Menu Labeling and Rent Seeking

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

A little over two weeks ago, I wrote:

The behemoth companies love regulation, because the compliance costs tend to kill off upstarts and smaller competitors.

It’s only a matter of time before we’re going to see one or more big restaurant chains join the menu labeling crusade. In fact, I’m surprised we haven’t seen it already. It makes good business sense. A federal law seems inevitable now. Jump on board early, and you’ll have a say in how the regulations are written–specifically, exactly who will be required to abide by it.


…more than a dozen fast-food and pizza chains have linked up with several health groups that believe the legislation should include as many establishments as possible.

The bill, they say, has gaps big enough to let a milk tanker drive through. As written, the bill applies only to chains with 20 or more restaurants operating under the same name. They must post calories on menus and provide more detailed written information, such as fat and sodium content, on request…

Yum and the other companies say the regulations should apply to individual restaurants with $1 million or more in annual sales and chains with three or more locations.

My soothsaying powers are in fine form. Or, this was just blindingly obvious.

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65 Responses to “Menu Labeling and Rent Seeking”

  1. #1 |  Bronwyn | 

    You really must think I’m a moron.


    Finally! Chet’s right about something.

  2. #2 |  Bronwyn | 

    Here, Chet. If it’s so fast and easy, a caveman can do it in seconds flat, show us.

    Here’s a recipe for beef bourguignon.

    Give us the per-serving calorie count, using your method. Post your start time, so we can keep you honest.

    Ready? Set? GO!

  3. #3 |  Dave Krueger | 

    #48 Rick

    I will be very surprised if troll responds substantively to Jody’s comment.

    While libertarian leaning, I’ve always thought the primary focus of this site is misconduct and policy issues involving law enforcement and the justice system. As such, it attracts not just libertarians, but also conservatives and liberals (and anarchists) interested in that subject. Although sympathetic, Chet seems to show very little interest in those law enforcement discussions, instead saving himself for the more generalized political and economic topics where he fundamentally and dramatically differs from the perspective shared by many (probably most) of us. Whether that makes him a troll is debatable, but he makes very little effort to hide his disdain for those who aren’t persuaded by his arguments.

    #51 Bronwyn

    Finally! Chet’s right about something.

    Finally! :D

    Bronwyn, I’m pretty certain you’re wasting your time in trying to reason with Chet. Libertarians, who fundamentally oppose unnecessary government intrusion into people’s lives, are never going to share much common ground with those who see government coercion as the primary vehicle for implementing the improvements they envision for mankind.

    You’re talking to someone who has rationalized the idea of forcing someone to give him something for free by claiming that it doesn’t cost anything. Under that system of logic, there is nothing he couldn’t justify.

  4. #4 |  Dave Krueger | 

    Oops. Sorry, Bronwyn. I accidentally poked the wrong karma button on #51.

  5. #5 |  Bronwyn | 

    Oh, darling Dave, I know it’s a waste of time, but I just turned in a major project on Monday evening, and my brain is too fried for anything more productive than dandling trolls on my knee.

    I’ve about run the course of entertainment value on this one, though, so I’m done unless he comes back from his time trial with some results.

    I looked at your photography site a while back. I like your work… at least, the work I can safely view at the office :)

  6. #6 |  Bronwyn | 

    *cries over spilt karma*

  7. #7 |  Jody | 

    Four points, Chet.

    One- show me where I went wrong (“can’t work a web site”). I said the actual mechanics around your suggestion are valid (as in, clicking buttons, choosing pull down menus ain’t hard) but you ignore the fact that the database is woefully inadequate for even simple recipes. I’m not sure where my methodology is off here.

    So then how is the post absurd? I did exactly what you contended others should do, right? You made the argument first that these new rules would not be targeted at mom and pop operations. Just big corporations which have the money and time to send dishes to labs frequently. When it was pointed out that versions of this law would mean people who owned three locations, not out of reach for successful small restaurateurs, you countered that all this info can be found fast and free at the USDA website, so even if they were forced to comply, it’s easy and we were bitching about something that was “no cost”.

    Did I use the wrong websites? Did I somehow misuse the search function? Where exactly did i prove I did not know how to “use a website”? I basically took a random recipe ( and not one that uses exotic ingredients) and did exactly what you claimed was so easy. Well, sure the mechanics are easy, but it’s not quite the solution you claim. If everything worked as you claimed, I should have found it easy to do this, and that the database was robust enough to support just about ANY dish you’d find in the average restaurant.

    It took 20 minutes to gather the websites and start the first bit of research and write the response here. Maybe I’m a slow typist. Yes, it’s silly to point out perhaps. But again, your claim is that the whole process is quick and easy. My claim is that for small business, independent restaurant folks sitting down once a week as the menu changes to do this will be a significant portion of their time- time they really ought to using to do other things. You’ve intentionally overstated how easy AND more importantly accurate it is. I’ve noticed you completely ignored the accuracy argument.

    Two- I’m a guy. I realize gender neutral names confuse folks. It’s cool. I accept that you assumed.

    Three- The idea that somehow calorie counts will insure truthfulness has already been invalidated considering chain restaurants are lying about it- (if you don’t like the reason article go to the Cinci Enquirer). How will these new batch of laws prevent folks from lying when they’re doing it now? Fines? Doubtful. Considering how easy it will be to lie, and considering all the ways the statistics can be played with, it seems silly to say that this protects or helps consumers in any fashion. Will we need some federal calorie police to ensure adherence?

    Four- We have a friend locally that has his own bar-b-que business (Texas style brisket. Not bad. Makes a mean baked beans though). He bottles and sells his own sauce. If I recall correctly, in order to do so he has to label calories and ingredients. In the quick conversation I have had with him about this it’s in upwards of $100 or more per sample to be analyzed. They spent a decent chunk ($500 to start) just to be able to bottle sauce. Now, the point here is not that they shouldn’t have to for this case in particular, but rather if we expand this to every dish a small restaurant serves, and considering places do change their menu, factoring in the trend towards using locally grown produce (, AND that means that as growing seasons change, out of necessity the dishes have to change too…

    Well, the point is that again, you seem to be trying to intentionally understate the actual burden here for small and even medium size businesses (the Mexican chain I love here locally is family run, and have about 12 locations in Colorado, Wyoming and Arizona, for example).

    I find it odd then that you claim folks like myself are being dishonest. If you want to argue that the government ought to do this, has an obligation to do so, that’s cool. At least then you wouldn’t be making things up (one would hope). I could at least respect the position but totally disagree with it. As it is, you’ve been countered at every turn and have nothing left but attacks on people’s character in response.

  8. #8 |  Dave Krueger | 

    #55 Bronwyn

    I looked at your photography site a while back. I like your work… at least, the work I can safely view at the office :)

    Thank you. :)

    My photography site is blocked completely where I work. They won’t unblock it because they say it has grownup stuff on it and they don’t want anything like that at work. But things are much better than they used to be, They used to screen our incoming email for naughty words You know, words like “breast”. They would quarantine the messages and then read them. They don’t call it the Bible Belt for nothin’.

  9. #9 |  Bronwyn | 

    So your fried chicken orders were tossed in the circular e-file?

  10. #10 |  supercat | 

    Chet: In some cases, it may be easy to calculate the caloric and nutritive content of food because all of the ingredients come in a homogeneous form that would typical be precisely measured in the course of preparing it. On the other hand, many recipes are made with non-homogeneous ingredients (e.g. snow peas contain starch-rich seeds in a fiber-rich pod; the carbohydrate content in a pound of snow peas may vary considerably from one batch to another). Further, many types of food preparation destroy a portion of the material being prepared (e.g. burgers on a grill may lose a significant amount of both water and fat). By what practical means could one estimate within 5% the caloric content of a cooked burger, other than by using a calorimeter?

  11. #11 |  Chet | 

    By what practical means could one estimate within 5% the caloric content of a cooked burger, other than by using a calorimeter?

    The nutritional information on the hamburger is for cooked hamburger.

  12. #12 |  Andrew Williams | 

    Please tell me Domino’s was one of them. I’d LOVE another reason to boycott those fuckers.

  13. #13 |  Dave Krueger | 

    There’s a very short distance between mandating the publication of calorie counts and the taxing of calories (a calorie guzzler tax) or the dictation of calorie limits (cafe standards). Luckily, we live in a free country and the government respects the rights of people to live their lives and run their businesses as they see fit…

    Hahaha! Just kidding about that last part.

  14. #14 |  Mattocracy | 

    Yes Chet, it is a tenant of the Libertarian philosophy that compliance with regulation carries a cost for the private sector. I know you don’t believe that is true. Some people don’t believe the Earth is round and some people don’t believe that gravity exists. If you don’t already believe the obvious truth that compliance costs money for private business, then there isn’t anything I can do to prove it to you. Do I have to prove that the sky is blue too?

    Heaven forbid that we let people run their businesses as they want to without having to force someone’s nutritional values on them. I mean, your opinion should be religious dogma and just has to be forced onto other people, right? No freedom from what you think is right I guess.

  15. #15 |  supercat | 

    //The nutritional information on the hamburger is for cooked hamburger.//

    Is it for hamburger meat which is baked into a casserole, cooked on a frying pan, or flame-broiled until it’s all dried up? A quarter-pound of 75%-lean beef that’s baked into a casserole will have a lot more calories than one which has most of the juices cooked out. So I repeat my question: how can one determine within 5% the caloric content of a burger that’s cooked a certain way, other than by using a calorimeter?