The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has announced the latest recipients of its “Xtreme Eating Awards,” an annual installment in its effort to convince you that restaurant dining is tantamount to a death wish. According to these food police, “you’re toast” if you order just one of the designated “Xtreme” entrees. This kind of hyperbolic accusation aims to discourage the public from the simple pleasures of enjoying a meal.
We suspect that the customer who orders the “Xtreme” “Monster Meal”—which includes a bacon cheeseburger, steak fries, and a large milkshake—entertains no illusions about the likelihood, nay, certainty, that his or her selection will come with a “monster” heaping of calories. It’s common sense, not rocket science—unless CSPI holds that much disdain for the average person.
But CSPI is determined to vilify the choice to occasionally indulge, warning that if you eat one calorie-rich foods on its list, you will “look like you ate it[.]” The notion that high-calorie foods automatically make you fat runs contrary to credible nutritional science and indicates that CSPI is little more than the PETA-like “press sluts” of nutrition issues. Food choice is only one of many factors determining individual health: indeed, research finds that lack of exercise, not caloric intake, is more responsible for American obesity. And besides, if you gorge on some CSPI-targeted mega-dish, you can always eat less at subsequent meals.
CSPI scolds restaurants without acknowledging the role of personal accountability in choosing what we eat. Patrons at any of the “Xtreme” restaurants can elect to order a healthier option. Consider, for example, the Cheesecake Factory: CSPI recognized the chain with a special “XXXtreme award” for snagging three of the nine available spots on its black list of high-calorie culprits. However, the Cheesecake Factory additionally offers an entire slate of lower-calorie options, with nearly fifty available. (The restaurant is also called “The Cheesecake Factory”–are people who are going there really looking for a side salad?)
You would think that CSPI, a group that postures as a nutritional public watchdog, would approve of this measure, which provides a robust selection of light options for health-conscious customers. Yet CSPI snubs, not celebrates, the chain. Why? Because CSPI is interested in taking away consumer choices rather than giving consumers more. CSPI has warned us of its goals before, explaining: “Restaurants need to slim down their menus.”
Restaurant chains should not be scorned for appealing to the tastes and appetites of its patrons. The food cops at CSPI may think they know what’s best for the American public, but customers are hungry for choices, and sometimes a juicy cheeseburger—instead of carrots—really hits the spot.