Health Concerns

Will Calorie Labeling Prevent a Future of Bacon Bombs and Cheesy Churros?

Will dog treats have to be labeled, too?
Will dog treats have to be labeled, too? Photo: Daniel Maurer

While a couple of Southern California Taco Bells are rumored to be experimenting with “cheesy churro fries,” “atomic bacon bombers,” and red-velvet cupcakes, Nation’s Restaurant News reports that next week Wendy’s will roll out both a Bacon Deluxe made with thicker, center-cut applewood-smoked bacon, as well as an advertising campaign that highlights the freshness of its ingredients. The Bacon Deluxe looks pretty massive. That, along with the “atomic bacon bombers,” would seem to defeat Corby Kummer’s argument on the Atlantic Food Channel that fast-food chains are toning things down in the face of calorie labeling.

Kummer is clearly passionate about the subject (his wife is the health commissioner of Massachusetts, where she passed a statewide calorie-labeling law), and he’s more detailed than his colleague Marion Nestle was in defending calorie labeling. He points out that, by the study’s own account, its results may have been different if it hadn’t been conducted so soon after calorie labeling launched, before chains were universally displaying the labels correctly. Even so, Kummer thinks there’s hope to be found in the results.

Is the fact that it’s really, really hard to stop smoking reason to take pressure off cigarette manufacturers or relax anti-smoking laws? Of course not. Even if a bit better than a quarter of fast-food restaurantgoers notice and are influenced by calorie labeling — a percentage that seems to be emerging from initial and post-regulation studies — that will be a large part of the U.S. population.

So, labeling can’t fix the whole problem, and we shouldn’t expect it to — but it can fix it somewhat. Plus, Kummer believes fast-food restaurants are already making changes because of the labeling.

Yuppie avatar Starbucks immediately changed its default milk from whole to 2 percent, so it wouldn’t have to admit that a Frappuccino could amount to practically as many calories as you should eat in a whole day; it recently removed high-fructose corn syrup from its baked goods, though unfortunately didn’t make them lower-calorie — that’s said to be in the works — or better-tasting, which I hope is in the works, too.

And the big players, the ones health departments hope will change, are in fact changing. Just this week, Nonas told me — the day after the Times story came out — Burger King began a new ad campaign telling how customers could eat a full meal for 600 calories or less. McDonalds took .7 ounces and 70 calories out of its standard portion of french fries. Dunkin Donuts introduced an egg-white breakfast. KFC put grilled skinless chicken on its menu — not something anyone expected to see at KFC.

Fine, as long as no one expects us to actually eat that grilled chicken. We happen to agree with the Feedbag that the Colonel would be rolling over in his grave if he knew about it. Though of course there will come a day when we forget there ever wasn’t grilled chicken on the menu, just like no one misses the Styrofoam packaging at McDonald’s anymore. In the end, we’re willing to buy the argument that fewer people will buy fattening food if they know how calorific it is — just like fewer people would hire prostitutes if they knew exactly how many dudes they’d been with. Or would they? Who knows. Just, please, fast-food companies — keep the cheesy churro fries coming.

Will Calorie Labeling Prevent a Future of Bacon Bombs and Cheesy Churros?