The limits of labeling

The limits of labeling

The FDA has proposed new label changes that would put "serving size" in bold type but it's America's food culture that needs fixing.

I doubt this will come as a shock to you, but you weren't supposed to eat that Häagen Daz pint all by yourself.

You were supposed to invite three friends and have a little ice cream party, one that would likely end in hurt feelings, a clash of spoons and banishment from whatever social circle you had the pleasure to inhabit because, according to the label, that pint held four servings. Yes, enough ice cream for four people! Four very small people who don't particularly care for ice cream.
Serving size has always been the “Seriously?” gag line on the FDA-mandated food label, but the Agency has taken a peek at reality, or perhaps hosted a disastrous ice cream party of their own, because they have are poised to take decisive action – they are going to put the serving size in BOLD type! The serving sizes could be adjusted to reflect reality. You may only need to share that pint with one other person. That’s reasonable, if both of you are at least friends and distracted by something good on Netflix. The new label will also include a line for added sugar but they’ll take out the fat calories. So you don’t have that to feel guilty about any more. Low fat was so ’90s, the SnackWell and Spice Girls decade.

What this bold type label means for the American waistline is unclear. From what I can tell, nobody is reading labels for serving size anyway. Nutrition Business Journal research and anecdotal evidence suggests many label-reading shoppers read for “absence” as much as anything. They’re looking for what’s not in there. That could mean gluten, hydrogenated fat, peanut, lactose, monkey fur (You’re still reading, right? Just checking). When I look at a label I’m scanning carbs and fat, maybe protein. Some days I might look at fiber. Thankfully I don’t have many of those days but I hear that changes as you get older. Serving size is in fine print for a reason. It’s downright un-American. This is the country of the Triple Whopper and the Meat-Lover’s Pizza. That 12 ounce soda is the olde timey Norman Rockwell soda. At McDonald's, the 12-ouncer is the "child" size.

The truth is moderation doesn’t require a label. We know it when we see it. The news is out that sugar and fat are not your friends and the evidence is waddling into Big and Tall at a mall near you. The heavier among us are well aware when they’ve chewed through the line between fork and forklift. Even for people who want to control their weight, serving size presents the world’s smallest speed bump.

It was for my brother.

In the worst of his Big Gulp years, my brother was drinking a dozen 12 -ounce Cokes a day. That’s not 12 “servings.” According to Coke, he was drinking 18 servings. That’s enough for two not-very-thirsty two baseball teams. The new labeling would make a 20-ounce bottle a single serving, so he’d have to cut some players but my brother was not oblivious to this, just as smokers are not in denial as they puff away.

Overindulgence has become the ordinary and a bigger label font is not going to change that. My brother was clearly an outlier on the sugar junkie scale but the slow creep of weight is no mystery to most of us. We eat too much of the wrong foods. We eat too little of the right foods. We move hardly at all. I know when I’ve indulged and I know to cut back a little the next day, make dinner a salad, maybe work out a little longer, a little harder. I weigh a bit more than half what my brother weighs and that can't be genetic. It certainly can't be reading serving size labels. It’s about setting limits on my own. It’s about finding a way to be happy that doesn’t come carbonated with 10 teaspoons of sugar. We can't label the black hole of want that modern capitalism provokes and provides.

So put your spoons down.

And stay away from my pint.

All three of you.

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