Tag Archives: food policy

A Change is Gonna Come

As part of Barry O’s health care reform bill passed last year, chain restaurants will soon be required to post in-store calorie counts for all non-alcoholic items on their menu – a step in the right direction, in my opinion.Chain Restaurant

This should, hopefully, push the big chains into some offering up some healthier options.  I mean, it’s going to be a bit of a turn-off if you glance down the menu and all the dishes are pushing 1,000 calories.  Restaurants are going to want some low numbers mixed in, and that’s a good thing for anyone who’s interested in the occasional meal that’s not drenched in butter and grease.

Similar laws are already enforced in certain states, but this proposed legislation would make the labeling law nation-wide.

There’s a few exceptions to the proposed rules – alcoholic beverages are exempt and restaurants with less than 20 locations aren’t required to do anything.  It’s okay, though, baby steps are better than no steps.

There’s also some grey area on what constitutes a “restaurant.”  It appears that the decision will be based on whether or not food sales are the primary reason for business.

Convenience stores and grocery stores are in, movies theaters and bowling alleys are out.  Lightbulb-baked 7-Eleven taquitos are in, large popcorn in the limited-edition Harry Potter bag is out.

7-Eleven Taquito

7-Eleven Taquito | Photo from BiggestMenu.com

This article elaborates on the issue more, and points out that a large popcorn and large soda from a movie theater, aside from costing you more than the movie itself, is likely to run over 2,000 calories – more than the FDA suggests an adult should consume in an entire day.

But let’s be honest, the kind of people who order a large popcorn and soda for themselves probably aren’t the same people who care about calorie intake.  And that’s not meant as a slight to anyone, but a person without a TV probably doesn’t care what’s going on with American Idol.

Menu Board

Posted calories on a menu in New York | Photo from Cleveland.com

Personally, posted calorie counts probably won’t change what I order, but it will satisfy some curiosities and provide fodder for debate.  Knowledge is power, as they say, and this is no different.

On a somewhat unrelated side note, most have probably heard that Subway recently passed McDonald’s in total number of restaurants (despite still being well behind in overall sales).  But did you know that there are more 7-Elevens in the world than either Subway or McD’s, and by quite a margin?  That’s a lot of taquitos.


An Interview with Carlo Besozzi

A few weeks back (yes, I’m a little behind on getting this up), I mentioned that I was interviewing Carlo Besozzi, creator of WhateverFood.com.


Screen Shot of WhateverFood.com

Carlo was gracious enough to grant me an interview, and was excited to talk about his project.  Carlo is passionate about food and a lot of that stems from his upbringing.  Born and raised in Milan, Italy, he moved to the U.S. late last summer.  He has been a vegan for many years now and is looking to tackle an issue that all vegans deal with – trying to determine which packaged foods are suitable for consumption.  Remember the pork enzymes in the Cheetos?  That’s the kind of stuff he’s worried about.

And he’s right.  We know very little about what’s in the packaged foods we buy at the grocery store – what the heck is in a Pop-Tart?  What are Gushers?  What about Jello?  Carlo’s site started out as a project to help vegans, but after encouragement from his girlfriend/partner-in-crime Carole, the site expanded to include all foods and many different types of restrictive diets – including vegetarian, celiac, kosher, halal – as well as addressing allergy concerns.  Foods on WhateverFood.com can also be broken down into eggs-free, milk-free, nut-free, gluten-free and other subcategories.

And his site is a wiki – which means you can help with his project.  It’s still undergoing beta testing, but feel free to jump on in and look around.  If you are interested in beta testing, create an account using the box in the left toolbar and Carlo will be in touch.

Here’s an audio version of our interview.

Or, here’s a transcript of the above audio:

Well, tell us a little about your site, Whateverfood.com.

It’s a kind of wiki where people can share their knowledge, but its all focused on packaged food so that everybody can share their common knowledge on foods and ingredients and special diets that need special kind of foods. Like celiacs, lactose intolerants, vegan kosher, halal. There are a bunch of people who are choosing for whatever reason not to eat stuff. It’s really hard. I see on lots of forums that people are trying to communicate with each other but I thought maybe a wiki where you can just search for vegan strawberry cupcakes and you could get all the results – it would be awesome. So I made it.

What have been the big challenges when making this site?

Thinking about everything cause nothing is standardized and I’m just one person. I have to think of two thousand aspects from the structure to the graphic appearance and sometimes you try to do your best, but you just don’t know. The users will tell me if it’s good or not.

How long have you been working on this site?

I think that if I summed all the days probably two months, two months and a half.

Where do you hope to go from here with the site? If you could look years down the road at how it’s going to expand, what would your hopes be for that?

My hopes are to build some kind of packaged food, community-driven site. I mean, a place where people can talk about – you can do at your home a lot of stuff but not all the people have time and patience and knowledge to prepare a lasagna or vegetarian hamburgers, so a lot of people go to the grocery store [to get it]. So I think that a place where you can talk and you can share this type of knowledge is important and I want it to be as social as possible – a kind of “food Facebook.” But that’s the goal, I mean, get people talking about food.

So you’re going to have it integrated into all different forms of social media?


And you’re going to try to integrate it into the blog world as well?

Yeah, I would love to be able to maintain on the same platform a couple of blogs. There are a lot of different topics about foods – a lot about packaged foods – that I think are so wide and it’s interesting. If you look at the average kitchen, you see so many packages and our knowledge about these packages is so small that there is room to write for a lifetime.

When do you hope to launch the site?

I hope in one month. I want to go on beta test and I think as many people with patience and will to help and give feedback as possible for one months, two months and we’ll see what happens and then find sponsorships to try to maintain it with donations.

McDonald’s Oatmeal is a Sham

A few months back, McDonald‘s unveiled the next product in their we’re-trying-to-be-healthier-please-keep-eating campaign —  fruit and maple oatmeal.  (On a side note, I actually got mail from McDonalds advertising this new product.  Where they got my address, or why they think I’d care, I have no idea).


Like Candy For Breakfast | Photo courtesy of Ronald McDonald

Turns out, I do care.  While I have never eaten their oatmeal and almost never dine at any of their 8 trillion locations, I did silently applaud their decision to add healthier options to their menu.  Heck, that might even be something I’d consider eating – I mean, it’s just oatmeal, right?


Thank goodness for journalism, though, to help us see through the billion dollar ad campaigns.  This NYT blog post started the madness.

Back to the oatmeal — let’s start with the ingredients.  The basic constituents of this delightful “bowl full of wholesome” (their words, not mine) are oatmeal, diced apples, “cranberry raisin blend” and “light cream.”  Sounds innocent enough, and to an extent, it is.  Sure, the oatmeal itself contains “natural flavor.”  And yes, the apples are coated in calcium ascorbate.  And the “light cream” does contain seven ingredients (huh?) – “Milk, cream, sodium phosphate, datem, sodium stearoyl lactylate, sodium citrate and carrageenan.”

That’s not too bad by McStandards.  Personally, I add sodium stearoyl lactylate and carrageenan to all my breakfast foods.  So no big deal there.

But what really got me was the nutrition information.  This bad boy has 32 grams of sugar.  That’s more than a full size Snickers candy bar (check for yourself).  Oh, and it’s not too shabby in the calorie department either – 290 as served.  That’s more than a cheesburger or an Egg McMuffin.  Yikes.

Oatmeal Facts

Nutritional Facts for "Fruit and Maple Oatmeal"

But ya know, McDonald’s has every right to sell candied oatmeal and you have ever right to buy it.  What bothers me, though, is that it’s advertised as a “bowl full of wholesome.”  It’s not.  Save yourself the sugar crash and make your own oatmeal.  It’ll be healthier, cheaper and will take less time than sitting in that drive through line.

And to think, I had just settled down after my McRevelation about the Chicken McNuggets, too.  Here’s a fun party game.  Make your friends guess how many ingredients are in a chicken nugget.  They’ll guess 2, cause that would make sense.  NOPE.  Then, they’ll guess 10, trying to be funny.  NOT EVEN CLOSE.  Then they’ll guess 20, staring at you quizzically.  STILL COLD.  This is when you have to jump in, cause you’re at a party and games like this can’t go on that long.

There are 39 ingredients in a chicken McNugget.  If you can name five of them without looking it up, I’ll give you a dollar.



Here’s a hint, one ingredient rhymes with frymethylpolysiloxane – that’s right, dimethylpolysiloxane!  According to their website, this is “added as an antifoaming agent.”  It’s a form of silicone, and it’s also a key ingredient in Silly Putty.  Cool, right?.

Or there’s another fan favorite – TBHQ (stage name for tertiary butylhydroquinone).  That’s butane, and it’s an illegal additive in most European countries.  Don’t worry, though.  It’s only included in trace amounts, for a little zing.  Still, the Consumer’s Dictionary of Food Additives gave this warning about TBHQ:

Death has occurred from the ingestion of as little as 5 grams. Ingestion of a single gram (a thirtieth of an ounce) has caused nausea, vomiting, ringing in the ears, delirium, a sense of suffocation, and collapse.


Oh, oh, Mickey D’s.  You’ll keep selling us butane nuggets, and as long as you throw in a tiny beanie baby, we’ll keep feeding it to our kids.  When will we learn?

McDonalds Characters

The Defendants | Photo Courtesty of Liz and Laura

Porcine Enzymes? Huh?

In preparation for my upcoming interview with Carlo Besozzi, I thought I should take a few minutes to make a passionate appeal for honesty and transparency on ingredient lists.

Let’s face the facts, the U.S. does not do a very good job promoting accuracy in food labeling.  Terms like organic, free-range and, my personal favorite, “all natural,” are tossed around meaninglessly – and consumers eat it up.

Natural Flavors Label

This could be a problem | Photo courtesy of NextNature

Take, for example, the term “free range.”  According to the USDA, free range means:

“Producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside.”

That’s not an excerpt from their definition.  That’s the whole thing.  No provisions on the amount of time spent outside, the type of “outside” (cement slab?), the amount of room afforded per chicken.  It’s not exactly a secret that most so-called free range chickens don’t spend their lives roaming green pastures.

Anyways, assuming the vast readership of this blog isn’t so much interested in buying meat, let’s discuss something a little nearer and dearer to our hearts – ingredient lists.

“Artificial flavors” and “natural flavors” are the crux of the problem, in my opinion.  What do those phrases mean?  What do they exclude?  Where do they come from?

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The Lunch Line Blues

Let’s take a quick break from the recipes…

School lunches in the US are pathetic.  For all the talk about this country as the richest in the world, you would never know it by looking at the garbage that we feed to our schoolchildren.  It’s a complicated issue to solve, I’m sure, and one that is compounded by several factors – lack of diet and nutrition education, funding from junk food companies (Coke and Pepsi, I’m looking at you), food contracts awarded to the lowest bidders, decrease in physical education, and an education system that is underfunded to begin with.

Adding to the problem is the undeniable fact that many kids don’t use their lunch money to purchase a well-balanced meal (if even possible).  At my high school, $2.50 would buy you a full lunch, complete with meat, veggies, fruits, bread, and milk.  OR it could buy a soda, french fries, and pack of cookies.  Guess what the kids choose?

Now, I left public education a while ago, but not much has changed since then.  Kids are still eating french fries by the handful, and those corn-syrup-infused fruit cups are still the closest thing to fresh produce that move in the lunch line.

School lunch collage

School lunch collage. Photo from NPR.com

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