Our California Legislators are Hard at Work, Counting Your Calories!

From the good intentions, questionable impact department.  Our Governor signed into law Senate Bill 1420 yesterday, which will require restaurant chains with 20 or more locations to publish the calorie content of their food beginning on 1/1/11. 

The goal was to ensure that we, the ravenous masses, know how many calories we are inhaling so that perhaps we make wiser food choices.  I suppose it may make some of us think twice.  For example, when I see that a Big Mac has 120 calories more than a Quarter Pounder clear as day on that menu, maybe I'll grab the Quarter Pounder.  Yeah, that's it!  I'll go on a Quarter Pounder diet!

The law doesn't apply to chains of 19 or less locations, farmers' markets, grocery stores, commissaries and school cafeterias.  So Mastro's Steakhouse will be at a major advantage as they will not have to tell me I'm eating 3 billion calories in my meal!

The law says that after 1/1/11, "every food facility that uses an indoor menu board shall disclose calorie content information for a standard menu item next to the item on the menu board in a size and typeface that is clear and conspicuous."  All right you brilliant lawmakers, take a look at this Taco Bell menu and tell me how you're gonna fit "clear and conspicuous" calorie information on there!  I already have a hard enough time reading these cluttered menus! 

Perhaps the real goal here is to make menus so incomprehensible that people get fed up and start eating at home!  I heard LensCrafters was a big supporter of this law.

But let's zero in their definition of "standard menu item."  SB 1420 defines this as a food or beverage that is on the menu at least 180 days per calendar year and excludes special orders, alcohol, salad bars and buffets.  Souplantation, you're off the hook!

Loophole Alert!  Hey all they have to do is change the menu every 179 days and the law doesn't apply!  I can see it now.  Carl's Jr., Wendy's and Burger King strike an agreement to swap menus every 179 days just to get around this law.

The law goes on to say that if a menu item is a combination of 2 or more other menu items, then you must show the minimum/maximum calorie counts based on all possible combinations.  El Pollo Loco was shaking in its boots at this one.  Imagine...the kids meal combo has 11 different sides and 3 entrees.  That's 33 different combinations, ignoring beverages!  Uggghhh!

They are letting drive-thru menus off the hook, kind of.  Instead of publishing calories on the drive-thru menu, they can provide a brochure with the calorie counts.  "Hi, I'd like a Double Double and Strawberry Shake please.  But hold on, I would like to review your calorie content brochure prior to placing my order.  Thank you."

Violation of this law will be an infraction, punishable by a fine of $50 to $500.  Watch out for those Calorie Cops!!