We’ve all heard those weekly BBC reports about the obesity epidemic, and what steps we as consumers can take to eat a balanced diet and be healthy. We’re told to read labels, use portion control and make swaps for ‘lighter’, ‘low salt’ or ‘low sugar’ options. It’s easy for us to do this because companies ~have to~ display nutritional information on the packaging and use things like the ‘traffic light’ system. They also tell you in teeny tiny writing how big a portion is or how many servings there are of the product, even though it’s normally something ridiculous like 7 smarties.
Food manufacturers give consumers the information to ’empower’ us, and we’re told how to use it to make informed decisions about food. Seems fair – they take some steps and so do we. But, what about eating establishments? Why don’t they have to disclose the nutritional content of their food? But how are we meant to make healthy and informed choices if there’s no information to, ya know, inform us? Like yeah, you know what you ordered, but what are you actually eating? A BLT you get in a café isn’t that different to a shop bought one, except the bread’s less stale; and a shop bought lasagne’s pretty similar to one you buy in a pub, they’re both equally nasty. So why should one have to publish the nutritional content and not the other?
Yeah, companies like McDonald’s, Tim Horton’s and Nando’s have nutritional information about their products available online, but 1) people don’t know they’re there and 2) you have to go looking for them. If I’m in Tesco picking up a meal deal (or Boots if I’m feeling fancy), I don’t have to go online and compare my options in advance, I can quickly pick up two sandwiches, read the labels and compare the wee traffic lights. And I can do it in about 20 seconds. I can make an informed decision about what I eat in 20 seconds. Go me. So why, if I’m sitting in a restaurant, should I have to go online and research whether or not the nutritional information’s available, and if it is, then sit and check it while the waiter’s standing there with their pen and paper and my friends have already ordered and are glaring at me? Sorry, guys.
If the information’s available online, then companies know consumers can read it and see how (un)healthy their food is, so why not just put it on the menu? It’s probably just a wee tick-box exercise so they can say, “We want to help customers make healthy choices so are uber transparent about our products’ nutritional content”. Basically, they want to have the information available, but don’t really want people to read it. I mean, they probably don’t want to shout out about the fact their burgers have 850 calories and 120% of your sat fat allowance for the day. Hmm, better make mine a diet coke, then.
But I suppose, they don’t want to tell us the truth any more than we want to hear it. Ignorance is bliss. It’s easier to claim we don’t realise how unhealthy food is and keep the blame on food companies, not ourselves – the old “it’s not my fault if I didn’t know”. Would you feel guilty about eating a pizza? Probably not. Would you feel guilty about eating a 1300 calorie pizza? Probably. If you don’t know how unhealthy something is, then you don’t have to feel bad for eating it or tell everyone that you’ll go to the gym tomorrow to “make up for it” (even though not even you believe that lie). You can eat what you want, not what you ‘should’ and play that lil game where you pretend it “probably wasn’t that bad”, I mean, potatoes are a vegetable so chips should be healthy enough, right? Right?
People always complain that they eat healthily but can’t lose weight. But, maybe the problem isn’t what they’re eating, it’s where they’re eating. If you eat spaghetti bolognese at home, you know what’s in it so know it’s not that unhealthy. So if you order it when eating out, you might think the same. But, chances are they’re not using wholewheat pasta and lean mince like your ma does. They most likely add things which end up driving up the calories, fat and salt content. So, even if you think you’re “being good” and going for a healthier option, you mightn’t be. See, when we make things ourselves, we can tweak it to be healthier and choose what and how much we eat. But when we eat out, we can’t. We can’t ask for a ‘skinny’ curry or ask for our steak to be ‘grilled, not fried’. They’d definitely spit on it, like.
Companies might think that displaying nutritional information might put consumers off and affect business. But the thing is, people know burgers, chips and pizzas aren’t healthy. They know fast food products are full of fat and salt. And they still choose to eat it. It’s not exactly groundbreaking information that a salad has less calories than a bacon cheeseburger like. Look at Wetherspoons, a lot of their food items are over 800 calories, and they have 0 issue displaying this on their menu. They don’t deny that it’s not the healthiest because, people don’t go to Spoons for ‘low cal’ or “syn free” food. They go for jugs, and cheap, massive portions of decent food. I mean, it’s like £6 for a burger and chips, what do you expect?
The thing is, nutritional information is displayed on store-bought products. We can see how unhealthy it is, and how small a real portion is, and what do we do? We ignore it. But the key difference is, we choose to ignore it. Consumers are given the information, and what we do with it is up to us. It’s our decision, and rightfully so. We have the option to read it if we want – and that’s a big “if”. You might fancy a Mars bar (God knows why like, they’re horrible), but after seeing how much sugar’s in it, you might think twice and put it back on the shelf (where it belongs). Or, you might decide that it’s worth the pancreatic damage and buy it anyway. At the end of the day, we can’t control what goes in the food, but we can control whether or not we eat it. So we should have the same option when eating out.