The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) offered up the “Xtreme Eating Awards,” where they shine a white-hot light on the dishes in our favorite restaurants with the most absurd offerings in terms of calories or… basic common sense.

Take my favorite example – at Friday’s, you’ve got the “Three-For-All.” For Applebee’s, it’s the “Sampler.” Olive Garden offers the “Tour of Italy.” All for the eater who “can’t choose what they want, so let ’em eat ’em all!”

CSPI also talks about the ridiculous appetizers and add-ons offered at most restaurants that are little more than slightly smaller versions of full-course entrees. Adding half a rack of ribs to your dish for $6.99,

Taken from the press release:

Keep in mind that most people should limit themselves to about 2,000 calories, 20 grams of saturated fat, and 1,500 mg of sodium per day. And the envelopes please…

  • Red Lobster Ultimate Fondue: This retro item is also making comebacks at Olive Garden, Uno Chicago Grill, and at a chain that sells nothing but fondues, The Melting Pot. Red Lobster’s Ultimate version, “shrimp and crabmeat in a creamy lobster cheese sauce served in a warm crispy sourdough bowl,” is crammed with 1,490 calories, 40 grams of saturated fat, and 3,580 mg of sodium. That’s two days’ worth of both artery-clogging fat and blood-pressure-spiking sodium.
  • Applebee’s Quesadilla Burger: Here Applebee’s inserts a bacon cheeseburger into a quesadilla. Two flour tortillas, two kinds of meat, two kinds of cheese, pico de gallo, lettuce, and a previously unknown condiment called Mexi-ranch sauce, plus fries, gives this monstrous marriage 1,820 calories, 46 grams of saturated fat, and 4,410 mg of sodium. Bonus heart-stopper: Applebee’s actually invites customers to top the fries with chili and still more cheese.
  • Chili’s Big Mouth Bites: This is four mini-bacon-cheeseburgers served on a plate with fries, onion strings, and jalapeno ranch dipping sauce. (“Mini” is relative: each one is like a Quarter Pounder.) Like the “sliders” available at other chains, Chili’s Big Mouth Bites can be an appetizer or an entrée (these numbers are for the latter). 2,350 calories, 38 grams of saturated fat, and 3,940 milligrams of sodium.
  • The Cheesecake Factory Chicken and Biscuits: Nutrition Action calls it “discomfort food.” If you wouldn’t eat an entire 8-piece bucket of KFC Original Recipe plus 5 biscuits, you shouldn’t order this. But unless you live in a city with menu labeling, you wouldn’t know that this dish has 2,500 calories. The rest of the winning—or rather, losing—appetizers, entrées, and desserts are in the June issue of Nutrition Action.

Because of all this, I was asked if I thought these kinds of offerings should be deemed illegal. And I’ve got to admit, I’m kinda torn about this.

No… actually, I’m not.

There’s no denying the fact that these numbers are bananas, and these dishes are disgusting looking. Having said that, the only question I have left to ask is…

…so what?

I mean, let’s look at CSPI’s findings for what they are. I’m a firm believer in the idea that if these restaurants are going to serve these gut-busting atrocities and pass them off as meals, then they should also be forced to make the nutritional information for those dishes available to the public… just like the processed food manufacturers. Not as an obscure link on a website. As a part of their menu. To me, it just makes sense – if the FDA says that food manufacturers have to put the nutritional info on the side of the box, then restaurants should be forced to have the information equally readily available. Kudos to CSPI for helping bring to the forefront the issue of hidden calorie counts.

However, to say that because CSPI uncovered these heart-stopping (literally) findings means that we should all campaign to have the dishes banned by law? I think that’s quite a reach. I mean, complaining about high-calorie appetizers that are supposed to, by definition, whet the appetite… you’d probably do better to talk to the person who orders the appetizer as their meal and remind them that “this dish is intended to serve 4… not one.”

I look at it like this – the reality of it all is that for the past 50 or so years, we’ve had someone assume the “responsibility” of leading the American diet. Not the various cultures from which we came (regardless of how connected some of us were allowed to be to our cultures), not the traditions of our respective nations… but… the government. The charge has always been led by someone who could develop/has developed ulterior motives or a fundamental incapability to properly rule on these most serious of matters. (Would you trust the entity responsible for protecting the longevity of an industry to tell the public how to safely enjoy said industry? Have you met the USDA?)

Do I have a problem with the dishes? You know I do. I find them disgusting, especially since I could probably duplicate that 2,500 calorie pasta dish in my own kitchen for mayyyybe 600 calories. But to tell people that they shouldn’t be allowed to order them is excessive. I’ve simply had enough of people trying to assume the responsibility of telling us what to eat. They either get it wrong – repeatedly – or they start getting drunk on their own power and abuse their privilege… trading in our health for their own personal favors. Unacceptable.

In reality, I’m a much larger proponent of forcing restaurants to post calorie counts of their food items than I am anything else. That would compel those who care to make better, more knowledgeable choices and force franchises who want that money to create healthier dishes and compete for those dollars fairly. The hypothetical question of banning certain foods is just excessive, I think.

The point of all this, really, is to underscore the fact that the responsibility for my eating habits should solely rely upon me. No one is going to look out for me and my health the way I can… especially when there is money to be made off of me. Don’t rely on others to make these kinds of decisions for you, leaving yourself open to poor health. Take charge! Some things, we can’t rely on a magic button, pill, garment, organization or law to do for us. Some things are important enough for us to take charge of ourselves, and that includes our health.

Your thoughts? Let’s hear ’em!