June 30, 2007

I have been telling you now for nearly a year, that America is changing. Americans don't want huge portions of unhealthy fatty food. Restaurants which serve these obscene, porcine portions are doomed.

Today it's confirmed. The marketplace has spoken.

Nobody wants heaping portions of $8.49 oriental chicken salad or $10.99 riblet platters (2,027 calories, 200% daily fat).

T.J. Palmer went to Applebee's last fall. Ms Palmer rarely goes there anymore. "It doesn't have anything that would make me want to come back." What's so remarkable about this statement is:

She's the co-founder of Applebee's 27 years ago.

When the largest -- yes, largest -- sit-down restaurant chain in America doesn't have anything for the founder to eat, you know "the times they are a changin.' "

The Friday Wall Street Journal reports sales at Applebee's restaurants dropped in 2006 for the first time. Why is the No. 1 chain in trouble? WSJ says Applebee's didn't change quickly enough and stayed too long with a formula that had worked for it in the past. (Applebee's diners weren't the only ones getting fat with food from the past. Its executives racked up huge bonuses while sales fell. Profits plummeted 20% in 2006.)
WSJ: Menus at many newer-generation restaurants stress the freshness or naturalness of their food, a contrast with the fried-and breaded fare at traditional bar-and-grill chains like Applebee's.
Read between the lines. Americans don't want crappy, fattening food anymore.

In the early 1990s Applebee's menu innovation often consisted of little more than adding a different slice of cheese or a flavored mayonnaise to the hamburger. By 2005 it was clear the Overland Park, Kansas company was out of touch with its customers.

"The landscape has changed," John Cywinski, then chief marketing officer, told investors. "Our paradigm must change."

So the company added television chef Tyler Florence to create food with more-diverse flavors.
The latest menu, out in May, features a giant fold-out photo of Florence's $14.99 New York strip steak with hearts of romaine salad and onion rings...So far, the changes haven't stopped the slide.
Wow, it took 20 marketing guys in Kansas to come up with a strip steak and "signature" garlic butter as what Americans want. Steak, butter, onion rings, bleu cheese, and that will save the nation's largest restaurant chain? WRONG!

Of course, the Applebee's executives are misdiagnosing the ailment. They think that the issues are growing competition, belt-tightening, perceptions with affluent guests, and tacky decor.

The issue is that it's a restaurant. Americans vote (and buy) with their stomachs. In 2007, a restaurant must offer good, healthy, fresh, natural, calorie-appropriate food. Simple.

Even a thick-headed CEO in Kansas should know that. His own Applebee's franchisee, Harry Rose of New Jersey, knows that. Rose is not looking to open any more Applebee's restaurants.

He plans to open a number of branches of Corner Bakery Cafe, a lunch spot that serves grilled paninis with artichokes and apricot walnut rugalach desserts.

Nobody in America is asking, where's the steak and onion rings?

P.S. Not only are Applebee's executives behind the menu and marketing curves, but they continue to be behind the health information curve. Applebee's releases very little nutritional information on its food. (What is it hiding?) According to FoodAndDiet.com website, Applebee's responded with a -- it's too complex for us to figure out the calories -- answer.

"Unfortunately, we do not provide information for all of our menu items for many different reasons. Our menu items vary regionally and many or many not be available in your restaurant, and it is important to know that some restaurants nationwide have changed their menus to no longer include these low-fat menu items."

Maybe this is what they are hiding, a slice of apple pie that has half the daily calories needed by a adult man: Sizzling Apple Pie, (1,085 calories, 56g fat, 580mg sodium, 146g carbs, 7g fiber, 14g protein)

June 28, 2007

Smaller portions of chefs

We all know diners need to eat the RightSize. How about chefs? Do you trust a fat chef or an appropriate-weight chef?

The Boston Globe looked at chefs and how much they weigh, and what they do to watch their portions.
Most chefs joined the industry because they have a finely honed appreciation for food. And while many are in the 32 percent of overweight American adults, being lean and working in the kitchen is no longer a stigma. In these fitness-conscious times, the old adage, "Never trust a skinny chef," seems as dated as the two-martini lunch.

Even cooking schools are paying attention. The New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, Vt., requires students to check in once a week with a fitness instructor. Recently they banned sugary drinks from the vending machines. "The big push now is to train chefs who are healthy and in shape," says Mark Molinaro, an executive chef at the school. "We work with food but we're not gorging ourselves. A heavy chef tends to be looked down on."


June 24, 2007

No fat kid left behind

CT school stays stuck in the seventies

This is a sad, sad state of affairs; or really, Danbury, Connecticut is a sad, sad state of junk food.

Danbury school officials tried to make the high school culinary arts program compliant with a healthy foods program run by the state but couldn't do it, so it's dropping out of the program. And giving up on a potential $50,000 the state provides to some schools for participating.

The Danbury Newtimeslive.com reports the program requires all food items offered for sale to students from any sources, including school stores, vending machines, school cafeterias and any fund raising activities, come from the state certified list.

"We tried," said Sue Levasseur, the school district's coordinator of health services. "The academic program uses a wide variety of foods that the students use in recipes they prepare and serve. The (nutrition) program took away a lot of the ingredients essential to the creation of recipes."

I'm incredulous: "The nutrition program took away a lot of essential ingredients." Is this the kind of coordinator of health services you want in your school district? Levasseur is saying we need to not only serve unhealthy recipes, but in Danbury they want to teach kids how to make unhealthy food.

Danbury High principal Catherine Richard said to comply with the state healthy foods program, the students would have to scan ingredients and adjust recipes before using them.
Duh. That's the entire reason behind the state's initiative! Change the recipes. Stop sticking butter and sugar and fat into every dish. Stop cooking oversized portions. Use fruits and vegetables. What educator -- in today's world -- says: "it's too difficult to teach kids how to cook healthy."

What happens to those Danbury students as they try to get a job in the food industry? Who's going to hire a cook or chef that says: in my schooling I only learned unhealthy recipes.

Susan Fiore, nutrition education coordinator for the state Department of Education, said she's received a number of calls from schools that did not participate but want to join. She also had a call from California, which is looking at Connecticut's program as a model.

Fiore thought the Danbury culinary program was an anomaly.

"If you start at the elementary school it's not an issue, because by the time these kids are in middle and high school they won't be missing the snacks that aren't allowed,'' she said. "Overall, most people were positive.

"The program raised the awareness of kids and staff, but we still have to make healthy food choices more attractive," Janice Jordan, Bethel associate superintendent, said.

In Danbury, their motto is, "no fat kid left behind."

June 23, 2007

Money and fast food can make you sick

As if you needed another reason not to eat in a fast food restaurant, Swiss researchers have confirmed why fast food restaurants literally may make you sick to your stomach.

I have always had a problem with workers who handle food and handle money. How about when you handle money and then eat? I see lots of people washing their hands before ordering their food, but when's the last time you saw someone order food at McDonald's, pay for it and then go into the bathroom to wash up. Never, would be my answer.

Maybe we all should.

This report has absolutely nothing to do with the RightSize of fast food, and everything to do with how unhealthy it is to be eating food with your hands.

As many as 69 percent of motorists eat meals on wheels by some survey accounts, a trend that fast-food restaurants and convenience stores have duly noted.

Witness the growing number of meals and snacks designed to be eaten easily with one hand. (Could there be any other reason for French toast sticks at Burger King?)

Earlier this year, 7-Eleven introduced Go-Go Taquitos, a to-go deep-fried tortillas. It took the company more than a year to develop a portable version of notoriously messy Mexican food.

The National Restaurant Association estimates that one-third of consumers age 18 to 24 eat more frequently in their cars now than two years ago.

We all know it's dangerous to eat and drive, and yet no one realizes it's more dangerous to pay and eat.

Why? Because no one washes their hands (their only dining utensil when driving) after paying for their food.

And because you don't wash your hands, you now have the nastiest germs on them from the money you just touched.

Swiss researchers have reported that influenza viruses can survive — alive and potentially infectious — on paper money for up to 17 days in some cases.

It’s not known what portion of influenza transmission is due to the touching of contaminated surfaces with hands which then transport viruses to the vulnerable mucous membranes of the nose or mouth. And this study can’t answer that question.

But lead author Yves Thomas said Wednesday he believes the touching of contaminated surfaces plays a role in the spread of flu. And those contaminated surfaces can include folding money.

"When you see that the virus is still alive for several days, I can’t imagine that it does not infect. I’m sure that it can infect," Thomas, a virologist at the Swiss National Centre for Influenza, said at a major international conference, Options for the Control of Influenza.

"It’s still alive. And it’s alive in quantities that can infect."

Think about that the next time you eat a taco by the dashboard light.

June 22, 2007

Mothers stick heads in sand, kids suffer

From the PR Newswire:

Despite eating habits that include consuming fast food at least once a week and turning to junk food in times of stress, an overwhelming majority of American mothers are not concerned with their child's weight finds a new poll from Woman's Day Magazine and AOL Food.

According to the findings, 36% stated they eat fast food at least once a week, with 16% stating they consume it two or more times a week.

Despite these poor eating choices, a surprising 79% are not concerned with their children's weight. The poll, which surveyed over 2,500 American women, provides insight into the eating habits and concerns of American women. The complete findings are highlighted in the June 19 issue of Woman's Day magazine

When examining the cost of eating healthy, 80% stated they believed eating healthier would be easier if cost weren't an issue; yet 85% stated their actual eating habits were not influenced at all or only a little by the cost.

Other key findings include:
  • 43% admit to only sticking to a diet for a week before cheating
  • 32% eat something they regret later almost every single day
  • Only 21% say they've never really dieted
  • 50% often skip at least one major meal and graze throughout the day
  • Despite nutritionists suggestions that diners ask for reduced portions when eating out, only 17% have asked their waiter for a smaller portion

June 21, 2007

The Panhandle of Texas flips the biggest burgers

April is the cruellest month; or so said my favorite poet, T.S. Eliot.

It's the definitely the cruellest month for Texans trying to be the RightSize. That's because Mooyah Burgers opened in April, serving the biggest burgers at the lowest price. Burgers as big as
¾-pound for $3.95. Of course, that comes with french fries.

What it doesn't come with, is any nutritional information. You can't find information in the store or on the web site. The new restaurants is "just burgers, just fries, just fresh". We'll add: "just no (calorie) data".

Would Texans be lining up for the latest big burger bargain if they knew it contained at least 700
calories. Fries are at least 500 calories.

QSRweb enthusiastically reports on the big burger epidemic sweeping the country. (Ironically obesity will definitely kill Americans this year. Bird flu none. Which do you know more about?)

From QSRweb:
When Robert Andersen decided to start a new hamburger chain, he recognized one big trend in the QSR industry — bigger burgers. And the reason was simple, Andersen said: Bigger burgers are of a higher quality than the thin patties that dominated the fast-food market for so long.
Capitalizing on the trend, Andersen opened Plano, Tex.-based Mooyah Burgers in April, serving burgers as large as ¾-pound. The response has been overwhelming, Andersen said.

And why not?

According to Datassentials, a Chicago-based menu-research firm, the availability of extra-large burgers, at least ½-pound in size, is highest in quick-serve and mid-scale restaurants, with just under 40 percent of operators offering at least one extra-large burger. Additionally, nearly 75 percent of all burger operations offer at least one extra-large burger item, while 40 percent of coffeehouses, bakeries, ice cream shops, and other food establishments also offer extra-large burgers.

But size is not enough to satisfy the public; it also has to be affordable. The typical Mooyah burger sells for $3.95; the average price for an extra-large burger in the quick-serve space is $4.42, compared to $9.90 in fine dining restaurants.

Despite a wave of health consciousness that has rolled across the nation, when American consumers walk into restaurant and look at the menu, more often than not they zero in on the 1/3-pound burgers and larger.

It may seem contradictory but that’s the way it is, said Jeff Jablow, director of training and menu development for Cheeburger, a 21-year-old burger chain with 69 locations.
“We offer salads, chicken, and meatless products like the portabella mushroom sandwich, but our No. one item is our burger, and the ½-pound sells as well as the ¼-pound,” said Jablow. “When it comes to burgers it’s one of those menu items that will never go away and, like everything else, we want the biggest and the best.”

In the 1950s, the industry standard for a hamburger was 1/10-pound, and that didn’t change until the 1980s when the ¼-pound hamburger was introduced, said Brad Haley, executive vice president of marketing for Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s.

Haley said during the decades when the fast-food industry clung to the skinny patty, the casual-dining segment, restaurants such as TGI Friday’s, Chili’s and Applebee’s, emerged with bigger- and higher-quality burgers, paving the way for QSRs to add larger burgers to their menus.

Haley said the new hamburger-industry standard is 1/3-pound when previously the ¼-pound burger was considered large.

Andersen said it’s all about the experience for customers. And when they leave the house with the goal of purchasing a burger, diets and weight worries are left behind.

“We talk about eating healthy so logically that makes sense, but we really eat with our hearts,” Andersen said. “And you’d think it’s just big old guys like me eating burgers, but we probably have a higher percentage of females than males and that’s been the most amazing thing.”
So in the 50s normal was a tenth of a pound hamburger, 30 years later it was 1/4 pounder, and now, just 20 years later it's 1/3 of a pound hamburger. Put that into a trend line and soon you'll only be able to buy a hamburger that can feed an entire family.

Fifty years ago just a minority of Americans were overweight. Now it's the majority overweight and obese.

With all these health problems and Americans putting their heads in the ground (or is it hamburgers in the mouths), it's reminding me of where I heard T.S. Eliot's famous stanza. In the "Waste Land."

By the way, Texas is the largest state in the lower 48. Its citizens only have to beat 3 other states to be the fattest people in America.

June 20, 2007

By being sweet, you're going to be fat

Would you eat a bowl of sugar in the morning? Take out a 1/4-measuring-cup. Fill it with refined white sugar. Now eat it.

Because that's what you do to your body, if you stop at Dunkin' Donuts and have a bagel.

"A bagel and a bowl of sugar may taste different, but to the body they're virtually the same thing," said Dr. David Ludwig. "A bagel would do the same thing to blood sugar hormones and hunger several hours after eating it."

Ludwig treats childhood obesity at Boston Children's Hospital and he is stunned by America's consumption of empty calories. In fact, he says that the average convenience store is a nutritional disaster area.

"All sugar-containing foods aren't bad," he told CBS News correspondent Susan Spencer. "For example, an apple has its main calories come from sugar. But it's surrounded by fiber, so it digests slowly and keeps blood sugar under control."

Including refined sugar, high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners, the average American wolfs down 142 pounds a year, or roughly 2 ½ pound a week. That is up 23 percent in the last 25 years, and is a major factor in soaring rates of obesity and diabetes.

"The problem is when we take sugars and concentrate and refine them, and serve them in massive amounts throughout the food supply," Ludwig said. "That's causing hormonal changes that in many people drive hunger, cause overeating, and increase the risk of diabetes and heart disease."

Nutrition labels can be deceiving. Sugar content always is listed in grams, but few people know there are 4 grams in a teaspoon and, unlike the listings for salt and fats, there's not a clue as to how many grams of sugar is too many.

What's the RightSize of sugar? The Agriculture Department recommends no more than 12 teaspoons a day; that is roughly one 12-ounce soda and a slice of bread.

Eating half a cup of sugar might well send anyone into sugar shock, says author Connie Bennett. The author of "Susar Shock!" claims sugar just about ruined her life.

"I was socked in by brain fog," she said. "I would have these horrible migraine headaches."

All seemed lost until her doctor diagnosed low blood sugar — hypoglycemia — and told her to lay off the sweets.

"I remember all of a sudden, after three days, I was like, 'Wow! I feel so good,'" she said. "It was as if the fog lifted, and then, after a few weeks, all my ailments disappeared."

Connie Bennett thinks it's time to put on the brakes.

"I tell people, 'Don't believe me, just don't believe me,'" she said. "'Then test it out for yourself. Go a week without sugar and refined carbs, or maybe even two weeks and then just watch yourself like a lab rat.'"

June 11, 2007

Top 10 triggers for overeating

I found this explanation for overeating on WomenFitness.net.

  • Boredom
  • Feeling deprived
  • Feeling disgust or hatred with your body
  • Glucose intolerance
  • Habits
  • Lack of energy and feeling tired
  • Needing love and comfort
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Feeling upset or hurt
  • Lack of Willpower

And it's so typical of blaming the big, fat victim.

It's all your fault for being fat, America. You're just bored, or deprived or your mother didn't love you enough. That's why you eat too much.

Obviously, just 25-50 years ago, people in America were not ever bored, or felt disgust with their bodies, or had glucose intolerance. They never felt overwhelmed or needed love and comfort.

But amazingly today's Americans are fat, lazy and unloved, and they overeat because of it.

What a large load of lemons!

Why is no one challenging these silly "quick facts"?

Americans are fat because of too large of portions, too many calories and a distortion of what is healthy and appropriate, period.

When will we stop blaming the victim?

June 8, 2007

I'm back & still mad as hell and not going to take it anymore

It's been 3 weeks since my last post. I have been focusing on rightsizing my little world, instead of America.

I continue to read, see and hear America, though. More and more Americans are waking up, right now, to the portion poison haze hanging over all the eateries.

Two angry moms in Connecticut are demanding cafeterias serve the rightsize to our kids.

Students in Texas are asking Americans to make nourishment -- not gluttony -- a priority of eating once again.

T.G.I. Friday's and Cheesecake Factory
are cutting prices along with meal size, so each dish is a few dollars cheaper than the larger entrées.

It has started. It has reached the tipping point.

Like Crocs and Webkinz and Facebook and presidential candidates, a tsunami of momentum is inundating the country.

You now can't open the NY Times and not see a story about obesity and food portions.

You can't listen to PBS and not hear a story about diets and fat people.

You can't turn on The Today Show and not view a story about eating the right foods to prevent disease.

You can't click on MSNBC.com and not see a health report on how government is looking at food.

But is this just the issue of the minute?

Or is this a health crisis like smoking, automobile accidents or cancer?

I don't know.

What I do know is, I'm back and still mad as hell. We need to change America today for our kids' tomorrows.

Yesterday, JD in comments encouraged me to continue the fight. I will.

Time magazine said:
What will it take to build on these ideas such as these, to extend brilliant local and pilot programs to more people? Alice Waters' one-word answer to this question struck me as the most honest: Money. And that's where the grassroots pressure comes in. The food industry will go where its customers lead them. Government ultimately has to heed the voters. "A million mad moms" — is a phrase that echoes in my ears. There is a role for the media — my colleagues, those at ABC, and elsewhere — to educate moms and dads. Perhaps if we stop playing up the dietary confusion message and emphasize what works in fighting obesity, more folks will get mad, understand what's at stake, and demand the kind of programs and changes we've heard about at this conference. Then we can finally reach and pass the "tipping point" on obesity.
I'm not a million moms. I'm just one dad.

But I'm trying to get a million moms mad...understand what's at stake...and demand the kinds of changes necessary to change America.

Join me in this crusade. Onward soldiers!