Counting Calories In Restaurants?

It's enough to put you off your food!

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Eating out in Chiswick


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I gave up smoking when my children arrived on the scene; I gave up clubbing, cursing and inebriation too. I go to the gym, I take yoga classes, I walk whenever and wherever I am able. I won’t deny I’m rather partial to a glass or two of wine but as far as having vices goes I most certainly veer on the side of purity. Which is why I feel such frustration that restaurants are to be forced to show calorie counts on menus and at point of sale.

As part of their war on obesity, The Food Standard Agency believes that I need to know exactly how many calories there are in every mouthful I take. I have a fair idea how many calories there are in a risotto or a steak or braised lamb shank. I also know that it would be healthier for me to choose a salad rather than my beloved chips on the side. But do I want the full guilt-inducing figure displayed on the menu? No I do not.

For me it would take away all the wonderful delicious pleasure of eating out but FSA chief executive, Tim Smith, justifies the move as a logical next step and insisted that the scheme is not about 'policing' but about providing customers with choice.

It’s undeniable that the obesity epidemic needs tackling but will this scheme really do anything to help? In my mind it would turn me off eating out if I saw ‘894 calories and 30 grammes of fat’ beside the burger that was once a thing of mouth-watering beauty. I know, as the vast majority of people do, that eating them everyday would be a bad thing which is why I don’t, but spoiling a once-in-a-while treat to me seems unfair.

The FSA is currently in talks with a number of companies who will adopt the scheme later this year. Pizza Hut has said that it welcomes the proposals, and has volunteered to take part in the trial.

The scheme is also supported by consumer campaigners Which? Senior Policy Advisor Sue Davies, said, “Consumers don’t need to be told what to eat, but they should be provided with enough information to make up their own minds. Supermarket product labelling has helped, but as soon as you eat out at a restaurant or grab a sandwich from a coffee shop, watching what you eat instantly becomes a guessing game.

“After a successful launch in New York restaurants, this is a good place to start and food outlets should be open and support the FSA’s scheme. Many people may discover that their lunchtime sandwich, or Friday night takeaway has a lot more calories and fat than they ever imagined. We also hope it will encourage the catering sector to work on new healthier ways to keep the taste up and the calories down.”

Opinions of local restaurateurs are divided. One told me running a restaurant involved so much red tape already that this was one step too far whilst another took an entirely different view believing that it could work in chef's favour by providing 'healthier' options.

I'm sure like all bureaucracy it's something we'll learn to live with however, I can't help thinking what's the next joy in my life that 'they' can extract the pleasure from!

Emma Brophy

February 5, 2009