Thursday, September 14, 2006

Appetizers and the Economy?

TGIF has come out with new appetizers. Fried macaroni and cheese and fried green beans, to name two. Call me crazy, but HOW exactly is this supposed to help Americans fight the fat? Granted, TGIF does have a menu with a few choices for Low Fat or Low Carb that don't look too bad. Without any nutritional information at our fingertips, we just make bad guesses. Green beans must be good, right? It is a vegetable, after all. Yeah, right.

Some restaurants have the information readily available to consumers. Either on the menu, on the website or even on a computer kiosk in the lobby. Uno's Chicago Grill puts the info on the menu and in the lobby. Of course, after we had dinner there recently, I browsed at the nutritional information while my husband hit the rest room. Turns out that he had eaten a burger with cheese and bacon that was 1,400 calories. It had 94 grams of fat. And 245 mg of cholesterol. If that wasn't bad enough, try 2,380 mg of sodium. When my husband came out, I wasn't sure I should even tell him. The look on his face when I did was one of fear and then, nausea. He couldn't believe that one meal could do that much harm. Who knew?

In 1998, the medical cost of obesity was $75 billion dollars, of which, about $39 billion was paid by the public. That amount covers the medical costs for the sicknesses related to obesity but doesn't even take into consideration the business impact due to absenteeism or lost productivity.

The food industry in this country generates more than $1 trillion dollars in annual sales and makes up 17% of the US labor force. In 1999, all food and food service companies spent a combined $11 billion dollars on direct media advertising expenditures. On the contrary, the USDA 5-a-Day program spent $3 million dollars. No wonder no one knows what to do.

On a given day, 40% of American adults eat out at a restaurant. Each one of us spends about $920 per person or $440 billion dollars a year on food eaten outside of the home.

Do you think that the food industry has a responsibility to consumers? Should they work to improve the lives of Americans by producing less damaging goods? Like the tobacco and alcohol industries, should they spend money educating people on eating responsibly? Should they care? Should the government step in to regulate things like direct advertising to children, mandatory worksite wellness programs or even nutritional content in foods?

Ayn Rand, renowned author of and the founder of the Objectivism movement, talks about "laissez-faire capitalism" in her works. Described as "let do, let go, let pass", it suggests a "free market" view of economics. The basic idea is that less government interference in private economic decisions such as pricing, production, consumption, and distribution of goods and services makes for a better (more efficient) economy.

Economist Adam Smith in his book 'Wealth of Nations' argued that the invisible hand of the market would guide people to act in the public interest by following their own self-interest, since the only way to make money would be through voluntary exchange, and thus the only way to get the people's money was to give the people what they want.

Do people want fried green beans and fried macaroni and cheese? Do they want hypertension and diabetes? Do they want a shorter life expectancy than the previous generation? Do you think we are all getting what we really want? I'm not so sure.


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