Calorie-labeling and portion-control initiatives have been introduced across the country, with the most notable example being the push in New York City to enact new public health policy. This could set a precedent and serve as an example for similar implementations across the country, causing Americans seriously to consider what and how much they put into their mouths on a daily basis. Not many do now, because most consumers have no idea what huge portion sizes may be doing to them and their families. If they did, large servings and excessive calories and those who heavily market them could turn into public enemy No. 1.
For the most part, people like to get the most “bang for their buck.” We might buy that top that’s on sale instead of the one that isn’t because it costs less, not because we like it any more. We’re enticed by the 2-for-1 deal when we purchase food. There’s nothing wrong with economizing the amount of food you buy in order to conserve money. What most people don’t realize is that they tend to eat more as a result of purchasing more things. Whereas buying a individually wrapped portion of something in bulk might be useful for a family that will end up rationing judiciously, going to Burger King and purchasing a cheeseburger loaded with bacon, meat and all the potential for heart disease anyone could ever dream of is actually detrimental. Even if most don’t sit on the extreme of buying things like the “triple ultimate cheeseburger,” they still don’t mind that the regular size of McDonald’s fries is bigger than what it was 50 years ago. But the fact is, would people still be as satisfied with large portions if they knew how much they didn’t need it?
With the growing epidemic that obesity-related illnesses are causing, there must be an effective push for calorie labeling and portion-size controls. First, education or at least some call to the public’s attention needs to be made. If there is an immediate call for legislation saying that these food companies have to decrease their portion sizing, a mass revolt could be expected. The real key is to show people that restaurants and manufacturers are giving more than is really needed. Although in America excess is exalted, the ramifications on health are not only stigmatized but dangerous, and people should understand that bigger isn’t always better. Along those same lines is the reality that many don’t know what it is they’re eating, especially when their portions are being rationed out by others.
One solution is to encourage people to eat out less and to try to prepare their own food as much as possible to learn proper portion-sizing and how much food it really takes to make them full. Clearly labeling the portion sizes, as suggested in New York, is key in demonstrating what people are getting not only at supermarkets but also in restaurants. No self-respecting person is going to eat something that has written on the front “seven USDA-recommended daily servings,” or a meal that has 2,000 calories, and any company or restaurant that continued to produce those options would cross over the lines of being economical and into the realm of gluttony.
Restaurants don’t want people to see how much they’re actually eating because then the consumer will most likely eat less. There can’t be an expectation for the food industry to regulate itself because as much as it may or may not like to look out for the public, at the end of the day its still a business, and it still wants to fully maximize its output. The key is consumer demand for change, for the triple cheeseburger to go out of fashion and therefore lead the restaurants to stop marketing “extreme” portions.
Some might say that there’s no harm in serving larger portions and control and labeling is impinging on our democratic right to choose, but that is completely misleading. Going to a McDonald’s or some other restaurant and ordering a serving of fries entails eating the whole “unit,” whether or not it is three ounces or four ounces. The brain says, “This is a serving of fries; eat the whole thing,” not “This more than a serving; only eat three-fourths of it.” Studies show that there is no significant drop-off in satisfaction for the more-reasonable sized portions, so a smaller-fed American can still be an equally satisfied and healthier American. The trick is making the argument appealing and the default, and to show that there’s much more to gain in comparison to losing eight ounces in their favorite soft-drink, which remains one of the biggest obstacles in making smaller portions a reality.
Kenechukwu Anoliefo is a freshman in Calhoun College.