Today, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors will vote on a city-wide menu labeling ordinance (a proposal to mandate in-your-face calorie counts on restaurant menus). By attempting to reduce dietary health to a single statistic — calories, in this case — these labeling mandates distract Americans from the bigger picture by overshadowing the broader social and cultural contexts of food, diet, and health. One famous study done a few years ago found that, when given the exact same food, people who enjoyed a meal absorbed more nutrients than those who did not. And there’s no space in a “Nutrition Facts” box to list “pleasure.”
In the latest issue of Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, Dr. Gyorgy Scrinis criticized this oversimplified approach to diet:
Foods tend to be compared and ranked on a one dimensional scale according to the quantities of particular nutrients and kilojoules they contain … Nutritionism promotes the idea that the perceived problems with contemporary diets can be tackled by the more or less precise quantitative tinkering of the nutrient profile of foods and diets—by nutritional tinkering—rather than by means of more far-reaching qualitative changes in diets and the types of foods eaten.
By boiling down countless considerations for a healthy diet into a handful of nutrients, San Francisco officials are sending a dangerous message (bolded and in red, no less). The food cops have arrogantly decided that they know what’s best for you — what’s best for all of us — despite the fact that science says otherwise. Health writer Gina Kolata addressed this issue in The New York Times:
The problem, some medical scientists said, is that many people — researchers included — get so wedded to their beliefs about diet and disease that they will not accept rigorous evidence that contradicts it.
Perhaps bureaucrats in the City By The Bay should spend more time reading the writing on the wall than forcing signs up on menu boards.