Do we really want to know?
Dec. 8, 2014
by Ivan Raconteur

Usually, I am a firm believer in the “information is power” doctrine.

The more clear, accurate information we have, the better able we are to make informed decisions.

I may be wavering, however, in view of new labeling requirements announced Nov. 25.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) revealed rules that will require establishments that sell prepared foods and have 20 or more locations to post calorie content “clearly and conspicuously” on menus by November 2015.

This includes bakeries, coffee shops, pizza joints, and more.

It is the inclusion of these establishments that caused me to start to wonder if I really want to know the calorie count in my favorite treats.

I don’t go to bakeries often, but when I do, it is generally for the pleasure of some sweetly satisfying, cream-filled, decadent diversion.

I’m pretty sure having the number of calories stamped prominently on the display in black and white would not enhance my enjoyment of the experience.

I suppose for some people, calorie labeling on the bakery counter might be a useful tool or a deterrent to over-indulgence.

I think it would just make me sad.

If I want a healthy snack, I’ll have a salad or some crudités. These choices have their place, and are pleasant enough in their own way, but they do not provide the experience I am seeking when I stop at a bakery.

I’m on safer ground in a coffee shop, because I take my coffee the way nature intended – black, like my heart.

I suspect there are people, however, who enjoy sweet specialty drinks served by their favorite barista, who may not want to be reminded of the caloric content of these beverages.

Then, there is the pizza angle.

It will come as no surprise to my regular readers that I enjoy a good pizza and a pint of hoppy craft beer now and then.

When I do indulge in such decadence, my goal is not to count calories.

The rules also apply to pizza delivery. I suspect most people, when they order a pizza for delivery, are motivated by convenience, rather than the desire to make healthy choices. Even the government should understand that.

Are the order takers at the pizza joints going to have to disclose the calorie counts of their products over the phone when people call up to order a pie, in order that the consumer can make an informed meal choice?

That doesn’t sound very practical.

It has been reported that the pizza industry has objected to stricter labeling rules on the grounds that there are so many different combinations of ingredients and toppings available.

I can see their point.

For example, it makes sense to have à la carte pricing for choosing options when buying a new car, but to have to calculate a myriad of calorie additions and subtractions to order a pizza seems silly.

Even alcohol is included in the new regulations, and if a beverage is listed on the menu, the calorie count will have to be included.

I can envision a gang of friends out for a fiesta, using the calculator function on their mobile phones to determine how many calories are in their portion of a pitcher of margaritas.

Drinking could get complicated if we have to do math every time we want to kick back with a refreshing adult beverage.

I suspect most people go to the bar to have fun, not to get educated.

Don’t get me wrong – I have learned a lot in pubs over the years – but that is not my primary reason for visiting them.

According to the FDA, the new labeling requirements are intended to combat obesity. Consumers will be warned that a 2,000-calorie diet is used as the basis for daily nutrition (although individual caloric needs may vary).

There is some benefit to the new labeling rules, but I doubt anyone who bellies up to the counter at the local fast food establishment and orders a double bacon cheeseburger and a large fries is under the illusion these are low-calorie choices.

The new rules seem confusing for grocery stores.

It appears that some prepared foods, such as a sandwich purchased at the deli counter, may require calorie labeling, while other deli items typically sold to be taken home and shared by more than one consumer may not.

Some people may appreciate the new labeling rules, but it seems to me they are just another attempt by government to dictate individual behavior.

Frankly, if the government is serious about providing accurate information to citizens, there are a lot of other areas in which disclosing clear and accurate data would be more beneficial. For instance, why do they take so much of our money, and what do they do with it once they’ve got it?

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