By Michael Strelcheck
The Food and Drug Administration recently released new proposed regulations for the “nutrition labels” on the backs of packaged foods. You know-those little square boxes that always seem to be too small or folded over where you can’t read them easily. The proposed changes include enlarging the information box, as well as printing the calorie counts bigger and bolder than other facts. The useless “calories from fat” will disappear while total fat, saturated and trans fats will remain. Grams of added sugar and their types will now be clearly indicated (sucrose, corn syrup, etc.) Most importantly, serving sizes will now reflect portions people typically consume, which will make them much bigger for most products. For example, a single serving of soda will rise from12 ounces to 20, a serving of ice cream will rise from half a cup to a full cup, and a serving of muffin will now be 4 ounces instead of 2.
When I’ve taken the time to look at the amount of servings per container, I know that it’s nowhere near what a serving is for me. And, you may have noticed on recent trips to the supermarket that the packages seem to have been steadily shrinking. At first I thought it was me! But over time it became clear that indeed food containers had become smaller.
Reports out ahead of this announcement suggest that major food companies are gearing up to fight some of the details of the new regulations. “Everyone in the industry is going to have to change their labels. It’s a very big deal. It’s very expensive.” So says Regina Hildwine of the Grocery Manufactures Association as reported by Politico. (Maybe it’s only fair after the manufacturer mysteriously shrank packaging without dropping the price!)
These changes are purported to be driven by government encouraging people to stay healthy, but many feel it’s really more of an attempt to hold down health costs. Recent studies suggest that America’s “weight issues” costs our economy upwards of 150 billion dollars per year, for they exacerbate many serious illnesses. Although the changes in food labels could help to honestly reflect what a person is consuming, it seems to me that they could threaten to take away some of the important benefits our society gets through eating. Sure, one can make an argument that it’s healthier to know how many calories or how much fat you eat, but is that what’s really important?
You know those times, where you just have to have some ice cream after a tough day, and after ladling out a big chunk of “Rocky Road” into a bowl, you magnanimously give yourself a break and considered it a single serving – and you feel nurtured or better yet – loved. Yes, food has the power to console, so why shouldn’t we use it that way-free of guilt?
My first reaction to this news was to stubbornly cling to my right to eat what I want without being reminded that it may not be good for me. I thought, “They will have to pry my Oreo cookies from my sticky little fingers, for I fear I couldn’t cope without them. Darn them for showing how fattening they are – in my face! What next-nutrition labels printed on the buns of the McDonald’s Big Mac warning me to be careful? Haven’t we lost enough of our freedoms already?”
Will these new mega-labels make us more aware, and take away from us our “right to self-deception,” or raise the price of guilt for one’s “right to indulgent self-nurturing”? I’m sure the Founding Fathers had these very freedoms in mind when they wrote in the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are . . . the Pursuit of Happiness.” And if certain foods make us happy shouldn’t we fight the government’s attempts to “shame” us into changing our eating habits?
Now that I got that off my chest, it’s pretty clear, when you look at our society’s eating habits, that we have a problem! Maybe the trouble with food lies in how we use it. The fact that most people have special “comfort” foods, that aren’t necessarily healthy, seems to be a big part of the problem. I know I grew up in a family that ate more for pleasure or for satisfaction rather than for “functionality.” And as I look around society I find my family wasn’t the only one. It’s hard to imagine eating only to maintain the body’s health, for “healthy” foods can often taste bland or uninteresting. I know when I have the discipline to eat healthy foods, I don’t consume as much for it isn’t as much fun.
It seems that the problem with our society’s eating habits isn’t just the desire to enjoy what we eat, for much of the unhealthiness is found in today’s mass-produced food products that are manufactured to be “irresistibly tasty” as well as “preserved” for a long shelf life. When it comes to food I guess the idea “better life through chemistry” isn’t working out so well. For sure the enhanced nutrition labels will help us realize what has been added to packaged food so that we can make more informed choices.
Maybe the government isn’t all wrong, and perhaps it is a person’s civic duty not to make themselves a burden on their community in their pursuit for happiness. Without a doubt the current health care crisis is draining our society’s resources, but it is a big “ask” for people to change their personal eating habits. It would be nice if food producers would step up and help more so that there would be some sharing of sacrifice. In any event, just the thinking about WHY one eats can help a person begin to consciously shift their “pursuit of happiness” to other activities, ones that don’t take such a hard toll on the health of their body.