Big Mac vs. Duchy Original

Second Update: astute commenters have pointed out that the error is largely mine, as I didn’t notice the “per 100 grams” notation on the graphic. Mea culpa.

Prince Charles was in the news yesterday after saying that banning Big Macs is the key to encouraging healthy eating. He said this while touring the Imperial College London Diabetes Centre in Abu Dhabi, where he was launching their Health Awareness Campaign.

The English newspaper The Evening Standard has a follow-up story today on their Web site spin-off, This is London, in which they claim the Cornish Pasty from the Prince’s own brand of snack, Duchy Originals, has more calories, fat, sugar, and salt than a Big Mac.

Unfotunately for The Evening Standard – and anyone foolish enough to believe them – the report (and the accompanying graphic) is totally false. (Actually, not totally; the Cornish Pasty has slightly more salt.)

All it takes is a trip over to the nutritional information page of McDonald’s Web site to see that the Big Mac numbers reported by This is London are way, way off.

Below is the graphic from This is London, modified by me to show the actual numbers from McDonalds:

corrected by blork

I could understand a small margin of error, but this is inexcusable!

Update: I should have mentioned that I cannot find reliable nutritional information on Duchy Originals. Some Web sites imply they too have higher calorie and fat counts than are indicated here, but I can’t find any concrete numbers.

Blork’s Weight Loss Challenge

Loyal readers will remember that I magically lost 20 pounds last year. Actually, it wasn’t so magic – I cut back on the beer, improved in my eating habits (smaller portions, more vegetables, etc.) and developed an exercise routine that I stuck to pretty regularly.

Unfortunately, I put five or six pounds back on in December. It was the result of falling off my exercise routine (due to some unrelated health problems) and all that food and drink over the holidays. But now it is time to get back into my routine. As motivation, I have entered into a wager with Frank, the Chicagoan in Montreal.

The official start date of our weight loss challenge was yesterday (Sunday). Frank came over with his very accurate digital scale, we both dressed in jeans and t-shirts, and we weighted in. He wants to lose more than I do – I’m shooting for 15 pounds – so we have a pro-rated algorithm worked out to make it fair. The competition runs for six months, so it’s not a matter of just crash dieting – I’m hoping to lose the weight (and win the wager) based on the continuation of the so-called permanent habits that I established last year. Frank, on the other hand, is taking a different approach.

So today was day one. I got up and went down to the basement to work out. I didn’t get very far, however, as my foot is still really sore from the tobogganizizing incident of last week. But I managed to do some crunches and stretches. It’s a start.

Normally I would also go for a two- or three-kilometer brisk walk during the day, but you know… the foot thing. Hopefully that will get better soon.

At home after work, Martine and I made dinner together, an upscale version of sausage & beans. She made “smashed cannelloni beans” (a mash of beans, garlic, piment d’espelette, and sage), which we drizzled with some really green Tuscan olive oil at serving time. In the meantime, I wilted some baby spinach and tossed it with some kalamata olives that I had warmed along with some black pepper and chili flakes. (The beans and spinach were inspired by recipes found in the “Two Easy” book of recipes from the River Cafe in London.) These accompanied a couple of pork and bison sausages (one for each of us).

While “sausages” aren’t exactly diet food, I’ll remind you that I’m not on a “diet.” I’m just changing what I consider to be “normal eating,” and besides, these puppies have about half the fat of Italian sausages and considerably fewer calories.

Sausage & Beans Dinner

So there. We ate well, and we ate responsibly (OK, OK, I had seconds on the beans). Yay me, I’m gonna whup Chicagoan ass.

Oh, but then there was dessert. I’m not a big dessert guy, generally I can take it or leave it. But Martine has been hankering for cupcakes lately, so apparently today – day one of my weight-loss challenge – was a good time to try making them at home.

Allow me to present our first ever joint cupcake effort: chocolate chai cupcakes. (I helped make the icing.)

Shame on me. I ate more than one. But oh, are they good! No problem, I still have five months and twenty nine days left to kick Chicagoan ass.

But first I have to get up off of my own and do some exercise to counter those cupcakes.

Green Light for Better Eating

In the UK, they’re rolling out a “traffic light” labeling system for packaged foods. The labels will rate fat, saturates, sugar, and salt (the four big nasties) as either high (red), medium (orange), or low (green), on labels applied to the food. Personally, I think this is a great idea, as it helps you see at a glance how foods stack up. Some people (notably, food packagers) disagree.

go!I suspect there is a correlation between how much a food producer disagrees with the system and how many “reds” appear on their products. To be fair, the system does have the potential to, for example, discriminate against foods like cheese, which are high in fat (bad) but are otherwise nutritious. But let’s be reasonable; these are just labels – it’s not like they’re prohibiting the sale of the product. And besides, people should go easy on the cheese!

While I don’t like anyone telling me what to do or not do, food is a fundamental source of well being, as well as a potential source of the opposite. It is something that we all require, on a daily basis. But we’re not all nutritionists, nor do we all have lots of time available to think a lot about what we eat. These labels show the consumer, at a glance, if the product is high or low in one of these four areas. If you’ve got a block of butter in your hand and it says “High in fat,” well that should be obvious. But what if it’s a package of muffins? (Are you aware that most muffins are fat and sugar bombs? Even the so-called “healthy” ones. You’d know if we had those labels.)
Food production is one of the biggest industries on earth, and the primary goal of the food industry is to be profitable. When big food companies appear to be conscientious about health, it is usually just that – an appearance. One that has more to do with marketing than health or well being. As such, I most explicitly do not trust the food industry to be self regulating on these matters.

These “traffic light” labels – which are just guides, not scary proclamations – are essential checks in the balancing act of food production and food consumption. (Source: UK Food Standards Agency.)

Kraft Dip: Guacamole or Not Guacamole?

You may have heard about the lawsuit in California in which a woman is suing Kraft Foods because its guacamole dip doesn’t contain enough avocado. Here are a few facts about the case:

The Plaintiff

Kraft Dips GuacamoleThe plaintiff bought “Kraft Dips, Guacamole” in order to make a three layered dip. When she served her guests, they and her were disappointed that the so-called guacamole didn’t taste “avocadoey.”

The plaintiff checked the ingredients and was surprised to learn that there is very little avocado in the product. In fact, it contains less than 2% avocado. One would expect guacamole to contain about 95% avocado (unless it has tomatoes in it, in which case it would be anywhere from 75-90% avocado).

The Defendant

Kraft claims there is no case because the ingredients and nutritional information are clearly listed on the package.

Judge Blork’s Verdict

There is no case. As the defendant says, the ingredients are clearly listed, and the package is labeled as a guacamole flavored dip, not as guacamole. It is up to the consumer to make him or herself aware of what he or she is buying. Caveat Emptor (“let the buyer beware”) is more correctly interpreted as “let the buyer make himself aware.”

In other words, in buying and selling, it is the seller’s responsibility to disclose the facts of the item and to not hide any information about the product. It is the buyer’s responsibility to make him or herself aware of, and to understand, what he or she is buying.

Loathe as I am to defend a food corporation, those are simply the facts of the case. However, both parties should feel shamed over this, but for different reasons.

Shame on The Defendant

Here are the ingredients for Kraft Dips, Guacamole:


What the heck is that? Shame on you, Kraft, for selling this kind of chemical crap and calling it “food.” Forget about “guacamole,” this is nothing more than barely edible factory junk.

Shame on the Plaintiff

One should never trust a food company to look after one’s interests. One should always read labels and learn how to decode food industry marketing claims, buzzwords, and doublespeak.

In this case, the product is not even explicitly labeled as “guacamole.” It is labeled as “Kraft Dips” with “guacamole”written in smaller type, off to the side. Kraft Dips come in a variety of flavors, including French Onion, Creamy Ranch, and Bacon & Cheddar. Would the plaintiff have expected to find chunks of real bacon and cheddar in one of them? Would you expect to find a ranch, with little horses and sheep, in another?
The guacamole flavored dip was likely on a shelf containing Kraft Dips of other flavors, which should have been the first clue that this is not a “pure” product, but rather a “flavored” one. The next clue should have been that the product comes from a multinational food mega-corporation (there are all kinds of reasons why that makes them untrustworthy). Finally, it was simply a matter of reading the ingredients, which are clearly marked on the package.

Read the label. It should be “rule number 1” for anyone who buys groceries. Most packaged food is “factory food,” or in other words, “crap.” In order to sort the food from the crap, read the label.