Tuesday, July 17, 2007

'Oh, yeah? Well, we proved it.'

Eskimos supposedly have twelve gazillion words for snow, but that's nothing compared with the industry's arsenal of ways to say "NO!" to governmental meddling. The list of Defenses Against the Dark Political Arts starts with an uh-uh, and progresses to the neutron bomb of counter attacks, "It'll cost jobs."

It's not that the restaurant industry is incorrect or unjust in trying to stop legislative or regulatory measures that hurt the business. But, as has been suggested here in recent postings, the impact of the protests may have been weakened by overuse. That's why the Washington Restaurant Association deserves the Albus Dumbledore Award for its hex against a county’s effort to mandate menu labeling by chain restaurants.

Without saying a thing to adversary or ally, the association ran an online ad for someone willing to eat three meals a day in a restaurant for a month. Definitely good work if you can get it, since the offer came with a per-diem of $40 and a stipend of $700. It's as close as real life comes to Li'l Abner's job of testing mattresses.

Not surprisingly, the WRA found a taker, a 25-year-old grad student named Jarred Lathrop, who, in keeping with the times, blogged his experiences of eating in a restaurant three times a day. The WRA hoped to prove that posting nutritional information isn't a necessity for eating healthfully in chain restaurants. All that's needed to avert weight gain, it seemed to suggest, is common sense, a reasonable amount of will power, and a willingness to ask for clarification on nutritional matters.

And it looks as if the association made its point. When the month- long experiment ended last week, Jarred had shed five pounds, a half-inch of waistline, and a number of points off his blood-pressure reading.

In fairness, it should be noted that Jarred did put some effort into eating right. As his blog explains, he asked for dressing on the side, and sometimes requested that half his meal be packaged for take-home, which cut his consumption at the table in half.

It was a creative way of proving to skeptics that consumers with anything but a flatline EEG should be able to plot a healthful diet with the amount of information that’s usually posted on menus. With menu-labeling mandates proliferating like campaign promises, the WRA’s lobbying tactic may be worthy of emulation.

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