Originally posted 2011-04-22 10:25:29.
Seen in Washington Post:
The bartender at the Cheesecake Factory inside White Flint Mall knows exactly where to draw the line between being customer-friendly and betraying her employer. She chokes off the information stream as soon as I ask one too many questions about the restaurant’s Flying Gorilla cocktail, this liquid libation described on the menu as a “ ‘Kicked-Up’ Chocolate Banana Milkshake.”
When I first inquire about the Gorilla, she tells me I won’t even taste the small shots of banana liqueur and creme de cacao in the drink. She’s so giddy about the creamy cocktail, she almost makes me excited to be sucking down an alcoholic shake at an Egyptian-theme chain restaurant inside a Rockville mall just steps from a nearly depleted Borders outlet where practically everything’s for sale short of the employees’ personal footwear. I try to mirror the bartender’s enthusiasm and ask about the other ingredients in the Flying Gorilla.
“I’d get fired if I told you that,” she says, impressive in her facility to blow me off with such good humor. A few days later, I called the Cheesecake Factory’s press people, who were equally cheerful as they turned down my request for the recipe.
The information is important for one simple reason: America’s fat.
You’ve heard the statistics by now and, more immediately, have probably felt that extra jiggle around your waistline. The Obama administration has fired off a number of weapons to combat the, ahem, massive problem, from the first lady’s “Let’s Move” campaign to the new veg-friendly Dietary Guidelines for Americans, but its latest offensive push came on April 1, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration published proposed regulations for nationwide menu labeling. As written, the regulations require all “chain restaurants, retail food establishments, and vending machines with 20 or more locations” to list caloric information on their menus and menu boards. Two categories were conspicuously exempted from the requirement: movie theater chains and alcoholic beverages.
This is where chains such as the Cheesecake Factory, Applebee’s, Chili’s and others come in. They serve alcohol of every stripe. Many have specialty cocktails, too, such as the Flying Gorilla or Applebee’s Mud Slide or the Chili’s line of designer margaritas. None of the chains may ever be required to list the drinks’ caloric information on their menus (except, of course, in those jurisdictions such as New York City where local labeling laws already require such information).
“The problem is that alcohol is a big source of calories in the American diet,” says Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Fortunately, Nestle offers an example in the book: A six-ounce pour of wine with 13.5 percent alcohol by volume, for instance, translates into about 140 calories. Drink two glasses of that wine with dinner, and you’ve added about 280 calories to your meal. Which would almost be considered a diet drink compared to the Flying Gorilla. Based on a modified recipe found online, this “ ‘Kicked-Up’ Chocolate Banana Milkshake” might contain anywhere from 590 to 870 calories per drink, depending on how much ice cream is used.
Now imagine a menu where the calories are listed for all of the drinks except for beer, wine and spirits. To Wootan’s way of thinking, that’s a setup for overindulging on empty calories and on a potentially organ-damaging substance. The lack of caloric information for alcoholic beverages, she notes, would “mistakenly give the impression that [they] are a better choice.”
Now, I used to work at one of those frilly franchise joints – y’know, the kind that has the knick-knacks and license plates on the walls – and yes, we had to serve those giant ice cream liquored-up drinks. I’m not proud of it, but it paid the bills.
I bring that up to say that looking back now, as I can, and knowing what is in each of those drinks? I can add up the math in my head. I mean, a mudslide? Somewhere between 6-700 calories. A Lobsterita – a former favorite of mine back in college? Somewhere around 800 calories. A lot of these drinks are hard liquor topped with sugar, blended with simple syrup (more sugar), flavored with liqueur (orange, cherry, banana, mint… and more sugar), sprinkled with novelty on top (cookies, cinnamon, salt, more damn sugar) and then served to you with a straw and a shovel… y’know, to get the whole thing in your mouth.
Let me make a few things clear. For starters, if we’re talking about consuming alcohol? We are not talking about clean eating. We simply aren’t. There is no aspect of alcohol, beer or wine that is clean. It’s that simple. Sure, we can talk about “moderate consumption” and “how much can you drink before you obliterate your liver” all you want, but the reality is that in the interest of health, alcohol is a set back. It is not clean.
That being said, is there some kind of “pass” being given to alcoholic beverages for not having their calorie counts posted? I mean, if people are going to partake, shouldn’t they know the details? Shouldn’t the restaurants be equally prepared and willing to offer up that information? I mean, I know from personal experience – no one in the restaurant will know the calorie counts for those drinks even if they were asked… so I’m wondering, here.
I’m wondering what everyone’s thoughts are on what this article proposes. Two more excerpts for ya:
So what was the FDA thinking in not including alcohol in the proposed regulations for menu labeling? The agency apparently does not believe it has jurisdiction over alcohol, citing case law that states that the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau has authority over most alcohol labeling. According to the Federal Register notice of April 6, it “is not clear that Congress intended for the nutrition information disclosures . . . to apply to alcohol beverages, given that the labels of the majority of alcohol beverages are regulated by TTB.”The FDA’s argument ignores two simple facts, say nutritionists and public health advocates. One: The FDA does have regulatory authority over some alcohol, including wine and hard ciders that contain less than 7 percent alcohol by volume, as well as beers made from grains other than barley and hops. And two: The FDA’s proposed menu labeling regulations include foods, such as red meat and poultry, over which the U.S. Department of Agriculture has regulatory and labeling authority. Why does the FDA feel justified in invading the USDA’s territory but not the TTB’s?
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