Paolo Tullio: Applying this idea to restaurants is stir crazy
WHEN I hear a less than intelligent idea being floated, and then hear no more about it for two years, I assume intelligence has won the day and the daft idea has been shelved. If only.
The first I heard of calorie counts for dishes on menus was a couple of years ago. I remember discussing it on air with Sean Moncrieff and the general feedback seemed to be that it was an idea that didn't need implementing.
Here's why. What our Health Minister James Reilly has in mind is that there should be a calorie count against every dish on a menu. The Restaurants Association of Ireland and the World Association of Chefs Societies, among others, have put together a report that argues cogently against the idea, basing their argument on cost and the problem of finding enough nutritionists to do the work.
But I'd take a different line. Who goes to a restaurant saying "I'm going out for a meal, but no more than 1,000 calories for me"? No, we go to restaurants for a treat.
Besides, in a restaurant there's a brigade of chefs cooking and they're not identical. Each makes a dish in his or her idiosyncratic way, some with more butter, some with less. How will that affect calorie counts?
The idea makes more sense when applied to foods made by industrial machines. Like a McDonalds burger. Billions are made to exactly the same recipe.
But when dishes are put together one at a time, perhaps by different people, uniformity is lost. You'd almost need to do the calorie count for each plate if it were to mean anything useful.
If the minister really wants to pursue this half-baked idea, there are a couple of ways it could be done that would cause less grief.
One, make it apply only to outlets that use food prepared by machinery; fast food outlets in other words,.
Two, if you really want to burden a struggling restaurant with more cost and paperwork, make it simple.
A traffic light system with red for high in calories, orange for medium and green for low-calorie content conveys the necessary information simply, easily and without costing much