Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The myth of healthy eating

Sometimes as you go through life your observations provide evidence that things that you thought were true aren't true. For example, I once thought that government could solve all of our problems.

On the other hand, some beliefs are strengthened by evidence gathered over the years. I've always thought that the notion that Americans wanted healthier food when going out to eat was a media-generated myth. And the more I see, the more evidence I have that this is true.

Certainly some want to cut back on the carbs and calories but by and large anything goes when Americans dine out. The success of my last two employers, Applebee's and Panera Bread, are evidence of that. Sure, Applebee's has the Weight Watcher menu but the fried chicken fingers and brownie sundaes pay the rent. And at Panera, items labeled as low in fat are high in something else like carbohydrates or sodium (and the 99-cent add-on cookie, with 23 grams of fat and 59 grams of carbs, fly out of the baskets).

Outside of my own experience there is further evidence that healthy eating is a trend only in the minds of the media. I came across two articles today that help confirm my thesis. The most extreme example is the Heart Attack Grill in Chandler, Arizona. The motto, Food Worth Dying For, and the video explain it all (hat tip to Baltimore Dining Examiner Dara Bunjon)

Watch CBS Videos Online

Then there is the trend that catching on among some of America's most famous chefs, icons such as Bobby Flay and Wolfgang Puck. Seeing the forecasts that say that fast food will be a $130 billion business globally by 2012, they are opening up quick cuisine joints of their own. Flay has Bobby's Burger Palace on Long Island. The specialty of the house is a large juicy burger "crunchified", topped with crumbled potato chips.

Danny Meyer, a noted New York restaurateur, has the Shake Shack, another greasy burger joint that also sells carb- and fat- laden fries and, of course, creamy milk shakes.

Prices are kept reasonable with entrees going for well under ten bucks. That's not bad for a meal from a famed chef.

It's further proof that if Americans are going to spend their hard-earned money for restaurant food, they want to enjoy it and, generally speaking, what's good isn't good for you. While it's smart for restaurant operators to offer healthier options, the truth is that the meat and potatoes of virtually all restaurants is and is likely to remain, well, meat and potatoes.

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