Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Restaurants forced to display calories on menus?

One of the segments on BBC Breakfast this morning considered the idea of compelling restaurants to list calories on menus.

Do people really need to count calories in order to tell when they're getting fat? Is it so difficult to take corrective action if your weight edges up? To exercise more, perhaps, or eat at home for a little while, where you can count calories to your heart's content.

Will the people most at risk from obesity pay any attention to the calorie counts? And is it any of our business whether they do?

How much expense and hassle would the requirement impose on restaurateurs? Would the counts be accurate? And isn't the whole point of going out for a nice meal that you're indulging in good food? Do you really want calorie counts there to spoil your fun?

A viewer from Switzerland emailed to ask whether it's reasonable to expect your friends to provide calorie counts when you're invited over for dinner. What is it about commercial transactions that makes the hand-wringers feel that interference is justified?

The key question is not whether money changes hands, but whether all parties act voluntarily and honestly. If customers demand calorie counts, restaurants should be free to provide them, and if they do, they have an obligation to provide accurate information. But if customers are happy to visit a restaurant despite the absence of calorie counts, nobody has a right to intervene.

This is all so obvious that it really shouldn't need saying. Not for the first time, I find myself empathising with Wonko the Sane.

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