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Food In Numbers

Too Much Junk Food?

Last week, an arti­cle in Macleans, a Cana­dian weekly news mag­a­zine, caught my eyes: “Despite alarm­ing rates of obe­sity in Canada, you won’t see calo­rie counts on menu boards any time soon. Unlike the U.S., there’s just no polit­i­cal will for it.” Accord­ing to one of the doc­tors quoted in the arti­cle who sup­ports bet­ter nutri­tional infor­ma­tion in Cana­dian restau­rant, “When we go shop­ping for things we look at price tags before we buy them so we can deter­mine whether they’re worth it to us. When we eat things, the cur­rency of our weight is calo­ries.”

This makes a lot of sense to me. Yet, as a for­mer French, I can’t help won­der­ing why such debate is even tak­ing place.

I explained a few time how sur­prised I was when I first came to Canada and real­ized that we didn’t eat very well and that the unhealthy rela­tion­ship with food was one of the unpleas­ant real­ity of life in North Amer­ica. It took me a long time to learn how to eat in Canada. Yes, I gained weight when I first came here but I also lost it nat­u­rally when I under­stand that food was a tricky thing here.

Unlike in France, eat­ing in North Amer­ica is not just a daily task that involves com­mon­sense and bal­ance. It involves resist­ing the temp­ta­tion of “cheap and fast foods” and get­ting used to split these giant food por­tions in two (doggy bag, any­one?). And yes, it requires read­ing labels.

You won’t find any nutri­tional infor­ma­tion on prod­ucts in France. I guess it doesn’t mat­ter that much because most peo­ple fol­low a com­mon­sense diet, or at least try to: eat more veg­gies than Nutella, nib­ble on bread but go easy on the may­on­naise, enjoy some dessert but a small por­tion of it. But in North Amer­ica, a lot of restau­rants offer super-fatty dishes.

Let’s con­sider that most peo­ple need around 2,000 calo­ries a day. Can you believe a frig­gin’ car­rot cake is 820 calo­ries at Denny’s? That the Choco­late Chip Cookie Sun­dae is 1,660 calo­ries at Applebee’s? At 500 calo­ries, it makes McDonald’s large French fries look like a healthy meal!

Some com­ments below MacLeans’ arti­cle pointed out that that peo­ple should be smart enough to know that eat­ing in fast-food joins every­day and drink­ing Coke con­stantly is not good for them. In short, yes, I agree. But it’s not that easy. Plenty of foods we think are “healthy”, that are even some­times mar­keted as such, have an appeal­ing nutri­tional con­tent. Point in case, soups: for instance, Kelsey’s French onion soup is 450 calo­ries, and at Den­nys, the broc­coli soup is 375 calo­ries – this is three times more than any soup I eat at home.

Like the arti­cle explains, esti­mat­ing calo­ries in a meal isn’t always intu­itive. What do you think is “health­ier” at first glance: veg­e­tar­ian Pad Thai noo­dles or fish & chips? Well, appar­ently, at Casey’s, the fish & chips is 330 calo­ries, while the Thai noo­dles 740 calo­ries. You can be truly shocked learn­ing how many calo­ries are in some seem­ingly innocu­ous food. I’m sorry, but some­thing as sim­ple as a cookie shouldn’t be as much as 1,000 calo­ries, half of one’s rec­om­mended diet.

Now of course, peo­ple are free to eat what­ever they want. Hell, it’s not like I’m a model myself: I love choco­late, I could eat pasta every day and life with­out bread would look plain to me. Yet, I had no prob­lem cut­ting some food from my diet when I learn how “bad” they were. For instance, I learned that almost all bak­ery items at Star­bucks sound healthy (oat bar, car­rot cake, scone…) but they aver­age 200 – 600 calo­ries, way more than I expected. How did I learn that? Well, thanks to nutri­tional infor­ma­tion posted. 

Now, here is a ques­tion to pon­der: how do these restau­rants come out with these kinds of foods, and why?

Why do fancy cof­fees come topped with four inches of whipped cream and syrup? Why do burg­ers come with two, three even four beef pat­ties, with bacon strings in between? Why do crois­sants need to be dipped in choco­late and cin­na­mon? Why are pasta dishes in restau­rants often drip­ping oil? Some will argue it tastes bet­ter but hon­estly, do we really need that many “adds-on” to enjoy a meal?

I hon­estly can’t think of a sin­gle good rea­son to not make restau­rants post nutri­tional infor­ma­tion. Unless they don’t want us to know what we eat…?



  1. This is really scar­ing!
    Did you know that you need to swim leisurely for about 30 mins for ONE Kit-Kat?!
    Some­times, I wish I had bulimia! Ha ha

  2. @RennyBA’s Terella — No mat­ter how good local cui­sine is, peo­ple will go to fast food — I’ve seen packed Mcdon­alds across the world. But I think you are right, we did for­get where we came from and the way we are sup­posed to eat.

    @DianeCA — You seem to be a great cook, from what I’ve seen on Renny’s blog! Buy­ing lunch isn’t really a prob­lem (or at least it doesn’t have to be) as long as your diet is bal­anced, and it looks like you are all good on that side!

    @khengsiong — Por­tions in the U.S are even big­ger than in Canada — I notice it every time we cross the bor­der. And it cer­tainly is part of the problem.

    @Soleil — You are right, I can’t believe how many peo­ple even at work live on these lean cui­sine microwave meals — and it looks so gross to me, not to men­tion they are expen­sive! I guess I’m still French, I always have the reflexe to cook some­thing rather than take out.

    @Linguist-in-Waiting — Yes, I think you men­tioned the two main reasons.

    @Jorge — Very inter­est­ing! Yes, you are right come to think of it, food does seem to be emo­tional for a lot of peo­ple. It prob­a­bly explain why peo­ple eat all the time — at the movie, in the car, while shop­ping… this was so weird to me at first. You are right as well about the dessert — it’s extremely rare I order dessert in a restau­rant because I’m invari­ably stuffed, and I always won­der who has room for these huge piece of cakes. Don,t get me wrong, I love cakes, just not after a huge meal!

    @Ghosty Kips — I stopped eat­ing McDon­alds many years ago, when I real­ized burg­ers could actu­ally be a tasty thing — beef pat­ties in fast food are just gross though.

    @shionge — Oh yeah, going to an Amer­i­can Wal­mart for the first time is always an experience…!

    @Jennie — I grew up in France so I don’t notice this, but food is def­i­nitely less salty, it may be why it tastes bland to you. Les eth­nic food as well. And chocolate-covered bacon? That is just… gross.

    @London Caller — Phew. Glad I don,t eat Kit Kat :lol:

  3. Speak­ing of food por­tions.. Let’s say..McDonald in Canada com­pared to McDon­ald in China. Any dif­fer­ence?
    I keep hear­ing about big­ger food por­tions but it’s kinda hard to imagine.

  4. Hi Zhu

    I just read : choco­late cover with bacon : yukkkkkkkkkkkk !!!
    It must be pretty dif­fi­cult to actu­ally show the nutri­onal facts out­side small restau­rants but for chains like Pizza Hut, or other restau­rants where the food is always the same, it should be easy no ?
    If only they want to .

    You’re right, there’is so much more weird food in Canada, tempt­ing yummy yucky unhealthy food, easy take away, that’s eay to put on weight and for­get about sim­ple cooking.

  5. Your food posts are always some of my favorites. I just read Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pol­lan and I highly rec­om­mend it as a non-preachy eye-opening look at food and our rela­tion­ship with food in the United States. I’m pretty sure much of it is applic­a­ble to Canada as well, since we both have fast food, processed food, obe­sity, etc.

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