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In my past life (running business operations for a bakery cafe group), menu labeling required by law seemed overwhelming, expensive, time consuming and a logistical nightmare.  We had meetings and discussions on how we would tackle the requirement while keeping our customers actually eating our food/drinks.  It wasn’t about pulling the wool over anyone’s eyes.

I, in fact, always strive to be healthy, watch what I eat, exercise and make adjustments when I go over the top.  I truly believe that everyone needs to be educated to live in this way without being obsessed.  Let me not fool you.  I, too, have bad days, eat junk, love baked goods and enjoy occasional trips to McDonald’s.  I’m far from perfect, but I am very well aware of what I’m doing when I make the choice to have a chocolate chip cookie measuring no less than a 4″ diameter from the local bakery.

As a business operator, the real issue is about getting beyond the expectations or perception of value that customers have.  Value equates to portion size in this country.  While the bakery food was relatively healthy and made of natural ingredients, the portions were large and people ate that up, literally.  Even in San Francisco where people are relatively health conscious, that was (and still is) a problem.

Siphoning through all of this, I realize now that you can’t just require businesses to put labels on their menus and think you’ve done your good deed for the day.  Education must be a key component in this law.  Consumers must understand what the number on the menu actually means and must relate that number with the quantity of food piled on the plate (at a minimum).  It sounds so elementary, but it absolutely isn’t.  Education is expensive, but it’s pennies in relation to the healthcare costs that we will encounter over time without this schooling.  Besides, it’s our health we are talking about.

As you can imagine after my rambling, I was quite impressed with an article that I read yesterday about the strides that the city of Portland, ME is taking in educating its residents on food and obesity.  The city took a $1.8M grant from the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and have made it a true team effort.  With an advertising campaign leading the pack, they are paying for nutritionists to analyze restaurant menus (for owners that sign up for the program), paying for new menus to be printed and creating a real support system for restaurant owners and residents.  It’s my hope that more cities will take this high road and teach people the abc’s of action and consequence in this sometimes zero consequence food world.  Hats off to Portland!

Portland's Campaign

Read more and watch the video on “Pouring on the Pounds” campaign from Portland, ME!