Labels and the Food Industry

If you follow this place at all, you know that Lisa and I have undertaken a fairly diligent approach to both activity and diet over the past few years, and that this has given us some pretty good results. All good for us. Our frames of mind are similar, but a bit different in the area of food–wherein Lisa has a tendency to bucket food types into “good/healthy” and “bad/unhealthy,” and I tend to attempt to not put a qualifier on any particular food-type, but look at each eating decision in context of all my others.

In the end, it winds up doing the same things (we agree on the best ways to eat, for example), but it means that we occasionally get in discussions about food that end up with us chasing our tails.

This is a lead-in to the fact that I’ve recently come upon two reports on the food industry that I thought were interesting. One, a link from Lisa that outlines how the food industry cannot be trusted (hence must be forced to change from the outside), and the second a new way of labeling food that (1) appears to really help people make choices, and (2) seems to make a heckuva lotta sense to me.

Take a quick look at those links (especially the last one).

I think the thing that makes Lisa and I go around in circles sometimes is that I take it for granted that the food companies are going to sell things that people want to eat–and that most regulations that get put in place on these companies will be ineffective unless people want to change and are given reasonably easy-to-understand information about what is in various foods. Given this, I absolutely love the idea of putting walking miles (or time) on the labels of food products in order to give people an idea of how much extra MOVEMENT they need to accept in order to eat it. And, of course, I have to like the fact that it seems to actually change how people make decisions.

Calories in ve. calories out is not absolutely perfect, by any means. But it’s a great shorthand for making right decisions in the big picture. But folks have a hard time converting calories into effort. I know this because I’ve been doing it in my head for the past three years, and when I talk to people about how I’m working it out I get the most god-awful stares I’ve ever seen.

A Dairy Queen Blizzard, for example, is about 600 calories. I burn about 1 calorie for 20 steps (give or take). That means eating that Blizzard is going to cost me 12,000 steps. Using my treadmill desk at home, I generally walk at 2.5 MPH (unless I’m doing high concentration work and need to scale back to 2.0 MPH). I take about 2,000 steps in a mile, so one hour on the treadmill desk is about 5,000 steps. So, to get rid of that 600 calorie Blizzard I needto walk about 2.4 hours, or let’s say 2 hours and 25 minutes.

That math changes if I go to the health club and set my treadmill to 4.8 MPH (which is my norm, unless I run for a bit). At that speed I get nearly 10,000 steps in an hour, so I need only about an hour and a quarter to kill the Blizzard.

I don’t think Lisa does this math when she thinks about these things. While I’m asking “Is this Blizzard worth the work?” she asks “Is this worth the calories?” Similar questions, but asked from slightly different (and sometimes important) perspectives.

And, yes, I know I’m insane. I know this is why I get those god-awful stares. It’s okay. I’ve learned to live with them just fine, thank you!

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