More Starbucks skullduggery

Finding fault with chain restaurants’ nutritional information has become a new trend. The latest offender is Starbucks. Blogger Ms. Bitch Cakes notes:

When the Peach Apple Tart nutrition information became available, I posted it here. One of the comments in that blog made me realize the nutrition information couldn’t possibly be right- It stated:

120 calories (total)
12 grams of fat

I can’t believe that I missed the inconsistency of that information- I know that 1 gram of fat is 9 calories. If the 12 grams of fat are accurate, the FAT CALORIES ALONE are 108- making it impossible for the TOTAL CALORIES to equal 120.

After she wrote them, the company revised the calorie count to 280, more than twice the original listing.

This blog previously considered misleading calorie counts here and here, cast doubt on New York’s chain restaurant mandate here, and caught Starbucks with a misleading roast date here.

[Via Starbucks Gossip.]


Sweatiest cities

Old Spice has released a “scientific” ranking of the nation’s sweatiest cities, based on simulations of how much people would sweat walking around in the summer months. Phoenix tops the list. The good news for me is the bottom three: Portland at 98, Seattle at 99, and San Francisco at 100. The case for the Pacific NW looks better and better.

Houston ranks predictably high at number 7, while Washington comes in surprisingly low at 48. Having lived in both cities, I can say that Washington deserves a much higher score. The difference is in adaptation. In Houston you step out of your air conditioned home into your air conditioned car and park right next to your destination, which of course will also be air conditioned. Even in the denser parts of downtown parking isn’t better than in DC, and if you have to walk you can do so along the extensive underground tunnels.

In DC, in contrast, you have to walk more. If you do drive odds are you won’t be able to park very close to your destination. Taking the Metro involves significant waiting time in balmy tunnels. And our buildings, being older than Houston’s, often feature much less effective AC systems. People who tell me that since I grew up in Houston I must find DC’s humidity easy to deal with have no idea what they’re talking about. Aside from playing sports or doing yard work, it’s not something you have to deal with nearly as much there. In this aspect, at least, Houston has the advantage.

[Via the Capital Weather Gang.]


Will civil disobedience pay off?

CBS reports that Pennsylvania lawmakers have introduced legislation that would liberalize the state’s raw milk laws, allowing farmers to sell unpasteurized dairy products of all kinds, not just milk and aged cheese. If the bill passes, it will be thanks in large part to Mark Nolt, the Mennonite farmer who has been arrested, convicted, and had more $20,000 of his equipment seized by farm officials. His civil disobedience and unflinching defense of the freedom to sell directly to consumers has been admirable and it would be great to see it pay off.

Nolt’s case was the lede in my raw milk article for Reason.


Banzhaf crosses the line

Is it possible that I’m actually starting to like John Banzhaf? Earlier this week he gave a stirring, if not quite sincere, defense of free enterprise. In a press release issued on Wednesday, his Action on Smoking and Health organization confirmed the warnings of civil libertarians that the anti-smoking movement wouldn’t stop with allegedly reasonable workplace restrictions:

A clear majority wants smoking banned in all homes, even if children are not present, and even if the smoke is not drifting into an adjoining dwelling.

This could expand the latest front in the war to protect nonsmokers, says the man who started the nonsmokers’ movement by getting smoking first restricted and then banned on airplanes and then in workplaces and public places, and who is racking up victories in the battle to ban smoking in private dwellings and cars…

Since restrictions of smoking are one of the most effective — and virtually the least expensive — way to help smokers quit, it is no surprise that there is growing support for smoking restrictions, even if no nonsmokers’ health is being put at risk by the smoking, suggests Banzhaf.

I’ve suggested before that despite all the recent victories for the anti-smoking lobby, its increasingly untenable claims and restrictive proposals will open the door to blowback. Kudos to Banzhaf for helping to make my prediction a reality!

Physician Michael Siegel, with whom I disagree about workplace smoking bans but respect for his conscience and devotion to sound science, also thinks that this is a bad day for tobacco control advocates:

I must also say that ASH is making the pronouncements of smoking ban opponents look good. Many years ago, when I was lobbying for smoke-free workplace laws, opponents of these laws argued that this was just the first step: workplaces were the first step and eventually we [the antis] would be trying to get smoking banned in the home. I countered these arguments by stating no – you’re wrong – we are going to stop after getting smoking banned in the workplace. Unfortunately, it looks like I was wrong and the smoking ban opponents were correct. Thanks to ASH, all those smoking ban opponents can now say “I told you so.”

Read his entire post here.

Please do smoke, if you like
A malodorous anniversary


The case for Portland

I already knew Portland boasts the most breweries per capita in the United States, but this is even more appealing:

The small craft distillery scene has hit Portland, reminiscent of the microbrewery boom two decades ago. Young microbrewers and winemakers are now distilling whiskey, brandy, grappa and even absinthe. And taking a page from Kentucky’s iconic whiskey distillers, they are beginning to host tours and tastings. With 17 microdistilleries in Oregon, and eight more startups expected across the state by year’s end, spirits aficionados haven’t seen anything like this in recent memory.

Sure, boutique distilleries also dot the landscapes in Michigan and Northern California, but only in Oregon do most artisan distilleries concentrate around a city. Collectively, the distillers help shape the bar and culinary scene in Portland. The Rose City is now seeing a renaissance of classic cocktails, and some high-end restaurants are trying experimental pairings of food with spirits.

“The distillery scene here is where the wine industry in California was in the 1960s,” said Steve McCarthy, owner of Clear Creek Distillery, one of the nation’s first microdistilleries. “We are rewriting all the rules. The artisan distilleries are making up a whole new industry.”

Congrats also to Lance Mayhew, whom the article calls one of the “city’s best bartenders.”

One of the next steps I’d like to take in my drinks education is getting to know more about the production process for spirits, beer, and coffee. By that measure, Portland is hard to beat.

[Via Slashfood.]

One year


When monkeys are outlawed

My colleague Nicole Kurakowa reports on how Congress is stepping up to address the important issues of the day:

By a vote of 302-96 last week, the House of Representatives passed the Captive Primate Safety Act, a bold step on the road to outlawing pet monkeys. The House bill boasts 26 co-sponsors, including three from Illinois, Republican Mark Kirk and Democrats Jan Schakowsky and Luis Gutierrez. The Senate is expected to take up the companion bill in the next few weeks….

Did Congress step in because of an absence of pre-existing monkey regulations? No. The monkey industry does not operate in a vacuum; states have various restrictions on primate ownership, varying from licensing to breeding restrictions to total bans. If monkey-owning is your hot-button issue, as opposed to, say, taxes or abortion, you are free to move to a more monkey-permissive, or anti-monkey, state.

Read the whole thing here.


Cart watch: NYC edition

You can lead a fat guy to a fruit cart, but can you make him eat? New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is betting that he can. The city is issuing permits for new food carts that will only be permitted to sell fruits and vegetables:

The carts, which are expected to start appearing on the streets later this summer, are restricted to low-income areas that have the fewest sources of fresh produce in the city.

Coming in the wake of the city’s indoor smoking ban, a campaign to get restaurants to eliminate the use of trans-fats, and a requirement that menus list calories, the Green Carts project is Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s latest public-health crusade.

This isn’t a terrible idea, but before lamenting the lack of fruit available in NYC food carts it’s worth noting that the city has been restricting the supply of new permits since the 1970s. If the city had been more willing to open the cart market to competition, it might see more variety in what gets sold (as has recently happened here in DC). Strict regulations and frequent fines also drive up the costs of doing business, possibly pushing fruit carts off the market.

Fruit carts have the advantage of being much cheaper to purchase: $1,000 compared to $15-30,000 for carts designed to process prepared food or coffee, according to this fascinating article from New York magazine. The fact that vendors aren’t buying them suggests that on-the-go diners would rather have stuff like pretzels, hot dogs, and kebabs, thank you very much.

There is also the fear that the subsidized fruit carts will hurt the revenues of grocers. If they drive grocers out of business, they might even lessen access to produce in some neighborhoods.

In short, subsidizing green carts might marginally drive up fruit and vegetable consumption, but it’s silly for the city to be playing favorites. Freeing the cart market would likely do much more to encourage variety and deliver the products people actually want.

[Via Coldmud.]


Links for 6/25/08 AM

Zimbabwean inflation reaches 355,000%; Steve Hanke on how to fix it

DHS is in your computer, reading your files

What to expect from airline wi-fi

Pondering the potentially imminent extinction of homosexuals

Tim Lee on the fiction of a “free-market movement”

Introducing sci-fi to girlfriends

The bar blender makes a comeback

Sending back the orange cubes

How blogs die

Cigar Aficionado’s illegal cigar reviews

Rob Kasper discovers miracle fruit

Japanese-style game shows coming to US


Banzhaf discovers free enterprise

“Nobody has the right to any particular job. Under our free enterprise system, employers — rather than bureaucrats — determine the conditions of employment, and employees who want a job must accept the conditions.

The only major exception is that basing decisions on factors like race, national origin, gender, disability, etc. are prohibited since these are fixed conditions and don’t adversely affect the employer. Smoking is an activity rather than an immutable condition, and each smoking worker seriously affects the employer’s bottom line.”

That’s John Banzhaf, Executive Director of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), explaining why employers ought to have the right to fire smokers. Banzhaf, of course, has been a leading proponent of forbidding restaurant and bar owners from setting their own in-house smoking policies. I’m sure the inconsistency is lost on him.

[Hat tip: Michael Siegel.]

Smoking ban unfair, insulting
The magic of politics


Doubts on calorie counts

The usual case for mandating calorie counts on restaurant menus rests on the idea that customers want to make more informed decisions, but recalcitrant fast food companies refuse to give it to them. Hardees/Carl’s Jr. is one company that’s bet against that idea, and the bet has paid off marvelously. The company’s in-store sales and stock are booming. Here’s how the chain describes what its customers really want:

The Six Dollar Burger did well with customers and in 2002 won the Silver Skillet Award from Restaurant Business magazine. [CEO Andrew] Puzder saw the future. “I think a lot of this everybody’s-gonna-eat-healthy thing is more a concern of people in the media than a concern of people who come into our restaurants,” he says. Fast-food customers had indeed been clamoring for healthy alternatives, which prompted an industrywide stampede toward salads and orange slices, but just because customers wanted them on the menu didn’t necessarily mean they wanted to eat them. For all the buzz created by snack wraps and yogurt parfaits, burgers and fries remain the two most frequently ordered items in American restaurants, according to industry research group NPD Foodworld. In fact, the addition of salads at McDonald’s and other chains is partly aimed at drawing more burger-eating men by placating wives and girlfriends who would otherwise veto the restaurant choice. “What people say they want and what they do don’t match up,” says Darren Tristano, an executive vice president at Technomic, a food-industry research and consulting firm. “If they say, ‘I’m gonna order more salads,’ they’re going to order more french fries.” CKE marketing head Brad Haley, who looks a bit like a golfer with his short-sleeve shirt, goatee, and nascent paunch, echoes the sentiment. “People say what makes them feel better about themselves in surveys.”

Jacob Sullum notes that a study of Subway customers — likely a more health-conscious demographic than the average fast food buyer — aren’t reporting that prominent nutritional information affects their consumption:

Even so, only 12 percent of Subway customers in this study (i.e., 37 percent of 32 percent) said they noticed the calorie information and took it into account. This suggests that the vast majority of fast food customers are not very interested in nutritional information, as does the fact that most chains make it available without highlighting it in the way that the New York City health department thinks is appropriate. The restaurant business is highly competitive. If people are clamoring for impossible-to-ignore calorie counts, why don’t more restaurants voluntarily provide them as a way of attracting customers? A legal requirement is necessary not because diners want conspicuous nutritional information but because, by and large, they don’t want it. The information apparently does not enhance their dining experience and may even detract from it. Perhaps they prefer to enjoy their food without being reminded about what it may be adding to their waistlines.

This, I think, gets it exactly right. If you’re a paternalist about eating decisions, you can argue for bludgeoning people over the head with information about why they should order the salad instead of the burger. But there’s not much evidence that consumers are denied information they seek and that their health will improve when they get it. Keep in mind also that the effectiveness of mandated calorie counts can’t be measured merely by what people order in the restaurant; those who indulge in richer fare may compensate by having lighter meals at other times during the day.

See also the recent columns from Radley Balko and Steve Chapman, or this blog’s previous posts on the topic.

[Hardees link via Ezra Klein’s unlinkable link blog.]