The XX Factor

Getting Beyond Calorie Counting

After a long weekend of yet more media coverage of the anti-obesity campaign, I’m struck by a promising force at work fueling interest in this crusade: not fear of fatness, but fascination with food. There’s Mark Bittman tackling the subject in the New York Times ’ Week in Review section: Can’t miss a favorite food writer! And hey, even an Outlook piece in the Washington Post about school lunches can suck me in, and not because I’m expecting mouth-watering fare. In fact, reading about gross stuff can arguably pack more of a punch than yet another article about working in gardens. Or so it occurred to me as I read the behind-the-scenes tour of the “fresh-cooked” innovations in the D.C. public schools, complete with big bags of ” ‘beef crumbles,’ grayish-brown bits of extruded meat and soy protein.” Yuck, but I didn’t put it down.

As smart pieces-like this one in Slate -also proliferate, pointing out the problems with calorie-counting as a solution, I wonder if there’s a lesson here worth considering. All those numbers can be pretty abstract. Starting with soda (Mark Bittman’s topic), which everybody surely should cut back on, why fuss about the confusing figures-recalibrating serving sizes, noting calories on the front of cans? Instead, let’s get graphic, in good foodie-style: What if every Coke can had to advertise prominently that it contained the “equivalent of nine teaspoons of sugar”? Or maybe it’s 10. That’s an attention-grabber to turn your stomach.