Not from the Onion

by Russ Roberts on September 15, 2011

in Health, Not from the Onion

From the Boston Herald (HT: Drudge)

Encouraged by Michelle Obama’s campaign to reduce childhood obesity, the company that owns the Olive Garden, Red Lobster and four other popular restaurant chains is pledging to cut the calories and sodium in its meals and overhaul its kids’ fare.

Darden Restaurants Inc. was unveiling the changes Thursday, with the first lady on hand to lend support.

The company will pledge to reduce the calories and sodium in all its meals by 10 percent over five years, and by 20 percent over 10 years. For children, French fries and sugar-sweetened beverages will become the exception and not the rule.

It’s very easy to reduce calories by 10%–just make the portions a little bit smaller. I doubt that’s what they have in mind. And a restaurant making a 10 year pledge is a little strange. It’s not going to be very much in our consciousness ten years from now. But, fine. It was the next paragraph that made me wonder if I was reading The Onion or something out of a Monty Python sketch:

All kids’ meals will automatically come with a side of fruit or vegetables and eight ounces of 1 percent milk unless an adult requests a substitute, Drew Madsen, president and chief operating officer of Orlando, Fla.-based Darden, told The Associated Press.

Should be great for business. Kids at Red Lobster will love vegetables and milk with their fried fish. I’d love to know the real story here.

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Michael OBrien September 15, 2011 at 9:45 pm

Good press? They don’t really have to do anything, and they get a nice news story. It’s like Wal-Mart working with Michelle O to ‘tighten up’ their supply chain… Yeah, Wal-Mart really wasn’t focused on improving that before…

Stone Glasgow September 16, 2011 at 1:35 am

“Hey Michelle, I’ll make you a deal, since we’re buddies; you make a meaningless statement and I’ll make another in reply, and then we’ll have our conversation as widely publicized as possible to make sure everyone knows that uh, we’re uh… doing our part to make the world, like, healthy, and stuff… sound good?” –Clarence Otis Jr.

morganovich September 16, 2011 at 9:32 am

i think you already hit on the “real story”.

they will make portions smaller and substitute less expensive and easier to prepare foods, cutting costs while touting it as a benefit.

i saw this trend all over san francisco during the recession.

yuppies lost their money. they could not afford a new BMW, so they bought a cheaper prius then described it as “being earth conscious”.

it’s become a wonderful justification. you wrap your inability to afford what you want in self righteous eco smugness.

if red lobster said, hey, we need to keep prices down and it’s cheaper to boil broccoi than fry potatoes, and we’re going to cut portions, you’d feel like they were ripping you off. so instead they say, “we care, we’re taking care of you” and do the same thing.

SheetWise September 16, 2011 at 5:58 pm

The yuppies now have a choice — give up the Prius and get a Fisker.

ChrisN September 15, 2011 at 10:12 pm

The company pledged to reduce the overall taste in its meals by 10 percent over the next five years, and by 20 percent over 10 years.

Big brother is watching you eat breadsticks….

ChrisN September 15, 2011 at 10:54 pm

Yanked the above quote from someone else….

But why stop there Mrs. O? Why not 20% over 2 yrs? We’d surely be better off, right?

Perhaps you and your hubby should lay off the milkshakes, burgers, smokes too. You don’t give those stretch pants too much of a choice, you know? Maybe lead by example instead of turning the screws to business.

Harold Cockerill September 16, 2011 at 7:23 pm

With Michelle’s husband in the White House they may very well acheive a 100 percent decrease in calories served.

vidyohs September 15, 2011 at 10:16 pm

From what I have witnessed over the last 30 years or more, kids don’t generally eat much at restaurants anyway, and no parent seems too concerned about forcing that issue either.

Russ, your comment about making the portions smaller and reducing calories reminded me of an obese co-worker in 1980/1, who would bring the new (at the time) diet microwave meals to work. Great idea, except she would bring 4 of them for each meal.

Nick September 15, 2011 at 10:18 pm

I would still resist such a policy on rights-based grounds, but these policies on top of being political dangerous exercises of power don’t appear to work either. It would be one thing if they actually had positive effects on society.

Any empirical research at all suggest this policy has a actual, measurable effect on childhood weight? We already know that the state-mandate menu posting doesn’t seem to be encourage healthy choices or behavior. We also know that the school wide soda bans don’t seem to reduce caloric intake. Appears not to stop the politicians.

Seth September 15, 2011 at 10:29 pm

Just doin their part Don, just doin their part.

Seth September 15, 2011 at 10:30 pm

Excuse me.

Just doin their part, Russ, just doin their part.

W.E.Heasley September 15, 2011 at 10:30 pm

Freedom is not simply the right of intellectuals to circulate their merchandise. It is, above all, the right of ordinary people to find elbow room for themselves and a refuge from the rampaging presumptions of their “betters.” – Thomas Sowell from Knowledge and Decisions.

Ben September 15, 2011 at 10:50 pm

I don’t see anything wrong here. The first lady brought awareness to an issue that should be important to all of us. (obesity and bad nutrition) A restaurant chain makes a free choice, a business decision to improve the nutritional value in their meals.

No big brother, no nanny state making them do it. It doesn’t seem like a huge stretch to imagine Laura Bush advocating for better nutrition. In which case many of the current naysayers would have supported her.

Nick September 15, 2011 at 11:05 pm

I think they missed the first part of creating a policy: Providing affirmative evidence that such a policy approach actually leads to a measurable decrease in obesity. Our past failure with soda bans and menu postings makes me skeptical of the claim.

Absent step one, all this is political posturing.

W.E.Heasley September 15, 2011 at 11:21 pm

Ben states: “…awareness to an issue that should be important to all of us (obesity and bad nutrition)“.

Nice debate scheme “should be important to all of us”…. but no cigar. If one disagrees, then supposedly according to your debate scheme those disagreeing would be framed as saying/stating obesity and bad nutrition is unimportant.

Yawning at your debate scheme.

Economic Freedom September 15, 2011 at 11:34 pm

The first lady brought awareness to an issue that should be important to all of us. (obesity and bad nutrition)

We don’t need Michelle Obama to remind us of what we already know.

A restaurant chain makes a free choice, a business decision to improve the nutritional value in their meals.

A decision that scarcely requires the First Lady in any capacity.

No big brother, no nanny state making them do it.

Not yet. That, of course, is most likely the reason the chain made a silly ten-year “pledge” to align their product with the values of Michelle Obama, rather than the values of their paying customers.

It doesn’t seem like a huge stretch to imagine Laura Bush advocating for better nutrition.

Like most libs and DemRats, you confuse reality with your imagination. (Dan Rather and Mary Mapes were fired from their jobs for confusing their imaginings of what George W. Bush might have done regarding his Texas Air National Guard service with what he in fact did.)

In which case many of the current naysayers would have supported her.

I doubt it. First Lady Laura Bush advocated on behalf of early childhood education and made a number of contributions — with donated, non-taxpayer dollars — to various school libraries. To my knowledge, she didn’t insist on “mandating” anything, unlike Michelle Obama.

I’m also unaware of any explicit hypocrisy on the part of the former First Lady as opposed to the present one: e.g., the menu for the last Super Bowl party at the White House was bratwurst, kielbasa, cheeseburgers, deep dish pizza, Buffalo wings, German potato salad, twice-baked potatoes, chips, dips, pretzels, salad, and ice cream.

Methinks1776 September 16, 2011 at 5:03 am

The first lady brought awareness to an issue that should be important to all of us.

Yes, because nobody could see their kid was fat until Michelle pointed it out from on high.

I find it it ridiculous and condescending, but otherwise, I agree with you. I don’t see Michelle encouraging restaurants join hands and offer stuff neither adults nor kids will eat as an expansion of the nanny state. It’s all voluntary.

I caught a news snippet that Michelle is working on passing a law to limit restaurant portion sizes. Whether it’s Michelle or Laura, that’s going too far.

kyle8 September 16, 2011 at 7:28 am

“imagine Laura Bush advocating for better nutrition. In which case many of the current naysayers would have supported her.”

Yes, because every libertarian always supported the Bushies on everything they ever did right?

charles September 16, 2011 at 9:34 am

Darden Restaurant Group was one of the 100′s of companies that received a waiver from the Obama Administration regarding ObamaCare.

Brad Hutchings September 15, 2011 at 11:13 pm

What if you could make a kids meal cost as much as an adult plate, “automatically”? Good for business.

J. M. Keynes September 15, 2011 at 11:19 pm

It’s just applause seeking by someone who needs something to do….

Rob September 15, 2011 at 11:31 pm

Sorry Russ….what’s the issue you take with that last paragraph? I don’t see the Onionesque quality there.

Richard Stands September 16, 2011 at 12:36 am

Red Lobster has a reputation for a menu with large numbers of fried items. Adding fruit, vegetables, and milk to their normal fare seems like washing down a deep fried butter stick with a Diet Coke.

Spot September 15, 2011 at 11:59 pm

The company will earn more because (1) it will reduce calories by serving smaller portions for the same price and (2) parents will have pay for a side order of fries, which are no longer included.

Rothbardian September 16, 2011 at 7:43 am

All I can imagine as a result of these 2 points is lower consumer demand for the services of these restaurants, which hardly comes in hand with higher earnings…

ArrowSmith September 16, 2011 at 12:01 am

If you really want to tackle obesity, you would legislate portion control. Now imagine the state apparatus you’d need to ENFORCE that in every home and dining establishment.

Harold Cockerill September 16, 2011 at 7:32 pm

Every diner should have to wiegh in upon entering the restaurant. They would automatically be assigned a maximim number of calories allowed.

The government would have to monitor to make sure you didn’t go to more than one restaurant.

Emil September 16, 2011 at 12:17 am

Ok, so after having attempted to pick winners in the energy business, the Obama couple have now moved on to picking winners in the restaurant business. Given their past record these chains may however find that the market doesn’t agree with the Obama’s and thus get their righteous punishment

Richard Stands September 16, 2011 at 12:38 am

Michelle Obama is certainly entitled to her option, as anyone else is. I’ll give it all the consideration its due.

Scott G September 16, 2011 at 1:21 am

Thanks for posting this Russ. I find this menu change really eerie. I’d like to know the back story on this one too.

I really dislike going to hospitals because I’m rarely treated like a paying customer in them. I hope I’m treated as a paying customer in all restaurants I go to.

Stone Glasgow September 16, 2011 at 1:26 am

Well, the CEO of Darden shares his race with the first lady, and he likely shares an interest in expanding his business with the business end of a government gun as well; same as all the other guys hanging out with aristocrats.

Ben September 16, 2011 at 1:39 am

What on earth are you talking about? What does race have to do with this?

Stone Glasgow September 16, 2011 at 2:08 pm

If they were both Mensa members with red hair I might find that interesting as well. Racism involves assuming that others behave in certain ways or have certain qualities simply because of their race…. Implying that two people may be friends because they are similar in some way, be it because of skin or hair color, IQ, wealth, hobbies or club memberships does not a racist make.

Talking about similaities in public figures is not irrational or immoral. Obama and Otis have many things in common; my implication is that they are actors on a stage, hoping for personal gain with the help of a powerful friend.

House of Cards September 16, 2011 at 4:56 am

“… sugar-sweetened beverages …”

I’ll go out on a limb. What soft drinks are mostly sweetened with in this country isn’t sucrose (sugar), but “high fructose corn syrup.” The replacement was made because, you guessed it, the corn syrup ingredient is cheaper than cane sugar. HFCS makes me sick, but I can tolerate real sugar even though I’m diabetic.

That is not to say that sugar is good for you. Linus Pauling thought that sugar over-consumption was at the root of many chronic diseases, much more so than the ingestion of fat. He was also not a fan of diet drinks because he thought that artificial sweeteners were unnatural to the human body and potentially dangerous. Linus also thought that people ought to take 10 grams or more of vitamin C daily, but that is a story in itself how he came to that conclusion.

kyle8 September 16, 2011 at 7:32 am

That is only part of the story. If it were not for corn subsidies and import restrictions on cane sugar then the cane would be much cheaper than the corn sweetener.

Corn sweetener has the highest glycemic index of any available sweetener. So it might well be that government is responsible for an increase in diabetes and other disorders.

House of Cards September 16, 2011 at 5:03 am

Btw, apparently all sugar isn’t created equally. For instance, there is a sugar called xylitol that will actually reduce dental caries if consumed regularly. Xylitol also has a cooling effect in your mouth, and some chewing gums are made with it. Also, it seems to be safe or safer for diabetes in that it doesn’t raise blood sugar.

rjs September 16, 2011 at 5:16 am

“I’d love to know the real story here.”

the real story is 10% less calories is 10% less cost…follow the money..

Chief Yogi September 16, 2011 at 10:23 am

Well if you buy more you usually pay less on the margins. So 10% less calories would not equal 10% less cost. Yeah just being an a–. Haha

Luther September 16, 2011 at 9:01 am

I’ve eaten at Darden restaurants dozens of times… have yet to take my kids once. Now if it was McDonald’s or Pizza Ranch, they could expect to go out of business in 10 years. The margin for error in the restaurant business will not permit this change unless Darden has recognized a demand that the rest of us haven’t.

erp September 16, 2011 at 10:17 am

They got a pass on Obamacare.

ChrisN September 16, 2011 at 12:24 pm

Yep…look at Dardens lobbying filing disclosure. They are spending quite a few bucks at HHS, White House, Dept of Labor, FDA.

Specific Lobby Issues – “Health care regulations directed by the Affordable Care Act (menu label provisions, definitions of full time employee, limited plan benefits)”

GP Hanner September 16, 2011 at 10:33 am

Obvious. You know kids; Drew Madsen does not.

PrometheeFeu September 16, 2011 at 1:33 pm

“The company will pledge to reduce the calories and sodium in all its meals by 10 percent over five years, and by 20 percent over 10 years. For children, French fries and sugar-sweetened beverages will become the exception and not the rule.”

They are probably using Washington accounting rules:

Well, we had originally planned a 20% increase, but now we only increase by 10% so it’s a 10% deficit… I mean calory… reduction…

Peter September 16, 2011 at 4:44 pm

The American Left: only giving a rat’s *** about parental choice when it’s relatively meaningless, doesn’t hurt a beloved union, and doesn’t harm their secular-pagan holy sacrament of abortion

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