Tuesday, February 27, 2007

X-treme Eating!!!!!

I’m making fun of the title a bit (because calling anything “x-treme” these days sounds passé) but the Center for Science in the Public Interest does have an interesting report on the truly calorie-laden dishes at mainstream chain restaurants like Ruby Tuesdays, Cheesecake Factory, Uno Chicago Grill, and Cold Stone Creamery.

“Burgers, pizzas, and quesadillas were never health foods to begin with, but many restaurants are transmogrifying these foods into ever-more harmful new creations, and then keeping you in the dark about what they contain,” said Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). “Now we see lasagna with meatballs on top; ice cream with cookies, brownies, and candy mixed in; ‘Ranchiladas,’ bacon cheeseburger pizzas, buffalo-chicken-stuffed quesadillas, and other hybrid horribles that are seemingly designed to promote obesity, heart disease, and stroke.”

Actually from a public relations point of view, I admire the way the report is put together. They use pictures and short blurbs. There’s a regular press release but the “report” is more like a three-page flyer.

Now there’s a little bit of hyperbole in the sense that in order to make their point in a few cases, CSPI adds two items together to explain how bad the food is.

Though fast-food chains or coffee shops typically serve much smaller portions than these and other major table-service restaurants, they too can provide some startlingly high-calorie items. A venti-sized White Chocolate Mocha and a blueberry scone from Starbucks would provide 1,100 calories—or about as much as one would find in a Burger King bacon double cheeseburger, medium fries, and medium Coke.

So do people typically order both the LARGEST SIZE mocha (actually, make that white-chocolate mocha, so it has extra syrup in it) and a scone? Maybe in some cases. Maybe in a lot of cases for all I know. I’m just pointing out that I do think the VP from Rudy Tuesdays has a bit of a point here.
Of course, most restaurants also offer less bulge-inducing options. Richard Johnson, senior vice president for Ruby Tuesday, noted that his chain also features lower-calorie menu items, including grilled chicken, steamed vegetables, a salad bar and other healthier fare.

“We think it’s interesting that they chose two of the items on the menu that are probably the highest-calorie items,” he said of the Center for Science in the Public Interest report.

But that said I think the Center’s main point, that restaurants are actually making their entrees tastier by packing on dangerous amounts of calories and then doing what they can to hide how unhealthy it is, is valid.

The one about Cold Stone Creamery got to me. (Maybe because it’s the one restaurant I have frequented). Even the sizes at CSC “Gotta Have It, Love It and Like It” are trying to keep people from recognizing their choices are “the large/medium/small.” (Of course, in practice I’ve noticed people still tend to order things as “small/medium/large” because people hate calling things by stupid marketing names.)

The issue with portion-control is that it’s really hard to track. I think I’ve talked about this study about bowl-size and appetite before and how this guy showed that even people who KNOW that bowl-size/plate-size effects how much they eat still fall into the same trap of eating more if the bowl/plate is larger. Moving ice cream from the regular sugar cone to the waffle cone (and then chocolate-coating the waffle cone) guarantees you’ll want to pack more ice cream in your waffle cone.

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