Thursday, August 09, 2007

Eat Stupid!

My readers in Ontario may be familiar with the Eat Smart! Ontario's Healthy Restaurant Program.

I think it should be called, "Eat Stupid!".

Here's what their website says it's for,

"Through its "Award of Excellence" program, Eat Smart! Ontario’s Healthy Restaurant Program offers recognition to Ontario restaurants that meet exceptional standards in nutrition, food safety and smoke-free dining. This program was developed in partnership with the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care; Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario; Canadian Cancer Society (Ontario Division); Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs; local public health units; heart health programs; the food service industry and consumers."
So what do you think most folks will think about the restaurants who meet the Eat Smart! criteria? I think most folks will think they're healthy restaurants to go to - restaurants whose health is endorsed by folks like the Heart and Stroke Foundation and our government's Ministry of Health.

In fact, that's what the Eat Smart! people themselves say will happen in their own promotion of their website,
"In addition to the free promotion available to you and your establishment, there are other important benefits:

  • You will strengthen your image in your community as a health-conscious restaurant.

  • You will belong to a province-wide program endorsed by both the Canadian Cancer Society (Ontario Division) and the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario."
  • So why am I calling it Eat Stupid!? Isn't this a great idea?


    Let's go through the basic criteria for being included as an Eat Smart! restaurant and being endorsed by the Heart and Stroke Foundation and the Ministry of Health:

    It requires that on the menu, anywhere, regardless of what else is on the menu, that:
    1. There is a single whole grain product OR a source of fibre and all comers need apply: 400 Calories bagels, 450 Calorie "low fat" (read high sugar) muffins, pizza crust (they actually think pizza crust qualifies?), pancakes, cereal, pasta, rice.... basically anything.
    2. There are at least 6 choices of vegetable or fruit. Including, amazingly, vegetable sandwich toppings (the lettuce or tomato on my sandwich counts as a vegetable?) and juice count too.
    3. Milk is available as a beverage
    4. There are 1-3 meat options cooked in a "healthy" way which basically includes every manner of cooking with the exception of deep frying. That would therefore include carcinogenic broiling and trans-fat creating pan frying.
    5. The availability of a "healthier" dessert choice yet frozen yogurt, milk puddings, "low fat" muffins, crepes and waffles count and I certainly wouldn't count any of those as particularly "healthy".
    6. If a children's menu is offered, milk and juice must be options and there has to be a vegetable or fruit included.
    As a consequence any restaurant who bothers to apply for Eat Smart will at least meet the "nutritional" needs assessment, which is why restaurants such as Denny's, Kelsey's Manchu Wok, Mexicali Rosas, Montana's, Lone Star, Red Lobster, and East Side Marios all have joined Eat Smart!.

    What this means for the restaurants is that they get to brag about how healthy they are (they get a decal for the door and I believe brochures for inside), they get included on the Eat Smart! brochure that's often handed out by well-intentioned but misinformed health professionals, they get a tacit endorsement by folks like the Heart and Stroke Foundation, and they get to push their high calorie, high sodium, high fat, nutritionally deficient food at you under the guise of health because you see, Eat Smart! doesn't bother to identify the items on the menus that it thought were healthy and actually when you get right down to it, Eat Smart!'s criteria don't even require the availability of healthy meals, just the availability, somewhere on the menu, of healthy ingredients.

    Canadians need to be steered to specifically healthy menu choices, not to restaurants where in their kitchens somewhere or other there is a healthy food or two.

    The fact that Denny's serves milk, uses parsley, lettuce and tomatoes as garnishes and places an orange wedge as an accompaniment does not make their Fabulous French Toast Platter replete with 1261 calories, 30grams of saturated fat and 2,495mg of sodium a healthy choice.

    What a clear cut example of where best intentions are definitely not good enough and maybe even worse than nothing.