Calories, "Healthy", and Restaurant Menus

I love information. Absolutely love it. The more I've reflected on this fact, the more I realize that my job, my hobbies, and my interests all tend to revolve around acquiring interesting data. So when California instituted its menu labeling law (California Health and Safety Code Section 114094) two years ago, I was very pleased, not only as a data-lover, but as someone who'd rather eat 600 calories over 1,100, given the choice on a menu.

One problem I've faced, however, is that not all restaurants are required to give nutrional information for their food - if a company has fewer than 20 locations, they're exempt. This is apparently because a "small" restaurant or chain can't afford the costs associated with food testing to determine nutritional info. I think that's a load of manure, personally (a chain with 15 restuarants is by no means small and poor), but it's the law. 

What really surprises me, though, is that restaurants that sell themselves as "healthy" refuse to go above and beyond the legal requirements and provide nutrional info. The worst offender I've found so far, and also a restaurant I love, is the Veggie Grill. But their opinion on the matter is pretty well spelled out in the following I received from them after complaining loudly on their Facebook page:

We apologize that we do not have full nutritional details on our menu items. The yet to be released FDA menu nutritional labeling guidelines requiring restaurants to have full nutritional details will apply only to restaurants with 20 or more locations as the government acknowledges that the effort to compile and maintain this information is too burdensome for smaller restaurant companies. 

We have been advised that we would need a large food analysis lab to do the analysis since we need to have a company with liability insurance to stand behind their work (we live in a very litigious society). This of course makes it an expensive proposition (approximately $30,000), particularly for a new, small company such as ours.

That being said, we are very proud of the fact that our menu is 100% plant-based with absolutely no cholesterol, animal fat, trans fat or high-fructose corn syrup. 

Numerous studies have shown that eating 100% plant-based foods is the best way to reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and to maintain a healthy weight. We recommend "The China Study" by Dr. T. Colin Campbell ( for anybody who would like to learn more about these studies.

As I believe you may be aware, additional information regarding our nutritional philosophy can be found at 

Our mission to build an enduring brand that helps people and the planet can only succeed if we listen carefully to guests such as yourself. Opening 7 restaurants and hiring 220 people over the past 4 tough years has been very difficult and expensive, but we are trying hard to make a go of it.

Are calories everything? No. And I agree that eating a plant based diet is almost by default healthier than one with meat, especially if that meat is factory-farmed. But calories, as well as other pieces of nutrional information, are vital for many people on many kinds of diets (weight loss, and otherwise). I've touched on this topic before, with swear words.

If you've never eaten at Veggie Grill, you're missing out on two things: very delicious passable-as-real-chicken-sandwich vegan food, and grease. Their food tastes good, in part, because it's high in fat, and likely high in salt as well. This is all well and good if you know what you're getting into, but when all the marketing material for a restaurant touts its health benefits while refusing any mention of meal calories, there's a strong likelihood of confusion. 

Above all else, it makes me wonder if the company is just too poor to do a nutrional analysis (not likely, given they only open in boutique locations with high rents, and charge full-service prices for their counter-service food), or if they're hiding something. All I know is that if I'm looking for low-calorie, I look elsewhere.

(This entry has been cross-posted to my new/old blog, Insignifica)

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Michael Doss published on August 3, 2011 3:12 PM.

Observations and Diets was the previous entry in this blog.

What is "processed"? is the next entry in this blog.

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