Friday, March 13, 2009

Counting Calories

For those living outside of metropolitan New York, last year's city-wide calorie legislation may have slipped under the radar.  In 2008, all New York City chain restaurants (extending from Outback to Starbucks) were required to post calorie counts of all food and drink items sold at their establishments.  New Yorkers are a naturally thin breed--we walk a lot, we exercise a lot, and we have an extremely high consciousness of where our food comes from--so it isn't really a surprise that we were the first to do this.  

Posted calorie counts have, in many ways, changed the way I think about food.  In high school, I snacked on low-fat blueberry muffins from Dunkin' Donuts.  I was 15 pounds overweight.  Come to find out those "healthier" muffins packed a whopping 500 calories, roughly 1/4 of what I should have been consuming in a day.  A Subway pizza with sausage, called a "personal pizza" and really no bigger than a slice and a half, serves up 800 calories of tubby tummy terror.  

The movement to understand and appreciate food is widespread and New Yorkers have certainly embraced it with alacrity.  Many of us eat at restaurants who advertise the farms from which they source their produce.  Say "Four Story Hill" or "Satur" to a New York diner and you're bound to provoke a conversation about milk-fed lamb and sugar snap peas.  

But fast food has made us a fat and lazy nation.  Americans exercise too little and eat too much. Collectively, we rely on quick fix options to fill our stomachs and collectively we have seen the rise of diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.  That's no coincidence.  

New York has often taken the lead when it comes to progression in this nation.  I don't see why posted calorie counts should be any different.  I went to Subway yesterday, running late for a meeting in the City.  I ordered a six inch sandwich, 370 calories, according to my helpful posted information (though mine was probably less, since I skipped the cheese).  "Get a footlong," the woman behind the counter said.  "It's five dollars."  

I shook my head no.  I didn't want an 800 calorie lunch, though I was hungry enough to eat it.  "So yes?" she asked.  "Footlong."  I said no.  Loudly.  She made my sandwich and sent me on my way.  Had I been unaware of the damage that extra six inches could cause, no doubt I would have taken the hold foot and eaten it in one sitting.  

But, unlike all of those Americans faced with the same decisions and less helpful information, I was able to cut my losses.  Let's hope Texas gets the memo soon.  

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