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MEAL Act Regulation: Would It Make a Difference? (Why the Rational Will Never Work)


Right now, our gifted men and women in the House of Representatives are tucking into the MEAL Act [1], and the Senate may consider a similar measure soon. The MEAL Act (Menu Education And Labeling) is the latest clever acronym brought to you by the food police. And I have to ask myself – and you – if one more piece of litigation or legislation will do a lick of good.

The MEAL Act would require restaurants with more than 20 locations to post basic nutritional information on their menus (special and seasonal food items excluded).

Let’s step into the world of the MEAL Act
. You mosey into McDonald’s, taking a gander at the bright, colorful panel of meal choices. Caloric information is duly noted. Choice #1: 970 calories. Choice #2: 890 calories. Choice #3: 650 calories. Let’s say you choose option 3 – hey, it’s healthier, right? Enter relative gluttony. Would caloric information really matter in the Cheesecake Factory, where a single slice of carrot cake weighs a pound and the best alternative to that slice (the original cheesecake) still comes packed with over 600 calories? You probably know that a salad with a little vinegar and generous helping of veggies delivers, at most, 300 calories, but you don’t eat at McDonald’s, either. The unfortunate consequence of a little sprinkling of caloric information could be relative gluttony; the easing of the conscience because 650 calories is better than 970 calories. At most, I predict a temporary blip in increased chicken sandwich orders before everyone reverts right back to whatever bacon-cheese-beef monstrosity is normally favored.

I am strongly in favor of information transparency – open doors are always in the best interests of the consumer. It almost goes without saying that the food, drug and chemical industries would get away with a lot less if there weren’t doors to close in the first place. More information, more education, more legislation – these are rational, logical, well-intentioned goals.

In a rational culture, such measures would work. But we already have information. We have media specials and documentaries. We have lawsuits. We have weight-loss centers and therapy and steps. We spend billions on diets [2] and diet books and diet foods and diet pills – and billions more on pharmaceuticals [3] and surgeries.

And yet, we have the top 5 causes of death being entirely preventable through better diet choices [4]. We have a majority of the population suffering from the effects of this national food problem. That includes children. More education? More legislation? Those are rational solutions to problems stemming from things like simple misunderstanding or glitches the free market hasn’t had time to correct. Guess what? We’re not dealing with anything rational.

Our problem is far more troubling: it is emotional. Our problem as a nation is food addiction. The fact that bacon-cheese-beef monstrosities even exist is evidence enough of that. Like alcoholism, Americans are in an emotionally addictive grip that I fear no amount of intervention or good intentions can resolve. Alcoholics cannot function normally. They cannot stop their behavior even when death is a very real possibility. Consider how many Americans cannot even do a simple push-up or a jog around the park. How many require larger seats on airplanes and in restaurants? How many can keep up with their children? How many have balanced blood sugar levels so that they do not feel anxious, stressed or depressed by daily life? How many millions of Americans are affected by food addiction? Certainly more than those affected by alcoholism. This is addiction on a massive scale, with entire industries – diet books, diet foods, diet pills, health care, surgery, exercise gimmicks, pharmaceuticals – created in service to the addiction.

The rational has gone out the window – please pull forward to the second window.

How do we cure the addiction? Do we numb it with drugs? Attempt to sate the cravings with diet foods like an alcoholic might with a non-alcoholic beer? Find a crutch to prop us up, like government or schools or support groups? Is that freedom or slavery by another name?

How do we cure it? Tell me.

[tags] addiction, gluttony, MEAL act, food police, restaurant nutrition information, top causes of preventable death, weight loss industry, pharmaceutical industry, Cheesecake Factory, public health, information transparency, government regulation, obesity [/tags]