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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

What Happened to Menu Labeling??

That’s very a good question.

You may recall that a few years ago California passed a law requiring calorie counts on menus and menu boards in chain restaurants. (A law Brown-Miller Communications was instrumental in getting passed.) This happened in spite of the dire predictions from the National Restaurant Association that it would lead to the end of civilization as we know it and cause the earth to spin off its axis. (Well, not quite that bad, but you get the idea.)

Calorie counts began appearing almost immediately and Californians rejoiced. In fact, it was such a good idea that a similar law was passed on a national level. It was just what the doctor ordered for a nation whose waistlines were getting bigger every year, and in which, according to the National Institutes of Health, obesity and overweight together are the second leading cause of preventable death in the United States, close behind tobacco use.

But something strange happened. In California those calorie counts began to disappear. “How can this be? Isn’t it the law?”  I asked myself. I checked with some of the restaurants managers who had once had them to find out what had happened, and here are some of the answers I got:

  • “People didn’t like seeing them, so we took them off.”
  • “The lawyers said we didn’t have to list them, so we removed them.”
  • “It cost too much to include them.”

I contacted the Contra Costa Health Department, and was told that since the law is now a federal law, it overrides the state law. So the state is waiting for the Feds to hand down to the states the mechanics of how the Federal law is to be enforced, before it is written into the California Code. Currently there is no word as to when that might happen. So in the meantime, the county health departments, the agencies responsible for enforcing the menu labeling laws can’t enforce them. And waistlines in America continue to grow.

What can you do about it? Write your congressmen and encourage them to light a fire under whatever agency needs to get moving to get the new menu labeling code out to the states. Also, when you go into a restaurant and see the menu labeling, make sure you tell the waitstaff, manager or person at the cash register taking your order, just how much you appreciate them showing their calorie counts right out in plain sight where they are easy to see.  Then when you don’t see the calorie counts, complain about it. Ask them what they are trying to hide and why are they making it difficult to learn what their calorie counts are. They may try to hand you a brochure or direct you to a chart hanging up elsewhere. If they do, tell them you want the calories listed right up next to what you are ordering. You don’t what to go hunting down a confusing brochure or chart.  I’ve done it several times and I’ll continue to do it. And rest assured, I know from experience your actions will not lead to the end of civilization or cause the earth to spin off its axis. Just try it and you’ll see.

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