Calorie-Counting At The Fast Food Shack

In Ohio, many fast food outlets post the calories of the items they offer.  As you roll up to the drive-through lane, you learn that the McDonald’s Quarter Pounder has X calories or the Dairy Queen bacon grillburger has Y calories.

The theory behind posting the calorie counts is to arm the consumer with information that will allow him or her to make good — or at least knowledgeable — decisions when it comes to ordering their food.  Yet you wonder:  do many fast food customers really make productive use of that information to change their eating habits?

burger-and-friesA recent study indicates that the calorie postings really don’t matter that much.  The study occurred in Philadelphia — which requires fast-food outlets to post the calorie, sodium, and fat content of their menu items — and it concluded that only 8 percent of fast food consumers use the information to make healthier eating choices.

Why?  Many of the people surveyed in the study claimed they didn’t see the nutritional information, and others had no context in which to assess the calorie counts, because they didn’t know what a healthy daily calorie intake would be.  Without knowing the context, they’re unaware whether that 760 calories for the cheeseburger of their choice is reasonable.  And, study authors note, the people ordering the food have to be “motivated to eat healthy.”

I think the last point is the only operative one.  I try to avoid fast food at all costs, due to taste, salt content, and calorie count concerns.  When I’ve been forced to order it, because I’m on the road rushing to get somewhere and don’t have the time to eat a normal meal, I try to order the most low-calorie, low-sodium offering that is available and that is readily consumed while driving a car.  The posted notices are perfectly adequate for that purpose, and you don’t need to know the USDA recommended daily calorie intake for your gender and age to know that lower calorie and sodium numbers are better.

The reality, however, is that most people who frequent fast-food restaurants don’t care about the calories.  They don’t go there to seek healthy eating options, they go because it’s quick and convenient and they crave the Big Mac, fries, and chocolate shake.  Survey recipients who say they don’t notice the signs are engaging in self-deception; they’re blaming others for their own choices.  Why bother forcing fast-food restaurants to post larger and more detailed signs, when the real culprits in the bad decisions category are the consumers themselves?

Terror On Campus

It was a tough morning in Columbus yesterday.  When word spread that there was an active shooter somewhere on the Ohio State campus, everyone in town started thinking about people they know who attend the University, or work there, or might conceivably be down in the campus area.  Because Ohio State is a huge, integral part of the Columbus community, a violent incident on campus could affect a lot of people, students and non-students alike.  We held our breath and hoped.

osu20police20running_1480383566007_7142191_ver1-0As the day wore on, the story changed.  The active shooter became an Ohio State student who apparently pulled a fire alarm at the OSU engineering buildings and labs, then drove his car into the crowd of students and faculty who had exited the buildings in response to the alarm.  After his car hit the crowd, the driver emerged armed with a butcher’s knife and began slashing and stabbing people.  Students broke and ran.  Fortunately, an Ohio State campus police officer happened to be nearby, and he shot and killed the assailant — a student named Abdul Razak Ali Artan — before he was able to injure anyone else.  Eleven innocent people were hurt in the car crash and stabbings, but all are expected to survive.  You can read the AP story about the incident here and the Columbus Dispatch story here.

Was it an act of terrorism?  Authorities are investigating whether Artan became self-radicalized somehow, and was responding to calls from terrorist groups, like ISIS, encouraging members to engage in car attacks and knife attacks against westerners.  According to witnesses, Artan wasn’t speaking when he emerged from the car and started his slashing attacks.  We’ll have to wait for authorities to piece together his back story from the evidence they gather, and while the investigation proceeds our city will hold its breath a second time.  That’s because Artan apparently was of Somali descent, and Columbus has a large Somali community — and when something like this happens, there are inevitable fears of a backlash.  Having lived in Columbus for decades, I don’t think that’s going to happen, but people will be walking on eggshells for a while.

Whether Artan’s attack is officially found to be an act of terrorism, or just the violent attack of someone who became deranged, for a brief period yesterday there was terror on the Ohio State campus.  Students were put in danger, their parents tried frantically to find out whether their children were OK, and our community had to deal with another of the distressingly frequent acts of random violence.

It just sucks.

The President-Elect And His Tweets

Over the past few weeks, as the Donald Trump transition team has vetted candidates for Cabinet-level positions and geared up for the new administration that will take office next year, we’ve started to get a sense of what the next four years will be like.  With important decisions being made and critical planning underway, the post-election process is slowly revealing what kind of President Donald Trump might be.

If I could get one wish, it would be that Mr. Trump decide to stop using Twitter.

trump-the-hashI recognize this probably is a forlorn hope.  In many ways, Trump’s candidacy was driven by social media, and his tweets were a big part of the strategy.  Through his Twitter account, Trump had a forum for outlandish comments and was able to keep his name in the news.  His tweets provided him with lots of free air time, and his inclination, as President, likely will be to keep doing what worked well during the campaign.

And yet, the qualities we are looking for in a President are different from those that can drive a presidential campaign.  Dashing off a tweet seems fundamentally inconsistent with the considered judgment that we hope the occupants of the Oval Office will bring to the position.  (I recognize that President Obama has and uses a Twitter account, which I think is unfortunate, too, but without doing an exhaustive analysis I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that his tweets haven’t been quite as controversial as Trump’s.)

Consider one of the President-elects most recent tweets, which asserts that he won the popular vote “if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”   Of course, no evidence is cited (Twitter isn’t exactly known for that) but the claim that there were millions of illegal votes seems incredibly reckless — as well as bizarre, since Trump won the election and you would think the prevailing candidate wouldn’t want to cast any doubt on the results in any event.  It’s the kind of charge that might work for a candidate looking for some free media coverage, but it just isn’t suited to the President-elect.  Presidents don’t need to gin up controversy to get their names in the news.

Many Americans are fair and open-minded people; even if they didn’t vote for Trump, they will be willing to give him a chance to show how he will perform as President.  I think they are looking to see whether Mr. Trump shows the reflection and thoughtfulness that are a key part of what we think of as “acting presidential.”  Tweets just don’t fit into the presidential job description.

 

Epic

Look, there have been a lot of incredible Ohio State-Michigan games over the years.  Virtually every game between the two fierce rivals during the ’70s was a tough, hard-hitting advertisement for why college football is the greatest sport there is.  There was the Snow Bowl, and the 2006 match-up between two teams ranked no. 1 and no.2, and — giving the devil its due — Michigan’s legendary 1969 upset of an Ohio State team that many at the time considered to be the best college football team ever.

So I’m not going to say that yesterday’s double-overtime thriller was the best Ohio State-Michigan game ever played — but I am going to say that it was an epic contest that was simply one of the best college football games I’ve ever seen.  Two strong teams with shutdown defenses.  Wild emotional swings.  Missed field goals and turnovers.  Officiating controversy.  A gutsy call that blew up in the coach’s face, and then a gutsy call that produced the game-winning touchdown.  It’s the stuff of legend; an instant classic that people will remember and talk about for years to come.  No one who watched it, in the stands or on TV, will forget the 2016 edition of The Game.

And in the end, Ohio State won, and Michigan went home crushed.  Michigan’s head coach, Jim Harbaugh, blames the referees for the loss, saying they missed a spot and blew some pass interference calls.  His disappointment is understandable, because his team played a great game and seemed to have The Game in hand until Ohio State’s defense ground the Michigan offense down and the Buckeyes’ offense finally woke up.  Still, it’s too bad that such a great game should end with such sour grapes.  Coach Harbaugh’s comments seem to cheapen The Game, and that’s too bad.

Ohio State’s unfortunate mishaps against Penn State mean that the Buckeyes once again won’t play in the Big Ten championship game.   Instead, they will have to wait to see whether they are selected for this year’s college football playoff, and Ohio State fans will keep their fingers crossed that the selection committee recognizes that the Buckeyes are one of the four best teams in the land.

For now, though, we can just savor an epic win against the Wolverines, and reflect on the fact that beating That Team from Up North never gets old.

Farewell To Fidel

Fidel Castro has died.  The cigar-puffing, fatigue-wearing Cuban revolutionary , who was a thorn in the side of countless American presidents, was 90.

The news of Castro’s death is weird, because he’s one of those figures who seems like he should have been dead for a long time already.  After all, this is a guy who first came to power when Dwight Eisenhower was President, TV was a new form of entertainment, and Chuck Berry and Elvis ruled the radio.  Castro became a geopolitical figure when he played a central role in the Kennedy Administration with the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis.  He seems like an anachronism from a long-dead era.

There seems to be no middle ground when you are talking about Castro.  He overthrew a corrupt and dictatorial regime, and some liberals tout some of his policies — such as the apparent quality and low cost of health care in Castro’s Cuba.  During the tumultuous ’60s, at least, he and his cohort Che Guevara had some of that revolutionary cachet and radical chic.  But Castro also was a died-in-the-wool communist, and there is no doubt that his regime was both brutal and repressive, clamping down on freedoms we take for granted and keeping Cuba in the dark ages economically.  People who have visited Cuba since the American embargo has been eased describe a struggling, impoverished country that seems to have stopped its progress in the 1950s.

Castro obviously was a significant historical figure, but how he will be perceived by history remains an open question.  Some of that perception will depend on how Cuba fares, now that some semblance of normal relations with non-communist countries is likely, and some of it will depend on what we learn about the inner workings of the Castro regime, and just how cold-blooded and terrible it was.

The Tree Season

You know Christmas isn’t far away when the Christmas tree lots spring up.  Last week they staked out the yard in front of the church school with tree stands, and today the trees arrived.  The air was heady with the smell of pine as the workers unloaded the trucks and then moved the trees to their respective positions.  Now all we need is a fire in an oil drum and some snow to complete the traditional tableau.