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A-Holes and Monks

December 19, 2011

You know what happens when you start comparing decadent food to Big Macs?
It makes Big Macs look downright virtuous.

Think about this: If a tub of movie popcorn is the same fat and calorie load of three Big Macs, then getting one Big Mac can’t be that bad. It would seem as if the well-intentioned people at the Center of Science in the Public Interest have finally begun to understand this relationship.

Mrs. Fussy and I received a solicitation from them in the mail. The envelope included a sheet, which on one side has a list of ten offensive food items, and on the other a list of ten “better alternatives”. This time around, none of the offenders were compared to a multiple of big macs. However the Oh Fudge! Shake from Cold Stone Creamery was colorfully described as, “the saturated fat content of two 16-oz T-bone steaks plus a buttered baked potato all blended into a handy 24 oz cup.”

In theory I should love these guys. They are fighting the good fight about over processed junk foods and out of control portion sizes, all in the service of getting Americans to eat better. But in practice, I can’t stand them. This mailer just goes to reinforce this fact. And it’s not just because they named Chipotle as one of the worst of the worst.

Although that is a part of it. To add insult to injury they compared Chipotle’s chicken burrito to Subway’s 6-inch BLT Classic. It’s blasphemous, and it’s wrong on multiple levels, which I’ll get to in just a minute.

Right now, I want tell you what is on this otherwise sensible list of terrible foods.

1)    Marie Callender’s Chicken Pot Pie
2)    Olive Garden’s Tour of Italy
3)    Campbell’s Condensed soup
4)    Chipotle Chicken Burrito
5)    The Cheesecake Factory’s Chocolate Tower Truffle Cake
6)    Pillsbury Grands! Cinnabon Cinnamon Rolls with Icing
7)    Land O’Lakes Margarine
8)    Starbucks Venti White Chocolate Mocha
9)    Haagen-Dazs Ice Cream
10)  Cold Stone Creamery’s Oh Fudge! Shake

Processed foods are filled with sodium. Margarine and Pillsbury rolls are filled with trans fat. A giant 12-ounce slice of cake that’s half a foot tall is bad for you. Drinking a coffee filled with fat and sugar and topped with more fat isn’t a good idea.

I get it. Don’t eat like an a-hole.

And when you load up a Chipotle burrito with cheese and sour cream, it’s going to be just as bad for you as when you load up a baked potato with cheese and sour cream. Just because they have it there doesn’t mean you have to eat it.

Frankly, that’s why the chicken burrito made the list. Because of cheese and sour cream. Their cheese isn’t even all that tasty. Sure, it’s made from the milk of cows that weren’t treated with rBGH. It’s shredded daily from blocks of cheese in house, so it doesn’t need any anti-caking agents. But I’ve never felt it added much to a burrito. And while sour cream is certainly decadent, I only get it when I’m in the mood to cut the heat of their spiciest salsa.

So yes, should you get a chicken burrito with pintos, cheese, sour cream and fresh tomato salsa, you end up with something that has 970 calories, 17.5 grams (CSPI rounds up to 18 grams) of saturated fat and 2,200 mg of sodium.

Apparently that is similar to the fat and calories of THREE six-inch BLT Classic Subs at Subway. Except the stuff at Subway barely qualifies as food, while Chipotle uses better quality ingredients than most fancy restaurants.

Now leave out the high fat dairy, substitute vegetarian black beans for the bacon enriched pintos, and add the lower sodium green tomatillo salsa (which happens to be tastier too), and suddenly that burrito shrinks to 745 calories, 5.5 grams of saturated fat and 1,670 mg of sodium.

Is it health food? No.
Is it wholesome food? I would argue yes.

I don’t want to belabor sodium guidelines. Eating out involves a lot of salt. From what I’ve seen, it would seem that people 2-51 without other risk factors, can safely consume up to 2,300 mg of sodium per day.

If you want to lower the sodium content of your Chipotle meal further you can go the taco route with their soft corn tortillas. Three of them filled with steak, black beans and red tomatillo salsa have only 530 calories, 2 grams of saturated fat and 1,155 mg of sodium.

But all of this Chipotle stuff is beside the point.

Because when you turn the page of the sheet to find out what the “better alternatives” are to these vilified foods for people who eat like a-holes, you are treated to the following list of not so much foods as ingredients: Sweet potatoes, mangoes, unsweetened Greek yogurt, broccoli, wild salmon, crispbreads (like Wasa or Ryvita), garbanzo beans, watermelon, butternut squash, and leafy greens.

Oh really? Fruits and vegetables are good for me? I never knew.
Jerks. This organization is just a pack of kneebiters. I’m serious.

Sure, some of their findings are interesting, and maybe even helpful for those people who don’t have the time or inclination to read labels. Like the Marie Callender’s Chicken Pot Pie, which has a label on the box declaring its 520 calories, 11 grams of saturated fat and 800 mg of sodium. What the box makes less clear is that these figures are for one serving, and the individual pot pie is actually two servings.

But the Center for Science in the Public Interest doesn’t seem to acknowledge there is a place in our lives for indulgence. Yes, people should probably not have a venti white chocolate mocha everyday. I’d argue they shouldn’t have one at all on the grounds of the white chocolate alone. But if you want a coffee that is sweet and fatty, you probably know it is sweet and fatty. And it will be no surprise to learn that enough sweet and fatty coffees will probably just make you fatty.

Just like it’s no surprise that even though Subway has items that are low in fat and calories, it also has footlong sandwiches like the Chicken and Bacon Ranch Melt. And without even picking it apart to see how nasty the ingredients are that go inside of that monstrosity, it measures in at 1,140 calories, 20.2 grams of saturated fat and 2,170 mg of sodium. Yet somehow this disgusting chemistry experiment gone wrong didn’t quite find its way onto the CSPI’s list.

Here’s the bottom line, stolen once again from Michael Pollan. “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” And forget about all these numbers. Because there is a middle ground between eating like an A-hole and eating like a monk. And these people seem to entirely miss the point.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Leah the Nosher permalink
    December 19, 2011 10:45 am

    It is so because they picked on Chipotle. And because you’re headed into a week where you are ‘commanded’ to eat fried goodness, mostly involving simple starches ;)

    Plus they’re knee-biters. Center for Science in the Public Interest, my left tuchus.

  2. Bill Swallow permalink
    December 19, 2011 11:10 am

    I’m amazed at just how little people know about food.

  3. Stevo permalink
    December 19, 2011 12:13 pm

    The CSPI is not solely concerned with helping people eat better. This group has an agenda. Anyone that doesn’t see that is blind or ignorant or both.

  4. December 19, 2011 7:36 pm

    On most days at Chipotle, I get the burrito bowl. I skip the dairy, and also skip the rice, and no tortilla (obviously). I usually have them load up with the black beans *and* the fajita veggies, in addition to some sort of meat protein. If you want extra fat and calories, add on some guac – which is mostly good fats, and more delicious and decadent than the cheese or sour cream.

    However, the taco suggestion is a good one, too. :)

  5. December 20, 2011 7:59 pm

    Funny, ’cause I’ve incorporated Chipotle into my diet very well — it’s a very healthy, filling dinner, if you lay off the tortilla and the sour cream.

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