Should restaurants be required to display nutritional information for all menu items
Perspectives 232x162

In the face of skyrocketing healthcare costs and a national pandemic of obesity, state and federal regulations are placing increased responsibility on food vendors to provide details about their offerings. Lee Gross ’96, chef consultant and personal chef, and Tom Condron ’88, restaurant owner and executive chef, weigh in on the pros and cons of mandating disclosure.

Lee Gross ’96 Short of a systemwide food revolution (spurred perhaps by more madical healthcare legislation which would make actually keeping people healthy top priority), the small step of requiring restaurant operators to disclose nutritional breakdowns of all menu items would bring a greater level of responsibility and accountability to the industry.

Despite recent health and ingredient-focused trends in advertising, the quality, nutrition and integrity of food products at many chain restaurants remains staggeringly low. This is first and foremost an ill effect of an overconsolidated, industrialized food system, which provides operators with low food costs and wide margins, but offers dubious nutrition for consumers. Is it any wonder that there is reluctance to shed light on the nutritional integrity of the food we serve?

Chemically intensive growing practices, the ultrarefining of commodity crops into highly processed and denatured industrial food ingredients, overuse of chemical additives and preservatives and the processing, storage and long-distance shipping of so-called “fresh” product, has resulted in food that is so nutritionally challenged it requires “fortification.” Full of poor-quality fats, simple sugars and refined carbohydrates, the typical fast-food meal contains most, if not much more of the recommended daily intake of fat and (empty) calories for the average adult.

The Labeling Education and Nutrition (LEAN) Act of 2009 outlines a uniform national nutrition standard, and sets a single set of guidelines of how nutrition information is to be calculated. The proposed legislation would bring us one step closer to a more transparent food system, a more empowered consumer and ultimately, a healthier society.

Tom Condron ’88 Nutritional information on menus is a myopic, nannystate idea. Here’s why:

Cost. Most restaurants are small businesses. Who will pay for the analysis? Sure, there are computer programs that will assist, but how many small business owners can afford or have the technological know-how to properly employ them? Costs of sending items to a lab to be sure no one is fibbing have to be factored in. Menu change? Forget about daily specials or improvisational cooking.

Practicality. How will we make sure that every protein is cut EXACTLY. Is that 8-ounce portion of meat in that nutritional count actually 8.5 ounces? What happens when you add an extra splash of cream to that sauce for taste? Two pats of butter instead of one? Careful with the salt! Did you use pan release or olive oil on that grill?

Joy. Must we suck it out of everything? Eating is one of life’s great (legal) pleasures. Aren’t we asking people to worry over every choice they make? Can’t dining be unfettered by the day-to-day stress of the harping minutiae in our lives?

Regulation. Impractical, awkward, idiotic. How will accuracy of information be enforced? Don’t health inspectors have enough to do? They’ll be chasing taco trucks down South Boulevard because some burrito was reported to be slightly too delicious (i.e. caloric)!

It won’t matter. Most people eat at home. Obesity rates have risen over the last decade. Since most food cooked at home is store-bought, it has the nutritional information available on the label. It’s the biggest flaw in the argument. More information hasn’t resulted in lower rates.

You can’t fix America’s health and eating problems on the backs of small restaurants, no matter how many laws you enact. Only good parenting, schooling and a change in how food is made and marketed will help. Leave the little guys alone, please. We have enough on our plate already. (Sorry. Bad pun.)

Image left: Lee Gross ’96 is the chef consultant to M Café de Chaya, a Los Angeles-based restaurant group specializing in “Contemporary Macrobiotic” cuisine. Gross has served as private chef for a celebrity clientele including Gwyneth Paltrow and Antonio “LA” Reid.

Image right: Tom Condron ’88 is owner and executive chef of The Liberty, the first gastropub in Charlotte, N.C. Previously with Harper’s Restaurant Group, he opened many of the city’s best restaurants. He has worked for eight Michelin-starred chefs throughout his career.