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The New Moderation

July 31, 2014

Just in time for those despondent about yesterday’s nutrition news about Buffalo wings, the Center for Science in the Public Interest just released its worst of 2014 list. These are just a few of the outlandishly outsized portions of food that chain restaurants sell across America every day.

The most horrifying part of it all, is how this list of shame hasn’t done a thing to curb the increasingly outrageous dishes. In fact, since the CSPI started publishing this list in 2007, the calories of the most egregious options have doubled.

Back in the day, 1500 calories was seen as something shocking. But like most shocking things, we seem to become desensitized to them over time. Yesterday, we found out that there are two restaurant chains (with outposts in the Capital Region) where you can strap on your feed bag to the tune of over 3,000 calories.

And guess what, neither of them is The Cheesecake Factory.

Not to say that this perpetual offender of mega plates and hefty doggy bags didn’t make this year’s list. It did. Three times. Including one item that is a particular shock.

Since this fat shaming seems to have no negative effect on the restaurants included on the list, my only hope in offering up this news is that you feel better about eating an entire basket of Buffalo wings. Even should you find a place that still serves them by the dozen.

(Still, I think you should bring a friend, split the order, and get a second order after the first is finished)

Just to refresh your memory, a dozen unbreaded deep fried wings slathered in a hot sauce and butter mixture, weighs in at about 1400 calories and 32 grams of saturated fat. For comparison purposes:

The Monster Meal at Red Robin
3500 calories and 69 grams of saturated fat

The Big “Hook” Up at Joe’s Crab Shack
3300 calories and 50 grams of saturated fat

Bruléed French Toast at The Cheesecake Factory
2800 calories and 93 grams of saturated fat

Farfalle with Chicken and Roasted Garlic at The Cheesecake Factory
2400 calories and 63 grams of saturated fat

Reese’s Peanut Butter Chocolate Cake Cheesecake at The Cheesecake Factory
1500 calories and 43 grams of saturated fat

Yep. That’s right. A full dozen wings is actually better for you than a slice of cheesecake. Or a plate of pasta with chicken. So get the wings, and just skip dessert. And you would have to gorge on a full two dozen wings to approach the saturated fat and calories as a plate of French toast (well, at least the custard soaked version served at The Cheesecake Factory).

In all seriousness, what CSPI found alarming this year, is that restaurant meals have gotten so large that even if you only eat half of what’s served, you have still grotesquely overeaten.

Let’s face it, these lists do nothing but bring fame and attention to big chain restaurants. Really what someone needs to do is call on consumers to head to these places en masse and order one of these entrees for a family of four.

Seriously, The Big “Hook” Up at Joe’s Crab Shack in Albany is twenty four bucks. That comes to six dollars a person for 800 calories each. For the record, Joe’s has a 1300 calorie steampot for two and says on the menu that, “It’s plenty to share.” By that logic, the chain should be fine with four people splitting a 3300 calorie dinner.

The downside for the enterprise is that if enough people did it, the per table average would tank. And that’s bad business.

So maybe these obesity factories aren’t motivated to change by public shame and ridicule. Obviously, they don’t feel any kind of social responsibility about encourage eating habits that resemble anything beyond a gluttonous bacchanalia of cheap fats, refined carbohydrates, and refined sugar.

All that’s left is to hit them in the pocket book. Sure, it seems counterintuitive to suggest patronizing a place that you might not otherwise visit to punish it. Believe me, this the bosses will notice. Four tops are precious real estate. A business that is based on clearing an average check of thirty dollars per person will not be pleased to find that dip down to six bucks a head.

I won’t hold my breath about starting this revolution. But it’s so crazy, it just might work.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. July 31, 2014 8:59 am

    I debate this with friends for an eternity. There are so many angles you can consider. Is it the restaurant to blame for creating these enormous plates? Or did they simply give the consumer what they demanded? It’s a really tough one, and I have thoughts on both sides.

    My parents are ‘Baby Boomers’. Growing up, they taught me that HUGE portions for low prices was VALUE. They don’t particularly get much from ‘better quality’ restaurants, but rather they complain about the small portions and pricing. I have spent the last 20 years talking to them about good food and costs and benefits. Still, the big plate of food at a low cost draws them in. Are restaurants, more or less, giving my parents what they have been demanding all along? Or did the restaurants simply respond to my parents demand for getting more for less? I have (believe me, I have) tried to help my parents see the other side, and they refuse. My parents are armed with knowledge and they still opt for ‘But if I eat so many times at XYZ Chain restaurant, I get a free meal with my points’. They know the health risks, they know what they are putting in their bodies, and yet – This is what they want.

    It’s not my parents alone. I see a strong pattern in the Baby Boomer era. It was a time where both parents set out to work. Money was tight and time was critical. Fast food and processed food took over America. But . . . did the food industry set out to do this originally, or did they simply respond to the masses? Are they still responding to the masses, or are they tricking the masses? It’s a debate that is quite complex.

    For sure, I agree that the only resolution is to change the masses opinion. The food industry will be forced to respond (but hey, maybe that’s what started this whole thing to begin with – responding to consumer demands).

    I don’t take the side of restaurants that dish up large volumes of junk. I simply take the stance of saying that this has many layers. Businesses often have to make hard decisions. Respond to consumer demands or go out of business. We (the consumer) have embraced the ‘How cheap can I get it” motto. From Restaurants, to Black Friday Sales, to Walmart. Food is no different. There are HUGE consequences to this. But hey, it’s what we ask for, right?

  2. EllieB permalink
    July 31, 2014 11:03 am

    A part of me wonders just how much fat and salt is being added to make poor quality ingredients taste “good” with some of these entrees.

    As for the chicken wings, I typically run 3 miles a day and power lift at least three times a week. During the day I kept it to fruits, veggies, grains and dairy for protein. I have to qualms about every so often killing a dozen wings from Swifty’s. I need those calories!

  3. July 31, 2014 11:05 am

    I’ve been charged a “splitting” fee for sharing entrees — there are ways that at least some chain restaurants enforce the unreasonableness. They also sometimes in effect punish you for buying less by making it cost more to buy half the dinner a la carte than to buy a 3-course package. From my perspective, there’s definitely at least some push, not all pull.

  4. July 31, 2014 11:45 am

    The huge portions are becoming a turn off for me, and I’m a boomer (but on the younger end, which makes a difference). I am starting to avoid restaurants that I know don’t have small plates and seem to want to kill me with too much food. I can’t pretend to understand the economics of how restaurants can survive and how much per person will keep them afloat. I’m glad you’re willing to take up that conversation, however. I simply don’t WANT to take home a bag of food after I have had dinner at a restaurant. It’s a drag.

    I want about 4oz of meat, a good portion of veggies that are carefully prepared and not covered with glop (whether it’s salad or cooked) and a little starch. I’d like to be able to have dessert without having to forego another course – so that means a small or shared sweet. I will pay a high price for really good food, and I like to pay a middling price for things like soups and sandwiches and other every-day lunches and the like. I wish fast food and junk food would disappear altogether so that our country can get down to reasonable agriculture.

    I don’t think I’m the only one with this attitude, and for restaurants to pretend that I am is misguided.

  5. July 31, 2014 11:57 am

    In California, after the state government started pleading for water conservation during the current very serious drought, water consumption actually went UP. I predict the same will happen here. Considering your influence in the region, we can expect lines out the door at Cheesecake Factory and Joe’s Crab Shack.

  6. August 1, 2014 11:03 am

    Even if you can handle the calories the nutritional value of this stuff is less than zip. Even if you have to walk for 12 hours after a monster meal at Red Robin you don’t “burn off” sodium and cholesterol.

  7. August 9, 2014 11:24 am

    I don’t know where Cracker Barrel fared on this list (and I didn’t look, because I really don’t care all that much), but last year when we stopped in a Cracker Barrel outside of Savannah for breakfast, on our way home from Florida (for the record, this was decidedly NOT OUR DECISION), and both had big plates of food that I don’t even want to know what the calorie counts were. It was my turn to start driving, and despite the coffee I had just drank, within an hour I had trouble keeping my eyes open. Within two hours, both C and I were really hungry again, because, we deduced, our high cal breakfast had hardly any real nutritional value.

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