Dot-org hall monitor Center for Science in the Public Interest, which is well meaning but also a bit of a narc, has released its annual list of the worst-for-you dishes found at chain restaurants.
The list, Xtreme Eating 2016, is a revealing, if pornographic, snapshot of American food circa 2016. It’s drawing public attention with an irresistible formula: 1) A few toe-curling sentences describing some combination of deep fried/cheesy/butter-laden food, 2) Large, frightening numbers of its caloric, sodium and fat content, 3) Finger-wagging, morally superior commentary such as, “It’s like eating three McDonald’s Big Macs and a medium fries, plus an extra half day’s sat fat. What fun!”
This year, nine dishes make the cut, with the usual suspects present. The Cheesecake Factory offers a fried chicken and waffles and then tops it with poached eggs and Hollandaise sauce. From Dave & Buster’s, a beef short rib sourdough sandwich stuffed with macaroni and cheese. Buffalo Wild Wings’ entry is fried dessert nachos, churro-style, with four scoops of vanilla ice cream and breaded fried cheesecake.
On one hand, these all sound like erotic fiction penned by Guy Fieri, but the list is also alarmist. For example, the list cites Applebee’s five-appetizer sampler as an offender, but unless you’re trying to win a bet, no self-respecting human would consume 3,390 calories and 11,650 mg of sodium. Another example is “Marco’s Meal for Two” from Maggiano’s Little Italy—the study uses the most extreme example by calculating the total nutritional figures of a three-course meal with the fattiest appetizers (the diner could choose the side salad or flatbread).
The larger issue is this: the fact these restaurants submit nutritional figures suggests chains are the guiltiest of the dining industry. But say you visit a mom ‘n’ pop restaurant and watch a lemon and caper veal scaloppini get prepared, chances are the chef is finishing the dish with a half stick of butter in the fry pan. Calorie counting seems antithetical to the very idea of dining out. It’s implicit that restaurant food isn’t going to help shrink waistlines, but hell, why not? You’re eating out! Food is delicious! There’s a reason why restaurant food usually tastes richer and better than home-cooked meals. You’d freak out if you saw half the things chefs add to make the dish restaurant quality. And why do we keep coming back? Because out of sight, out of mind.