For Nutritional Labeling in Restaurants

Let’s pretend for a moment.  Suppose you were a kid locked in a candy store.  There were no parents around and you could eat whatever you wanted to.  What you didn’t know is that later that day you are probably going to have a tummy ache.  And what you didn’t know is that somewhere down the road you were probably going to end up in the dentist’s chair getting cavities filled.

Fast food restaurants are like candy stores.  You can eat to your heart’s content but have no idea of what the repercussions are.  It’s not hard to eat half of your daily calorie count in any McDonald’s value meal.  Wouldn’t it make things easier if you knew what you were going to eat before you ate it?  Nutritional labeling in restaurants can be the answer to give you that freedom.

Foods consumed away from the home is a problem because it has more calories and is oftentimes less nutritious.  A national standard will impact the health of America by providing customers with access to detailed information before purchasing their food.

According to the USDA 46% of Americans’ total food budget is being spent on food outside of their homes.  More women are relying on restaurants to do the cooking for their families and people are eating more fast food in this economy.  Consumers are less likely to know what is in the food because there are no labels on foods in restaurants  like there are in the supermarkets.  The US Surgeon General declared that America had an obesity problem and agreed that the problem could be helped if such labeling was available.  This in turn would promote better health, prevent obesity and chronic disease, and lower health costs.

Take Subway for example.  By having nutritional information on seven sandwiches under 6 grams of fat displayed on their napkins and Jared, their spokes model who has lost 245 pounds and continues to inspire people to practice portion size and exercise, Subway has proved that nutritional labeling can make a difference.

I understand that many restaurants do not think that having nutritional labeling will make a difference because people already have access to nutrition labeling on websites and pamphlets While this is true let me explain to you why having nutritional labeling on the face of menus will also make a difference.  The current information is available on websites that have to be looked at before getting to the restaurants.  By placing the nutrition information right on the menu would allow for the costumer to view the information before the decision is being made.

The reality is Americans support visible nutritional labeling.  A 2007 International Food Information Council survey showed that 2/3 of shoppers report using food labels in supermarkets and rank nutrition second only to taste as the reasons why they buy their food.

It is important for the restaurants to know that nutritional labeling would not limit the choices they have on their menus but would merely offer information for them.  This would provide a level playing field in a highly competitive industry.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture even admitted in 1999 that “Despite nutritional gains at home, American will find it difficult to improve their diets because they purchase so many meals outside the home.” Americans are relying more on restaurants to feed them but the current voluntary system of offering nutritional information is not doing anything for America’s obesity problem.

So what is being done to help this problem?  In March of this year Congress introduced the LEAN Act bill and just recently this bill has compromised with the MEAL Act bill that combine key elements to make all sides happy.  These menu-labeling bills would provide calories in written form on menus that has to be visible for the consumer at the time of ordering.  Fat, sodium, cholesterol, and carb content has to be provided upon request.  In addition this Act would affect only food chains that have 20 or more establishments and would not apply to “specials” that are not usually on the menu.

I completely share your concern about personal freedoms of the restaurant owners having flexibility and not having to worry about lawsuits.  This legislation would provide for restaurants to display this information any way they see fit for their restaurant and the standardized format would protect the restaurants from getting sued.

Customers have the right to have consistent information and currently state and local laws for labeling are not consistent.  Customers who shop in supermarkets see the same nutritional data on packaged goods and the restaurant goers should get afforded that same standard.

The Nation’s Restaurant Newspaper reported in March that California is only 1 of 5 states who have set statewide menu labeling.  Although 8 other states are currently considering measures there are still many states that need to get on board.

This task is not easy but I think it’s time we consider a national law for nutritional labeling in restaurants.

In support for this legislation I have started a petition online.  If you feel like I do and want to show support for legislation to pass a national standard on nutritional labeling in restaurants, please sign it:

http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/see-what-I-eat/

 

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