You are what you eat. If the old adage holds true, then America is slowly but conscientiously emerging from the grips of an identity crisis. Ray Kroc’s establishment of a quick-service burger joint in the 1950s rewrote the dynamics of the American diet. The founding of McDonald’s and hundreds of other fast food chains inspired by Kroc’s immediate success permitted the American public to distance itself more frequently, more inexpensively and far more acceptably from daily preparation of meals.
Now, more than ever, America is suffering the numerous repercussions of that decades-long detachment, and the government is taking justified action to reverse them.
On April 16, federal Judge Richard J. Holwell issued a ruling, not enforced until July because of legal action, that chains with at least 15 outlets nationwide are legally responsible to provide calorie information on the menu boards of their New York City properties.
Although lawmakers there are the first in the United States to order the disclosure of such dietary information, politicians in Seattle, Santa Clara and San Francisco have passed similar legislation, effective later in the year.
In fact, some of their statutes are even stricter, regulating the disclosure of sodium, carbohydrate, fat and cholesterol content in addition to calories.
Dr. Thomas Frieden, the city’s health commissioner, declared Judge Holwell’s verdict a “victory for New Yorkers.” Food service patrons and employees thought differently.
“I’m so upset,” New York City diner Stephanie Fowler admitted. “I wish they wouldn’t have done this.” Bishoy Ayoub, a Manhattan Starbucks barista, noted the increased sales of smaller-sized and lower-fat beverages in the wake of Holwell’s ruling.
He acknowledged, though, “Some people actually tell us we should take off the labels, because it discourages them from ordering what they want.”
Sentiments like that represent the most worrisome outcomes of the fast food culture. Customers continue to crave the inexpensive, nutritionally abysmal meals without a consideration for the serious physical consequences that can accumulate over a lifetime of drive-through and dine-out dependency.
Two thirds of the American population is overweight. The TV New Zealand Web site cited a study on Aug. 7 projecting that by 2030, 86 percent of adults in the country will be overweight, and 51 percent will be obese.
Current trends estimate the number of overweight adults at 100 percent by 2040. With those excess pounds comes a litany of medical complications.
As much as 80 percent of heart disease and 90 percent of diabetes cases stem from unhealthy eating and lifestyle habits.
Good nutrition, however, could slash the incidence of cardiovascular diseases by 25 percent, as well as reduce respiratory infections by 20 percent and cut arthritis and infant mortality by half.
An article published on the Time Web site on July 15, 1991, stated that if everyone who read labels adopted a healthier diet, the savings in health care costs could jump to more than $100 billion.
One study, cited on the TV New Zealand Web site on Aug. 7, projected that health care costs directly related to being overweight will double each decade, reaching $957 billion in 2030 and accounting for one-sixth of America’s entire healthcare bill.
Mandatory labeling is the government’s well-intentioned initiative to equip patrons of chain restaurants with the knowledge that can increase their quality of life, halt the alarming frequency of the physical complications they needlessly incur and save them the cost of entirely preventable health care treatments.
Labeling will conclusively force the hungry to reconsider each bite and the long-term ramifications of each food’s nutritional worth.
The fact is that, for the most part, we know how we should eat, but we hardly practice our understanding of dietary guidelines because we do not realize just how detrimental to our bodies the quick-service breakfasts, lunches and dinners have become.
Our general grasp of nutrition does not amount to anything substantial without a functioning, strongly enforced plan of reform, a measure most effectively and easily realized through the assistance of our government on mandatory nutrition labels.
Raquel Ronzone is a sophomore from Philadelphia, Pa. She can be reached at [email protected]