retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Yesterday, MNB reported that the New York City Board of Health has informed supermarkets and large chain retailers there that they must begin posting calorie counts for prepared foods, as well as making additional nutritional information available upon request.

The rules apply to any retailer with a minimum of 15 locations nationwide. The Mayor Bill de Blasio administration said that the new regulations are designed to help New Yorkers know about their food, giving them the option of avoid foods that have little nutritional value and lead to a variety of chronic diseases.

MNB reader Rich Heiland wrote:

Just got back from a week in Parker, CO (Denver) for the middle grandson's graduation.

We ate supper at a Brickhouse Tavern which had all the calories posted on the menu. We pointed out to the waiter that there was no meal on there, except for soup and a couple of things, that we could eat without burning two-thirds our daily allotment.

"We just put out these menus and we were shocked," he said. "We work here and had no idea. Since we did it people have been dropping their jaws. It's been kind of interesting and when they say 'your stuff is fattening' all I can say is 'everybody's stuff is fattening.'

I ended up getting a small pepperoni-mushroom pizza at 1,200 calories. Believe it or not it was one of the lowest calorie counts on the menu.

The next night at a Chili's in Abilene, TX we had the same experience. All I could think as I ordered my quesadillas was "what have I been doing to myself over my 70 years?" Suicide by dining?

No question. Hard truths sometimes are the result when transparency is the rule.

Another MNB reader wrote:

There's an old saying that "You can't legislate morality".  Unfortunately, I also believe it's true, that neither can you legislate health. All the menu boards and caloric listings etc. will only effect a minimum of people.  Will some pick a salad over a Big Mac, or a Tea over a sugary cola?  Sure, but not consistently. So I'm of the belief that the labeling "cure" is disproportionately harmful, with respect to the "disease".  If labeling worked, we'd be a smoke free country, but even with all the negativity associated with it, people still do it.  I just can't help but think there has to be better things for our elected officials to spend their time on.  

Yes, I live in the "we don't matter, fly over zone", and I just shake my head at the coastal communities sometimes.  One day to comply?  Seriously?  What are they going to do shut down all the restaurants in NYC?  I've been doing it for 40 years, but  I just can't see all of Wall Street  Brown Bagging it for even a week.

I think this has been in the planning stages for a long time, and businesses have had plenty of notice. But you're right, in the interest of comity they could've given them more time.

To me, legislating health would mean forcing people to eat one thing or another. This is about providing people with sufficient information so they can make informed decisions. You can't force them to make intelligent decisions ... but you can provide information.

I may be wrong, but I think there's a difference.

One of the things I wrote yesterday was:

As I've said before, if retailers found a menu item that they could legitimately describe on menu boards as making people richer, thinner, better looking and more sexually appealing, they'd damn the costs and find a way to get that info onto menu boards.

Prompting this email:

You're right.  If the return looks acceptable, they'll make the investment.  As a shareholder, isn't that the way you think it should work?

If the argument is that a business is within its rights to keep information from the consumer that might hurt the bottom line .... no, I wouldn't agree.

Yesterday's story also prompted one MNB reader to write:

If you ever wonder why cities like NY and Los Angeles are losing people by the thousands, you need to look no further than idiotic decisions like these. The very same people they are trying to help are being screwed by these new regulations. Those with the ability to move out of these situations usually do.

The other thing I have noticed is that these Mayors and Governors actually think they are leading the country and the world down the path of righteousness. The reason for this is they are surrounded by ass kissers that do nothing but drool over every ridiculous idea they come up with. The only problem is that everyone outside of their circle are laughing. These very same laughing people are the ones that elected Trump.

Let's address the first assertion first.

You'd have a point ... if you were accurate.

Let me quote from the website of the New York City Department of City Planning:

The U.S. Census Bureau has estimated New York City’s population at 8,537,673, as of July 2016. This represented an increase of 362,500 residents (or 4.4 percent) over the April 2010 decennial census count of 8,175,133. The city has not witnessed such a robust pace of growth in over a half-century. Population growth has been fueled by the continued surplus of births over deaths, partly due to record high life expectancy, which has been partly offset by net outflows from the city.

Each of the city’s five boroughs registered gains in population. The Bronx saw the largest increase, up 5.1 percent, followed by Brooklyn (5.0 percent), Queens (4.6 percent), and Manhattan (3.6 percent); Staten Island showed the smallest gain (1.6 percent) over the 75-month period. The increase for the Bronx brings it close to its historical high, achieved in 1970, when the population of the borough was at 1.472 million.

So New York City is growing. Perhaps this won't be the case next year, when people all over the city flee to parts of the country that don't have such labeling regulations. Then again, maybe they won't ... since many of those parts of the country also don't have everything else that New York City has to offer.

As for Los Angeles, let me quote from a recent story in LA Weekly:

In this post-recession world, Los Angeles appears to be booming. Jobs are on the comeback. The skyline is changing. And the population is swelling.

The latest population estimates from the California Department of Finance conclude that the county grew by 43,758 between mid-2015 and mid-2016. That's only a 0.43 percent increase. But the megalopolis we call Southern California, including Los Angeles, Riverside, San Diego, Orange and San Bernardino counties, accounted for nearly half the state's growth during that time — and ranked one through five in total population gains, respectively — the department found.

While those counties posted the highest numerical gains, rural counties such as Yolo (nearly 2 percent), San Joaquin (1.56 percent) and Placer (1.44 percent) posted the highest increases as percentages of their mid-2015 populations, according to the state estimates ... L.A. County's population is now 10,229,245. That means that Angelenos account for more than one in four Californians, according to the department.

Now, I wondered if this was fake news, so I checked the Los Angeles County website, and found that the last time there was a population decrease there was 2007.

Then I checked the USPopulation2017 website, and found that over the past five years, the city of Los Angeles has seen population growth:

2012 –3.85 Million
2013 –3.88 Million
2014 –3.90 Million
2015 –3.94 Million
2016 – 3.99 Million

Experts estimate the city of Los Angeles will have a population of 4.018 million in 2017 ... another year of growth.

Now, perhaps this will reverse itself, as people take flight out of Los Angeles because they're tired of idiotic decisions and being screwed by new regulations ... not to mention the sunshine, cultural diversity, business growth (pretty decent of late) and one of the best food cultures in the country. But maybe they won't.

(I admit here that I have a bias. I was born in New York City. I've lived in Los Angeles. I love both places and am temperamentally a coastal person.)

I do think you're partially right about these mayors and governors thinking that they "are leading the country and the world," though they probably wouldn't describe it as "down the path of righteousness." (Though that isn't so bad, since the dictionary definition of righteousness is "the quality of being morally right or justifiable.") I suspect they'd describe it as trying to achieve a scrupulous and transparent system that has enough integrity to provide information, options and even help for those who need it.

By the way ... do you think maybe your email has just a tinge of self-righteousness?

Now, we can have a nuanced and sophisticated argument about where the tipping point is. Some folks will argue that government has no business even getting involved in this stuff, and others will argue the other way. My feeling is that it is worth the time and trouble to find a balance that serves both citizen and business, because neither really can survive without the other. However, "balance" seems to be a dirty word these days ... just like "compromise."

As for the idea that the mayors of New York and Los Angeles, as well as the governors of New York and California, are enabled to do what they do only because they "are surrounded by ass kissers that do nothing but drool over every ridiculous idea they come up with" ... well, I think that there is enough ass-kissing to go around, on both sides of the political spectrum and at every level of government. My general feeling is that the higher up you get, the more puckering up there is.

Finally, regarding your concluding phrase:

"The only problem is that everyone outside of their circle are laughing. These very same laughing people are the ones that elected Trump."

Maybe they are laughing. But that strikes me as foolish. If you spend as much time around the country as I do, it doesn't take a presidential election - not to mention an Electoral College vs. popular vote debate - to convince you that we live in a deeply polarized country.

I'm not sure that anything about our country right now is a laughing matter, though there are plenty of late night comedians out there who might disagree. But I think we'd all be a little better off if perhaps we cut down a bit on the condescension and righteousness and maybe listened to the other side a bit, assuming that people who think differently than us about issues still have the best interests of the nation at heart.

Just a thought.
KC's View: