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07/27/2008

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James N. Markels

Jack: "BTW a tip of the hat to the many new immigrant or ethnic cafes that by dint of tremendous labor have been able to survive and provide a locally owned, tastier, and most likely far healthier alternative to the corporate juggernaut."

With all due respect, that is a very rose-colored view more inspired by one's political inclinations than by fact. Unless the restaurant strives to be low-fat or whatever, most, including the mom n' pop ones, have no more interest in keeping calories down than any fast-food chain out there. How many mom n' pop restaurants do you think are out there testing their offerings for fat content and the like? None. We put more blame on the big chains only because they have the resources to do that kind of research.

And let's not forget that chain restaurants are more stringent with meeting health and cleanliness standards. Your average McDonald's is cleaner and more sanitary than the average mom n' pop/local ethnic restaurant. Getting fatter is one thing, getting food poisoning is another. Now, that doesn't mean that I won't eat at a little Chinese dive -- I love ethnic eateries as much as the next person -- but I know the odds. There are some sketchy places I avoid.

I think the interesting question is, if we see that it is unreasonable to only target fast-food restaurants for open disclosure based on the fact that fast-food isn't the only unhealthy/fattening food out there, what costs will we be imposing on those mom n' pop restaurants that will now have to expend resources to have their menus tested? How many of those restaurants will be unable to afford that additional compliance? And will we be better off with fewer mom n' pop restaurants around? As much as Jack hails those plucky entrepreneurs, I wouldn't be surprised to see many of them having a big problem with fitting in testing costs under their already-thin profit margins.

Jack

James: Good comments and I agree with many of your points.

Perhaps I do favor a politic and economic view that is not all that entranced with corporations taking over most of the turf that was one left to local business owners and that relies upon paying substandard wages in order to pump the profits out of the locale to some far off HQ's or to the brokerage accounts of wealthy stockholders. As many of the fast food chains at least have local franchise owners they're not quite the prime example as is the Walmart model that has so effectively killed off local merchants, depressed wages and produced one of the fattest bottom lines in history.

I do give ample credit to Walmart's use of modern tech and etc as I do to fast food chains for their mechanization and "product development".

I've not read the NYC statute but would assume it directs its focus to the large chains where it's not much of a burden for them to divulge what they put in a "french fry" that bears no resemblance to the potato that was once part of the name or a "milkshake or softee"

IN terms of economics can it be that when a machine become ubiquitous that "the market" can no longer be relied upon in terms of the competition that a single restaurant faces to ensure quality and value at varying levels of price and service? And therefore must face more regulation? I would think the answer is yes.

BTW if you're concerned about the odds of food poisoning perhaps what you eat is more important than were you eat it. In a Congressional debate over putting in more inspections of seafood some years ago I learned that incidences involving seafood were among the lowest @ 1 in 150,000 meals if one included raw shell fish. Chicken is the worst having a rate of 1 in 25,000 and of course ground meat ie burger is far riskier than is solid meat and the reason burger is always cooked well done these days.

As for being better off with few Mom and Pops, I suppose that logically speaking IF the chains are subjected to more intensive inspection, I'd assume the answer to be yes. But! here in Anchorage all appear to be inspected the same, and were a customer to get sick in one of the local cafes I frequent the owner could be quickly notified. Have you had any luck giving helpful feed back to a corporate chain?

And thanks! for a well reasoned response, Jack

Andrew

A reason the ordinance may very well work is that for once, the alibi of "ignorance is bliss" can no longer be applied. It is possible that a person did not care about calories because he/she was not aware of the quantity. Now that the information is thrust upon everyone, new "calorie-conscious" people will be created. Thus, we have a constantly growing population of calorie-counters, rather than the original people with the "natural incentive."

Analogously, it is not likely that a person will react to carbon monoxide until it is too late. This ordinance acts as an alarm, protecting the eater.

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James N. Markels

Jack: The fat "bottom line" of WalMart has also made things more affordable and available, so that even low-income folks stuck in the boonies have a full range of commodities they can afford within a relatively short distance. Although we like local merchants, would you like them so much if you realized that their inefficiencies actually gouged their customers?

Anyway, while I am cognizant that big chains can afford to do this research, once again we are necessarily giving smaller producers a pass simply for being smaller. And, unfortunately for Andrew, this hurts the ability to educate the populace, and even fosters ignorance. If we all see how "bad" fast food is, but see no information about the local diner's menu, then people may very well let their common sense go and decide that the diner's food is healthier. After all, if it wasn't healthy, the government would have required that information about it be provided, right? If your goal is truly to combat obesity, then selective information is not helpful. If your goal is simply to hurt fast-food restaurants, well, mission accomplished.

Ethan

Judge Posner loses credibility when he does things like referring to fast foods as containing sugar and butter. Not likely!
What is in fast food? Perhaps high fructose corn syrup, and lard or margarine?
Information costs are just too high, aren't they.

Jack

James: Some truth......

"Jack: The fat "bottom line" of WalMart has also made things more affordable and available, so that even low-income folks stuck in the boonies have a full range of commodities they can afford within a relatively short distance. Although we like local merchants, would you like them so much if you realized that their inefficiencies actually gouged their customers?


............ I gave them credit for developing state of the art merchandising and inventory control et al. BUT! When such new tech generates FAT bottom lines wages should NOT be so low that taxpayers have to kick in a billion a year to subsidize the lives of their employees.

........ also the DO engage in predatory pricing until they've killed of the local guys. Let's hope our slumbering Anti-trust Division will be awoken by the next admin for both these cases and the oil heist.

Anyway, while I am cognizant that big chains can afford to do this research, once again we are necessarily giving smaller producers a pass simply for being smaller.

.......... Possibly. But when it comes time to improve standards, it seems wise to take a practical approach and make change where change is possible.


And, unfortunately for Andrew, this hurts the ability to educate the populace, and even fosters ignorance. If we all see how "bad" fast food is, but see no information about the local diner's menu, then people may very well let their common sense go and decide that the diner's food is healthier.

........... This seem like tap dancing. But... following it along, SURELY were the majors to lose market share to what either IS or is perceived to be better they'll either make improvements or .......... ramp up their propaganda!

After all, if it wasn't healthy, the government would have required that information about it be provided, right? If your goal is truly to combat obesity, then selective information is not helpful. If your goal is simply to hurt fast-food restaurants, well, mission accomplished.

......... I think of the problem as the health of the people who paid for the food being a top priority, of which the obesity epidemic is only a part. Today, sadly, but for fine dining, most restaurants appear to be designed to most efficiently get the money while doing as little as possible. Beyond the low quality food the whole combo of florescent lit rooms with hard cushionless seats where newspaper racks are prohibited. After all, god forbid that anyone linger longer than it takes to rapidly bolt their food.... which in itself is a cause of obesity.

Perhaps we're due for a paradigm change as Starbuck, Panera, and others are offering comfortable surroundings with WiFi, music etc along with (Panera) and healthy choice of sandwiches, etc and Subway while stuck in the zero ambiance past? does well with healthy products.

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