Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Infoodmation

I’ve always thought the more information the better. But Ezra’s right, there’s a contingent of folk hiding behind “free-market” notions making the decision making by consumers less informed, therefore, in my opinion, less free.
It's a bit rich to watch libertarians and associated anti-government types oppose a regulation that gives consumers more useful information. This, after all, is how markets are supposed to work best. Consumers have better information, can pursue their preferences in a more coherent manner, and the market can provide, adapt, and innovate in response. Take trans fats, which have disappeared from just about every food save margarine now that they need to be listed on the package. If caloric information was posted, a lot of currently popular items would become unpopular (the awesome blossom, say), and restaurants would innovate towards lower calorie, but still filling, foods. In the absence of that information, the incentives to do so are weak. It's one of those soft ways of making the market work better towards a social end: We agree that people should be healthier, people agree that they want to be healthier, and all this would do is give them the information to make healthy decisions. It would not actually bar any foods from production or sale. But because there's some odd desire among some on the right to lionize unhealthy decisions (smoking!) and defend existing business models, whatever they may be, to the death, this regulation faces a steep uphill climb.

Specifically, on the menu issue, I would love that. But restaurants have no incentive to do this except for listing some “On the Lite Side” items to appease those who are hoping for a lower calorie meal.



I believe restaurants already have provide nutritional information if you ask for it. But even if providing such information upon request is the law, I think it inadequate. It should be right on the menu. If you don’t care what you eat, fine, ignore it. The rest of us would like to have some more information on what we are putting into our bodies.

If such a requirement would force restaurants to charge another dime a plate for the overwhelming cost of new menus, then so be it (I can see where the new menu issue might be a genuine concern for local restaurants but in no way would this be a financial hardship for the chains).

In the mean time, there are web sites that publish this information. Here’s one, for example, that has the nutritional info from menus of what looks to be hundreds of restaurants. Click on some of the nutritional info for your favorite chain restaurant meals if you want a fright.

This isn’t a huge deal to me, but it sure would be nice to have that information at our figure tips as we prepare to order.

1 comment:

geek_guy said...

I'm all for the nutritional info on menus (or a separate on-request menu). My problem is with small restaurants, the mom-and-pop place would have to pay for the food to get tested or something.

For years I was wanting car commercials to be required to list MPGs. Yes you can get that from a website (except for some cars) but I want that on TV/Magazine ad. For some odd reason, I am seeing lots more MPGs advertised on TV now...