McTruth or consequences: The fattening lies we tell ourselves

September 26, 2012 

We typically know when something is bad for us — whether it’s eating an entire pint of ice cream in one sad sitting or loaning money to a relative who has never, in the history of the U.S. Mint, repaid a single cent he’s borrowed.

We know, yet we do these things anyway; then have the audacity to be shocked and dismayed by the consequences.

Why is this? I have no idea. But it is so, so fascinating to me. It is, in some ways, the most puzzling thing about humans: that many of us — myself included — seem to hide from the truth nearly as much as we insist on knowing it.

During these past few weeks, McDonald’s — of all super-sized empires — has given us a truth that we, as a nation of tubby tubs, might not be able to handle.

The company is starting to post its calorie counts very clearly, and confrontationally, next to its menu items. It is doing this well ahead of a federal law that takes effect next year, requiring them, and all restaurants with 20 or more locations, to give full disclosure of just how unlovable the food they serve will make us feel.

I was surprised, frankly, that McDonald’s was able to fit this information so compactly on its signs because had I been asked what I thought the caloric value of a Quarter Pounder with Cheese is, I would’ve guessed “I hate myself. Don’t look at me. Tell no one I was here.” And that’s a lot of characters to jam in next to the price.

The question that has yet to be fully answered about this change, though, is whether knowing the calories in the food we order will actually prompt us into making better choices. So far, research in New York City and Philadelphia, two cities that already require calorie-posting, indicates it doesn’t seem to make much of a difference. In other words, the truth does not set junk food eaters free. And yet, many people have been surprised to find out just how many calories are in the fast food they’ve been eating.

Did they really not know!?

I don’t speak for everyone, but I know some of you will get where I’m coming from. McDonald’s, much like other purveyors of gastonomic garbage, is delicious. But if I am at a McDonald’s for more than a coffee it is because things in my life are not going so great — not emotionally and especially not nutritionally.

This is not a meal, it is a crime and a punishment rolled into one.

It means I’m not working out today. It means I’m wearing sunglasses even though it’s kind of dark out. It means I smell like whatever made me sad.

It means I’ve spent the past 15 minutes trying to talk myself out of what I’m about to do, because even though I don’t “know the math,” I am fully aware that the food I’m about to order is not ideal.

It means I can barely look at the cashier in the drive-thru window and I pity her for having to look at me while she gives me more ketchup.

So I say count me as one of the consumers who will take these new postings seriously because now that I can speak the language, I now realize that "Will that be all?" is English McMuffin for “You do know how many calories you ordered, right? I can only see your head on this drive-thru camera, but it looks like it's attached to a number of problem areas. OK. Well, drive around. I'm sure you know what you're doing. ... Are you crying?"

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