Sunday, March 04, 2007

Fatheads Indeed!

In today's NY Daily News the paper editorializes in favor of the DOH rule to require fast food chains to post calorie counts on their menu boards. What disappoints us here is that the News Editorial Board has always been open about learning about both sides of an issue, and one of its best editorialists did in fact sit with us. Apparently he was unable to convey to the entire board the subtleties of the issue.

What is it about this particular issue that leads certain editorial writers to lash out in such ill-informed invective? You'd think that with the time some of these folks have to just sit and think about issues, they'd manage to at least get the basic facts of a controversial subject right.

You might think that, but you'd be wrong. In the case of the News' editorial we once again are confronted with folks who do not have even a rudimentary understanding of how the DOH rule will function in the fast food environment. To wit: The News talks about the fact that the regulation will be applied to the "caloric content of standard menu items," when over 60% of the items ordered in fast food outlets are not standard at all-they are customized.

The fact of customization means that they chains will be allowed to post a range (something that we have commented on before). This range will be thoroughly confusing and will not give the customer any real idea of the calories being consumed. This confusion is exacerbated by the fact that the calorie content of the dressings and condiments (not a charged menu item) wil not have to be listed, giving the customer who orders a 170 calorie salad a totally false picture if a, let's say, creamy Italian dressing is added.

The News, however, is not content to simply misconstrue the essence of the DOH rule. The paper also needed to caricature Joel Rivera, the sponsor of a more reasonable industry-friendly bill Rather than deal with the rationale behind the Rivera bill, failing to point out, for instance, that it requires point-of-purchase posting, the paper pointed out that the councilman was the same one that the News awarded its "Knucklehead Award" to when he proposed a zoning restriction on fast food outlets. To which it adds-"Enough Said"(as if this sarcastic obiter dictum was the final word on the state of political rectitude). Lots of self-absorption here.

So Rivera is ridiculed when he proposes limits on the fast food industry and is similarly chided when he advances industry-friendly legislation; and the News calls Rivera a knucklehead? The only piece of semi-information that the paper offers is he fact that patrons typically underestimate the number of calories that they are consuming when they eat at fast food outlets. The News goes on to say that, "...people make healthier choices if they know how many calories they are consuming."

Of course, what the News doesn't tell you is that: (1) most consumers don't know how many calories they should be eating, or (2) even what a calorie is- making this costly experimental "education" of fast food customers a charade. The paper also fails to point out that nutritionists are moving away from simplistic calorie information and the ill-informed consumer who needs around 2,000 calories a day might be tempted to consume 5 or 6 Hostess Snowballs a day, confident that he is meeting his daily allotment.

Behind all of this sarcastic derision ("dependent on peddling cheap calories to repeat patrons..."), is the fact that our editorial elites maintain a core animus toward fast foods. After all, "peddling" is the common adjective used in conjunction with drug dealers. So the 2300 outlets that employ around 100,000 New Yorkers and generate millions of tax dollars to the city treasury are ridiculed by folks that, we dare to say, never started a business and never contributed, as hundreds of fast food franchisees have, to the economic renaissance of many of the most blighted of the city's urban neighborhoods. Enough said!