Currently browsing posts about: Restaurants

Jun 10 2013

Books not to miss: The food politics of restaurant workers

I’m going to be doing some catching up on reading over the summer, starting with this one.

Saru Jayaraman.  Behind the Kitchen Door.  ILR Press/Cornell, 2013.

This shocking, hugely important book takes a compassionate yet tough-minded look at the working conditions of restaurant workers—the poorly paid ($2.13 an hour), largely invisible people who wash dishes, clear tables, and mop the floors of the places from high end to low where many of us eat our meals.  Their work is not covered by federal labor laws.

Jayaraman, who co-founded the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United and directs the Food Labor Research Center at UC Berkeley, begins the book with a plea for advocacy:

When people ask what are the most important changes that we could make to our food system right away, I reply:  Enforce the nation’s labor laws and increase the minimum wage.

Think of that the next time you go out and eat.  And what you can do to support these goals.

Mar 6 2012

Nutritionist’s Notebook: Dining Out Estimations

My Tuesday Q and A for NYU’s Washington Square News:

Question: When you go out to eat, how can you estimate the amount of butter and grease that is used to cook vegetables? How does this detract from the nutritional value of the food?

Answer: If you are eating out, guessing the amount of anything in food calories or fat is next to impossible. You cannot guess accurately unless you are in the kitchen watching what goes into your food, looking up the composition of each ingredient and adding up the nutrients. If you want to try this, the U.S. Department of Agriculture food composition tables are at ndb.nal.usda.gov.

I like a little butter or olive oil on my vegetables. Fat brings out taste and makes vegetables taste delicious.

Fat does other good things to vegetables. Without some fat in your diet, you will not be able to absorb and use beta-carotene and other fat-soluble nutrients.

From a quantitative standpoint, fat provides twice the calories per unit weight than do either protein or carbohydrate. A tablespoon of fat provides about 100 calories. A tablespoon of sugar gives about 45 calories.

That kind of fat is important to health. All food fats — no exceptions — are mixtures of saturated, unsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids but proportions differ. Animal fats like butter are more highly saturated than salad oils.

As for quality, grease sounds pejorative so I assume you mean oils that have been repeatedly reused. Those are best avoided, as are those that have been partially hydrogenated, a process that introduces heart-unhealthy trans fats.

How can you tell fat quantity and quality? If a food looks greasy and smells bad, don’t eat it. It’s unlikely to be good for you.

Email Marion Nestle at dining@nyunews.com.

Sep 16 2011

Michele Obama gets Darden’s to promise healthier meals

Yesterday, Michele Obama announced  that as part of her Let’s Move! initiative Darden’s, the restaurant chain that owns Olive Garden, Red Lobster, LongHorn Steakhouse, The Capital Grille, Bahama Breeze, and Seasons 52, would be making its meals a bit healthier.

As I explain below, I have a personal interest in this announcement.

According to the White House press release, the Darden’s commitment includes:

Kids’ Menus – changes starting now and to be fully implemented by July 2012.  Darden’s will:

  • Add a fruit or vegetable as the default side for every kids’ menu item at those restaurants offering a default side on the children’s menu: Bahama Breeze, LongHorn Steakhouse and Red Lobster.
  • Make 1% milk the default beverage.
  • Make milk prominently promoted on the menu and available with free refills.
  • Illustrate healthy choices for meals and drinks on menus.
  • Display healthier menu options more prominently, when possible.
  • Not display carbonated beverages on children’s menus.
  • Improve the nutritional content of one or more children’s menu items to provide equal or less than 600 calories, 30% of total calories from fat, 10% of total calories from saturated fat, and 600 mg of sodium.

Calories/Sodium Footprint Reduction – changes to be implemented by 2016 and 2021

  • By 2016, reduce calories by 10% and over a ten-year period by 20%.
  • By 2016, reduce sodium by 10% and over a ten-year period by 20%.

My personal interest: In 2005, I was invited to Amelia Island, Florida, to give a talk to the CEO’s of popular restaurant chains, among them Clarence Otis, Jr., the CEO of Darden’s.  I was specifically asked to discuss what restaurant chains could do to lessen the impact of childhood obesity.

In my talk, I told the group that they could help alleviate childhood obesity by:

  • Making healthy kids’ meals the default.  Parents could still order junk food, but the default meal should be healthy.
  • Providing a price incentive for choosing smaller portions.
  • Stopping any funding of the Center for Consumer Freedom and hiding behind its tactics.

The reaction?  The CEOs went ballistic: “you are trying to put us out of business!”

No, I simply hoped they would consider making it easier for customers to make healthier choices.

Seven years later, Mrs. Obama has put these chains on notice that they are part of the problem of childhood obesity and must change their practices.  Darden’s has admitted that it bears some responsibility for contributing to childhood obesity and is making some grudging changes.  Others are likely to follow.

It’s a step.  Now let’s make sure they follow through.   

For more details, see the AP story.   For many more details, see what Obamafoodorama has to say (I’m quoted).

Feb 15 2011

Healthy kids’ meals: the default

Margo Wootan, the nutrition policy director at  Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), sent along CSPI’s new materials on its Default Project—making healthy kids’ meals the default.

This is a really good idea.  Plenty of evidence shows that customers typically take the default whenever it is offered.

The idea is that if parents order a “happy meal” for their kids, the meal is automatically a healthy one.  Parents can always order junk food for their kids if they want to, so the choice is theirs.

I’ve been telling restaurant chain owners to do this for years.  It’s great to have the rationale explained and substantiated.  Thanks Margo!

Sep 18 2010

Restaurant safety grades: creativity in action

I haven’t said anything to date about New York City’s new safety grades for restaurants.  Their purpose is to encourage restaurants to do a better job on safety procedures so customers don’t get sick.

As the Health Department explains, the grades are awarded on a point system.  Points go to violations of food safety regulations.  The fewest points get an A.  Those with the most get a C.  The B grade is someplace in between.

Wall Street Journal blogger Aaron Rutkoff discovered a restaurant with an exceptionally creative method for dealing with its embarrassing B grade.

Enjoy the weekend and watch out for those grades!

Apr 6 2009

Can restaurants do healthier food?

The editor of the San Francisco Chronicle magazine invited me to write about what restaurants could do to make it easier for customers to make more healthful choices.  Here’s what I said:

As a nutritionist who cares deeply about the effects of food on health, I am often asked to speak to groups of owners of restaurants and restaurant chains. I accept such invitations whenever I can because I have an agenda for restaurant owners. I want them to make it much easier for customers to make healthier food choices.

Yes, I know. Restaurants are in the business of selling food. Restaurants must offer choices and give customers what they want. But restaurants bear some responsibility for encouraging people to eat too much and, therefore, contributing to obesity and its consequences.

As someone who loves to eat and eats in restaurants several times a week, I am all too aware of efforts to get me to eat more than I ordinarily would. Rather than resisting those efforts on my own, I’d appreciate some help.

Here’s what I wish restaurants would do:

Give a price break for smaller portions. Larger portions are a huge barrier to healthful eating. Larger portions have more calories, of course. But they also encourage people to eat more, and they fool us into thinking that we aren’t eating so much. Controlling weight means eating smaller portions. I’d like restaurants to offer half-size servings for, say, 70 percent of the price of “normal” size. That would work better for me than taking home a doggie bag.

Make healthy kids’ meals the default. Why not put tasty and healthful meals on the menu as the only options for kids’ meals? If parents want their kids to eat junk food, they can always order it, but restaurateurs do not need to aid and abet that choice. Kids should be eating grownup food anyway – restaurant meals offer a chance to expand their food experience.

Cook with less salt. Put salt shakers on the table. If customers don’t think your food is salty enough, they can always add their own. But those of us who are trying to keep our blood pressure under control would appreciate food that did not already have so much added salt.

Notice that I’m not asking restaurants (other than fast food chains) to post calories or nutrition information, to label meals as heart-healthy or to do anything else to turn customers off. I’d be happy with just these three changes. Other suggestions, anyone?

Mar 12 2008

San Francisco votes nutrition labeling

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is requiring chain restaurants to post nutrition information on menu boards–not just calories, as in New York, but also fat, carbohydrates, and sodium. Carbohydrates but not sugars? All that? It will be interesting to see how this works in six months when the rule goes into effect.

Feb 4 2008

Mississippi does what?

So many people have sent me news about the proposed legislation in Mississippi to ban overweight people from eating in restaurants that I must say something about it. I thought it was a joke, but no such luck.  The bill truly exists.  Nobody expects it to get anywhere but I still think it’s bad public policy.  For one thing, I still remember lunch counter sit-ins during the civil rights movement, plenty of them in Mississippi.  For another, this won’t fix the environment to make it easier people to eat more healthfully.  Here are some alternative suggestions: How about requiring restaurants to give a price break for smaller portions or making smaller portions and healthy kids’ meals the default?

Page 1 of 212