Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Have It Your Way - as long as it's not healthy

The “obesity crisis” in the US has fingers of blame wagging at everything from working moms who rely on processed food to the popularity of sedentary activities such as internet surfing. McDonalds, the world’s largest restaurant chain, has spent much time in the center of these discussions due in part to lawsuits filed by angry, obese customers and a movie documenting the disastrous health consequences of living on a McDonalds' diet. McDonalds has made a variety of responses in the last fifteen years including displaying nutritional information posters in their restaurants, hosting a website with nutritional analysis of its food and adding some lower calorie menu items. Their latest endeavor involves changing all the packaging on their food so that consumers will have a basic nutritional breakdown of their lunch literally at their fingertips. While some other fast food chains, notably Wendy’s, have also responded to consumer preferences for more healthful food there is an interesting trend developing among some of the other fast food chains. Since McDonalds has taken much of the heat for the obesity epidemic, other fast food restaurants have been able to stay under the radar. While it would be stretching the truth to claim that McDonalds has moved toward a more healthful menu in any significant way (apple slices with caramel dip merely shifts the problem from fat to sugar), Burger King and Hardees aren’t even pretending to cater to health interests. Hoping to lure away some of McDonalds’ breakfast business, Burger King has introduced a new 730 calorie breakfast sandwich. At least they honor truth in advertising, naming it the Enormous Breakfast Sandwich. Hardees has responded by trouncing the whopper with the Monster Thickburger – a monster indeed at 1420 calories even before you get to the fries and soda. Congress, feeling the need to legislate something, is in the process of passing the “Cheeseburger Bill” – a bill prohibiting individuals from suing restaurants for contributing to their obesity problems. Clearly, responsibility for a healthful diet is left right where it always has been – squarely in the lap of the consumer. If you ever had any doubt about where the loyalty of the food industry lies, in the health of the consumer or in their pocketbooks, consider this: Ruby Tuesday’s recently reversed their new, groundbreaking practice of printing nutritional information on their menus next to each food item. They claim that it is too expensive to print new menus every time there is a recipe change. Coincidentally, during the time the nutritional information was disclosed on the menu there was a dramatic drop in the number of orders of the Colossal Burger, a 1677 calorie hamburger that is a Ruby Tuesday's signature dish.

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