It’s hard enough avoiding them when I’m nuking something greasy and tasty from the freezer.

  7. The health care reform bill moving through the Senate includes a provision requiring restaurants to post calorie counts on their menus.

    See, that right there is why this bill will crash and burn like a Micheal Bay movie. These idiots could have fiddled around with some insurance regs and cut some medicare rates and got this passed in March (and fucked up our already fucked up health care system). But noooo. They have to plug every health-nazi wetdream provision they can pull out of their asses.

    The Left should be beating them for this stuff, since it’s killing their dream of a government health system

  8. What, exactly do they expect to gain from this? Do they really think if Bob was gonna eat five double cheeseburgers he’ll scale back to three when he sees the calorie count?

    Read TAO’s opening salvo. “750 million dollars.”(raises pinky to lip)

    They hate poor people, remember?

  9. They have to plug every health-nazi wetdream provision they can pull out of their asses.

    Just like they did with the Stimulus. And the budget. And Cap & Trade. Fortunately voters are starting to get a little pissed at this pattern.

  10. So if I develop similar software and sell it for $800, that’s a $600 million business! Talk about stimulus!

  11. So if I develop similar software and sell it for $800, that’s a $600 million business

    Something in there must stipulate, via needlessly specific “requirements,” that only software developed by friends of whoever’s pushing for the the law can comply with the law, or there wouldn’t be a law.

    Not yours.

  12. https://dietsoftware.com/oformhi.htm

    Had to go look for some of this software. Found it. Nothing special, but thought I’d post the link do some shilling for Big Software.

  13. “Read TAO’s opening salvo. “750 million dollars.”(raises pinky to lip)

    They hate poor people, remember?”

    I’m not quite cynical enough to think they’re doing this just for a paltry 750 million.

    The bigger concern to me is that this bullshit is the first step toward some kind of calorie rationing system. With Obamacare, how many calories you eat is now a public concern since it’s tax subsidized. I wouldn’t put it past them to issue you a calorie coupon book that restricts how many calories you can buy.

  14. Not to get into the liberty question, but isn’t it trivial to figure out the calorie content of food?

    Step 1: Add up calorie content of all ingredients.

    Step 2: Divide by number of servings.

    Yes, marinades and oils present a challenge, because you can’t be sure how much of them end up on the plate, but surely science has some plausible approximation.

    Note: I guess if you allow front-end calculations like that, you should have some kind of safe harbor where the restaraunt warns people that it hasn’t actually incinerated the entree in a calorie bomb. Otherwise, you will get more of these dumb class-actions.

  15. $1000 software for calculating calorie counts? WTF? At best, such a software would include a large database of foods, along with their calorie-count per weight or volume, and an interface to enter the values. This sort of thing is available free on the internet, though interfaces might not be the best for a restaurant.

    The real costs aren’t in the $1000 upfront bullshit, they’re in trying to figure out exactly what the ~average~ composition of your food is (a hellstorm of data entry), and then locking in those recipes as sacrosanct (for fear of legal action). Want to use full-fat sourcream because it tastes better than the fat-free stuff?… fill out for R-2160 and fax it to the corporate office… we’ll get back to you in 6-8 weeks. Found a cheaper/fresher supply of avocados?, Hass, not Fuerte?… well…

    Anyone who claims to want these menus is just a shill for big ass.

  16. I’ve argued, in connection with lawsuits against Applebee’s and other chains that have misrepresented the nutritional content of their food (noted by Nick Gillespie the other day), that consumers have a right to expect the information restaurants voluntarily provide about their dishes will be accurate, allowing for a reasonable margin of error.

    Sure, they should expect it will be accurate, but in the absence of demonstrable, actual damages from inaccuracy, I don’t think they should be able to take actual, cold, hard cash from the restaurant.

    But when the government forces restaurants to provide calorie counts, in effect dictating a kind of standardization these businesses may not be good at providing and to which they otherwise would not aspire, it seems unfair to sue them when they fall short.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if there isn’t a statutory damages clause laying around (if not in the current bill, then soon to come) mandating damages at some absurd level. Its the bread and butter of the Democratic trial lawyers, after all. Really, putting in the statute makes it easier, not harder, to recover damages.

    And since when did fairness have anything to do with it?

  17. Well if we are going to mandate all food have calorie counts then lets just go ahead and mandate all activities have calorie burning counts and mandate a reporting system to ensure everyone is even, positive, or negative as decided by their need which is determined by a board of government physicians.

    Stupid fucking people.

  18. GODDAMMIT hmm DON’T GIVE THEM IDEAS.

  19. 1. Build a web front-end to a $1000 program.

    2. Charge $10/month to restaurants to use the web front-end.

    3. Profit.

    Yeah, yeah, I might have some legal issues with the license of the program, but it cant be that hard to build the database myself, if necessary.

    If this passes, I think I have a side project to work on.

  20. One interesting experience I had when looking up calorie counts for fast food items was finding that they were often 15-30% lower than what I actually though – I had a Big Mac itself pegged at an even 1k, but it turned out to be only 580.

    I may not be representative, but what if I am and people will actually eat more fast food after finding it isn’t quite as bad for them as they feared? Has their been any work on whether people are likely to over or under estimate the calories in resturant food?

  21. Not to get into the liberty question, but isn’t it trivial to figure out the calorie content of food?

    Step 1: Add up calorie content of all ingredients.

    Step 2: Divide by number of servings.

    J Mann, have you ever actually cooked? Good food is not a chemistry experiment; you have to make adjustments for the actual ingredients on hand. Good tomatoes do not come in a can, and certainly are not consistent in size.

    Small, non chain restaurants that change menus based on available quality ingredients would be totally screwed by this.

    Pizza Hut and McDonalds, on the other hand, strive to make everything uniformly mediocre.

  22. Periodically, my hate of the nannies and their ilk flags a little, and then pointless stupid nagging controlling bullshit like this pops out of the pie-holes, and all of a sudden my hate is tanned, rested and ready to rumble.

    Just thought you’d like to know. God, how I hate these people.

  23. This is only acceptable if C-span follows around congressfolk at all meals (and of course drinking sessions), tallying their calorie counts, and then passing judgement (including ad hom attacks where justifiable) on them.

    I expect to hear a lot of people being called “fat fuck.”

  24. The bigger concern to me is that this bullshit is the first step toward…

    Just be sure the soup cans stocked in your underground bunker are low sodium.

  25. I have a quick and easy answer. Since they are not as likely to complain if the calorie count is too high then every greasy joint should put 10,000 on every food item (to be sure they consumer knows). Then they can carry on their business. Everyone will see the stupuidity of it anc continue to purchase their food.

    I went to ?toile in Napa Valley last year and I had a slab of fois gras (no joke it had to be 6 OZs, was part of the price fix menu too) that was pan seared in dry cured bacon grease with pork belly on the side. It came with a garlic herb butter on top. THE SINGLE BEST DISH OF MY LIFE!…If I had to guess it was over 3k in calorie count. And it was just the appetizer. Screw food police.

    I don’t eat to live. I live to eat

  26. 2010 = lots of Dem losses
    Obama = one term

    It’s their fault, not the eeeevil racists that will be blamed.

  27. ffokcuf – I doubt that.

  28. The bigger concern to me is that this bullshit is the first step toward…

    Just be sure the soup cans stocked in your underground bunker are low sodium.

    Who stocks soup cans when you can get MREs, which are government mandated to carry specific quantities of all goodness?

  29. Who stocks soup cans when you can get MREs, which are government mandated to carry specific quantities of all goodness?

    I’ve been wondering why they can’t make a Science Diet for people. I mean they have it all figured out for pets supposedly. My cats love that stuff, and are in great health. Well one’s obese and the other would be too if not for the tapeworm, but still.

  30. “consumers have a right to expect the information restaurants voluntarily provide”

    1. How can it be a “right”?
    2. How long will it be until “voluntarily” becomes “at threat of Food Police gunpoint”?

  31. consumers have a right to expect the information restaurants voluntarily provide about their dishes will be accurate

    Nice truncation there, The Libertarian Guy.

    How can it be a “right”?

    Because failing to be accurate when you claim you are accurate is fraud.

  32. MikeP, show us where this “right” – truncation or no – appears in the Constitution.

    It’s like saying we have a “right” to health care.

    I’ll concede on the fraud, if you’ll concede that government shouldn’t be forcing businesses to provide nutritional information in the first place… and that “voluntarily provide” will soon become “forced to provide” – again, not part of the government’s responsibility.

  33. MikeP, remember: The food-labeling bullshit forces bottled-water companies to list “fat content”. How useful is that?

    “Yes, I want some of that bottled water… no, not THAT kind, the stuff with the bacon fat in it.”

    Now, if THAT had caffeine and nicotine in it, we’d be talkin’ American ingenuity.

  34. The Libertarian Guy,

    If you think the Constitution is the last word on rights, you may need to hand in your moniker. But I’ll bite: the Ninth Amendment.

    The root of the right, for those who appreciate the argument, is the non-aggression principle.

    And it is nothing like saying we have a “right” to health care. If someone volunteers a claim about what he is trying to sell you, and that claim is false, he is committing fraud and, effectively, theft by taking your money for something you did not agree to.

    I’ll concede on the fraud, if you’ll concede that government shouldn’t be forcing businesses to provide nutritional information in the first place…

    Of course the government shouldn’t be forcing businesses to provide nutritional information. Did anything I say make you think otherwise?

  35. I already said I’m with you on the fraud part, Mike. MY point is, it may not be YOU who is calling for forcing businesses to provide info, but Those Who Know Better “will* call for it… using force.

    And, yes, I consider the Constitution to be pretty much an operating manual for a republic, kind of like the booklet in the glovebox that tells you how to operate your car. It tells what government may NOT do. That’s the beauty of it.

  36. It may not be you who is calling for using the interstate commerce clause of the Constitution as an authorization for the government to do pretty much whatever it wants, but Those Who Know Better have already done it… using force.

  37. With ya on the ICC, too, Mike. Talk about bastardization of power…

  38. Well, Jacob’s original point was that consumers who eat at restaurants that use calorie counts for what is in essence advertising have a right to accurate information.

    It is a bastardization to say that because some restaurants voluntarily advertise their calorie counts, all should be forced to.

    But we all know that the justification used to impose such legislation will be that some ingredient served by the restaurant crosses a state line or that someone who eats at the restaurant crosses a state line.

  39. Long as it’s VOLUNTARY, and the customer doesn’t make the unreasonable demand that there be some uncrossable margin of error due to preparation and amounts of ingredients.

    My point was, there is no inherent right that specifically says restaurants must provide this in the first place. Of course – as I agreed earlier – IF they provide it, they need to be upfront about it to the best of their ability to BE accurate. Blatant misrepresentation is fraud, and I don’t disagree.

    Sorry for the confusion. All I see is “Food Police are coming to your area soon, courtesy of Your Federal Imperialist Government, because you dimwits can’t run your lives without Our Divine Intervention”.

  40. If the Left hates Big Corporations, why do they keep enacting policies that Big Corporations will find it easier to comply with than small businesses?

  41. My human rights are being violated by you fat assed tubs of lard who don’t know when to shut your enormous pie holes and quit shoveling in the slop. Then again on the other hand, maybe this is just another government power grab, this time using you as the excuse. If that’s the case, as it most likely is, you have my apologies. Oh well, if things continue spiraling down at their current rate of decline, it’s not inconceivable that I may find myself working in a kitchen, in which case rest assured I’ll be stirring your mashed potatoes with my johnson. Anyone care to guess how many calories that will add?

  42. With many new announcement about the wizard of oz movies in the news, you might want to consider starting to obtain Wizard of Oz book series either as collectible or investment at RareOzBooks.com.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.