Dear Calorie Ken,
I LOVE French fries, but they don't love me! How can I get my French fry fix without looking like a spud myself?
French Fry Pig
Dear French Fry Pig,
The easy answer is eat French fries in moderation and don't be a couch potato. To do justice to your question, however, Calorie Ken's response is going to be a three-parter. First, we'll talk about the disconnect between fast food marketing messages and the reality of our waistlines. Then, we'll go on a quest to find out whether a large really is a large (size does matter). Finally, we'll compare fast food French fries, Ore Ida crinkle cut fries, and oven-baked fries, homemade with Pam.
French Fries, Part 1: Selling the Good Life
Nowadays, except for Subway, Calorie Ken only does fast food in a pinch (of salt in the case of French fries!), and my fast food French fry choices in order are: Steak 'n Shake, McDonald's, Burger King, and Wendy's. I checked out their websites, and all but Steak 'n Shake make nutrition information readily available. Because McDonald's is by far the largest and most recognizable of these brands, I'll pretend I'm Morgan Spurlock and focus on them. (If you haven't seen Super Size Me, you really need to make a date with it!)
Dominating the McDonald's landing page is the "McNuggets Saucy Challenge," a McNuggets sauce match game clearly aimed at young people. At the bottom of the home page sandwiched between a McCafe Summer of Cool link promoting sugar-laden frappes and smoothies, and a Career Opportunities link is the link, It's About Delicious Choices, which takes you to their kid's nutrition page where you are greeted by a happy, thin mother and child above a heading, "Food to feel good about," and you'll find information on their nutrition experts, including their Director of Nutrition, Dr. Goody.
I kid you not. Dr. Goody. Can this be coincidental? The cynical side of Calorie Ken thinks not.
Clicking on the Nutrition link takes you back up one level to the Nutrition landing page where you are assured that McDonald's is "dedicated to making you feel good about choosing McDonald's foods and beverages." From here, you can click on Balancing Busy Lives and then on A Balancing Act where you'll find at the bottom of the page this "It's about moderation" blurb:
As with so many things in life, it's best not to overdo it. If McNuggets are your thing, order the 4-piece instead of the 6, making sure to savor every juicy bite. Love our fries? Go ahead and order the large and share them with a friend! When you're eating out, a great way to find out more about your meals is to use the Healthy Dining Finder where you'll get nutritional information on restaurant foods.
Calorie Ken couldn't agree more. Yes, it is about balance and moderation and savoring our food instead of mindlessly stuffing it down our gullet. However, the marketing message is "feel good about our food," not, "our food is good for you," and there is no balance or moderation in the ubiquitous eat, eat, EAT-yourself-to-the-good-life messages that saturate our every waking moment. And, while nutrition information is available online and in restaurants, you have to navigate a calorie minefield to get to it, and then it is not presented in a way that makes it easy to add up all the calories.
Pig, you must be an informed consumer! Remember, their job is to make money for their stockholders, and that means selling lots and lots of French fries and everything else we've been conditioned to love. I thought about cigarette advertising while working on this piece. After all, a cigarette and a French fry are about the same size and shape, both go in your mouth, and both can cause heart attacks. You can't easily find anything online about cigarettes, and, considering America's very real obesity problem, Calorie Ken thinks government of the people, by the people, and for the people might need to step in and help save us from ourselves by sending Ronald McDonald off into the sunset with Joe Camel and the Marlboro Man.
Next, can the advertised calorie counts count when the portion size is only a guess?
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