Heavy Lifting - thoughts and web finds by an economist
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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Fast (and some not so fast) food is not good for you...

An onion has relatively low caloric value - a cup of chopped onions comes in at 30 calories. And yet yesterday's Star-Telegram reports that at Chili's restaurants the "Awesome Blossom" comes in at 2710 calories, 203 grams of fat, and 194 grams of carbs.

How is it possible for Chili's to take an onion, which might have 60 calories, and convert it into a dish with 2,700 calories? What "value added" does Chili's provide the onion that generates this increase in calories? It would seem that Chili's is somehow violating one of the principles of physics - perhaps the conservation of energy principle.

Let's put it in a different perspective. To ingest the same number of calories as the "Awesome Blossom" you would have to eat approximately 45 onions in one sitting (or at least close to the amount of time in which you would eat the "awesome blossom.") Not only would that make your breath smell bad, it would be difficult to accomplish in a timely manner.

I am absolutely against the government regulating restaurant recipes, however there seems to be a significant information asymmetry in the restaurant industry. Chili's knows how many calories they are providing in the "awesome blossom." Yet, how many of Chili's customers know the calories in the dish? Chili's and other restaurants are in the business to earn a profit but economists like full information and if customers were to demand the coloric information (much like they demanded the grams of carbohydrates after the Atkins diet craze a few years ago) be listed beside the price, we would be on our way to a market solution. Those people who still wanted to purchase the "awesome blossom" with full information could do so - the rest of us could make an informed and, perhaps, different solution. It is possible that with full information considerably fewer people would buy the "awesome blossom" than do so now, and that might not be good for Chili's or the onion farmer in the short run.

If people simply didnt' purchase the "awesome blossom" and other such dishes, Chili's and other restaurants would get the message and change what they offer without the transfat (and other ingredient) police interfering.

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