Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Detective work uncovers restaurant nutrition secrets

Many restaurant chains hide their nutrition information from the public. Perhaps, with a little detective work, we can offer the nanny-free market-based solution to this information failure. All we need to do is to shine a flashlight in the restaurant industry's darkest cave.

According to this post from CalorieLab Counter, food reporter Rebekah Denn was frustrated that Claim Jumper restaurants would not disclose the nutrition information for their products. So, she bagged a typical meal and shipped it off to a lab for analysis.

Ms. Denn skipped the extras and the monster dishes and simply ordered what looked to her to be an average Claim Jumper entree: the fried chicken dinner, which includes a biscuit and mashed potatoes.

Portland-based Food Products Laboratory reported back the results: 2,032.5 calories, 105.4 grams of fat, and 3,713 milligrams of sodium. The U.S. government daily reference values used in the Nutrition Facts labels on packaged food suggest no more than 2,000 calories, 65 grams of fat, and 2,400 milligrams of sodium for an entire day (these requirements vary by person).

Would anybody like to pitch in and begin a project to continue these investigations? I will be the first contributor.

To be polite -- and to be a good steward of the laboratory expenses -- the project should begin each campaign with a letter to the restaurant chain asking for voluntary disclosure. (We would only do this for major chains with standardized products; nobody wants to bully small restaurant owners). If the information is disclosed, we would file it on a public internet site. Perhaps CalorieLab would volunteer to host. If the information is not disclosed, we would send the food to a laboratory, and then post the information to the same public internet site, along with some graphic icon indicating the special shame of being a restaurant that "hides its nutrition facts from its customers."

A good place to start would be the nutrition information for the Quiznos Steakhouse Beef Dip sandwiches that the federal government supported through a beef checkoff promotion. Then, we could move on to the 3-cheese stuffed crust pizza that the federal government supported through a dairy checkoff promotion in collaboration with Pizza Hut (no, wait, we already reported the nutrition information for that one here).

High-calorie fast food monstrosities promoted by the government are a good place to begin, because there is no laissez-faire argument to suggest that these sponsorships simply respond to consumer demand. But, even moving on to the chain restaurant sector more generally, there is an excellent pro-market case to be made that more consumer information would be better.

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Quigong said...
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