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…?



About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


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