Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Do You Even Know What's In That?

How often do you go out to eat? Statistically, you probably eat out four or more times per week. Do you know how many calories are in the food you eat at a restaurant? Most likely you don't. That is unless it comes off of the "eating light" section of the menu. Did you know that a chicken Caesar salad at the Macaroni Grill has more fat than a barbecue chicken pizza? Neither did 90 percent of people questioned in a Field Poll survey conducted in March 2007.

According to the Field Poll, Californians have no idea what they are eating when they go to a restaurant. The telephone survey asked four multiple choice questions regarding fat, salt, and calorie content of food items on the menu at certain chain restaurants. Not on single person answered all four of them correctly.

Lack of knowledge of the content of food is a huge factor in obesity. While it is important to recognize that proper diet and exercise is the weapon to combat obesity, it should also be noted that restaurants in general, and fast food specifically have a obligation to communities to give them tools that will help them make informed decision about what they eat.

California is fast becoming an obese society and a major part of the problem is the convenience of eating out. As time goes on, we see more convenient food being packaged for our consumption. With a growing amount of the population existing in two-income families, there is less time to cook from scratch with fresh ingredients. Going out to eat has become the easiest, and sometimes fastest way to get dinner for the family. If parents were given the nutritional value of the food they ordered, they might make different choices on what to feed their children. Most people read the label at the grocery store in order to check the health factor of their food. In 1990, the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act was passed, requiring nutrition labels on food. People have gotten so used the reading labels that it is hard to remember a time when you didn't know how many servings were in a family-size bag of potato chips. Since then, the public has become significantly more aware of ingredients that are bad for you. For instance, trans fat, or partially hydrogenated soybean oil. Why shouldn't we have the right to nutritional labeling at restaurants as well?

The American Heart Association has teamed up with the California Center for Public Health Advocacy as well as the American Cancer society to sponsor a bill that would make it mandatory for restaurants to post nutrition information on their menus. Senate Bill 120 has been passed by the Legislature and is headed to the Governor's desk for approval.

The California Restaurant Association is not happy about the bill's passing. President and CEO, Jot Condie says that having nutrition labels on menus will not have any affect on obesity rates. When you read the Field Poll statistics and see how many people are not just uninformed, but misinformed about food content in restaurants, it seems hard to believe that the restaurant industry has nothing to do with obesity.

This new bill would only effect chain restaurants that have more than 14 locations in California, so the burden of cost is nothing compared to the affect of the future health of our children and ourselves. In fact, cost is the only thing that the California Restaurant Association is complaining about. Of course, they are not going to admit to their concerns that if Californians saw how unhealthy their meal was, they would start to demand better alternatives. Just like they did with grocery store labels.

Senate Bill 120 is nothing but good news for Californians by allowing them to make better informed decisions on what they eat at a restaurants, and nothing but bad news for the multi-billion dollar mega corporations, by forcing them to make new menus. Does anyone have a problem with that?

Sunday, September 23, 2007

3:10 to Yuma Misses the Train

Set in the dry climate of 19th century Arizona, 3:10 to Yuma is the story of a down-and-out farmer on the verge of losing his land due to shady antics from a rival land owner that he owes money to. The protagonist of the story, Dan Evans is a self-loathing family man who spends the whole movie attempting to prove to his son William, played by child star Logan Lerman, that he can be the hero that the boy reads about in pulp novels. Ben Wade, the thieving, murdering, womanizing bandit that's causing such a stir appears to have a soft side. He has charisma, he has a sense of morality, and he's an artist. Evans is hired by a railroad company to escort Wade to Contention where he will be placed on the 3:10 train to Yuma prison. Through a series of unfortunate events, including Wade's uncanny ability to suddenly have the mobility to kill some of his captors, Evans ends up being the only escort left to get the prisoner on the train. While in Contention, Wade's posse catches up and finds ways to make life very hard for Evans while waiting for the train. This is the part of the film that is supposed to show how each of the lead characters are deeper than you thought, but they just seem to leave a lot of unanswered questions.

Christian Bale convincingly played the part of Dan Evans. Bale has the incredible ability to seamlessly slink into any character thrown at him without the viewer questioning how he could possibly go from super-villain (American Psycho) to super-hero (Batman) and then to the Wild West. Bale will never suffer the dreaded issue of typecasting in Hollywood.

Russell Crow holds his own with his rendition of Ben Wade. He doesn't blend into the scenery quite as well, but Crow is certainly believable as the "jerk with a heart-of-gold." After all, that's the role he was born to play. Crow has the ability to have a twinkle in his eye while he blows the brains out of his cohorts in crime.

The minor characters were played well by an all-star cast including Peter Fonda as the weathered hired-hand, Byron McElroy and Alan Tudyk as the comic-relief, Doc Potter. Ben Foster outshined every one with his portrait of Ben Wade's overly enthusiastic right-hand man. Even young Lerner shows how torn the boy is about the love he has and contempt he feels for his father's ineffectual life-style.

Aside from being well cast, this movie left much to be desired. There was a definite homage to old, western style movie making in the way that it was a heavily character driven movie with a lot of grit and realistic backdrops. However, there was something about this film that always reminded you that this was just a movie. The characters themselves were one-dimensional, even though the story attempted to make them multi-layered. Many times throughout the film, it was easy to think, "Now, why would he do something like that?" The dialog seemed hollow and forced. The plot constantly fell into unbelievable scenarios by trying to convince you that the good guy and the bad guy were destined to be friends, even at the cost of long-standing loyalties from their pasts. The character development seemed heavy-handed, you were constantly being hit over the head with how 'good' the bad guy was. It was also glaringly obvious that Crow was very uncomfortable on a horse.

Although the acting of the entire cast was far above average, there is only so much one can do to make tasty omelets out of bad eggs.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Don't Mess With Your Food Server

It has happened to all of us at least once; you sit down to a nice, expensive dinner at a restaurant, expecting to be catered to by a pleasant waiter or waitress. Instead you are ignored for a while, and when your server finally comes to take you’re order, there are no apologies for lake of attentiveness and the attitude is full of loathing. The food takes forever, your drink is never refilled, and your server seems to have forgotten you exist -right up until the check arrives.

Your service was bad, there is no mistaking that. But don’t take it so personal. No one is out to get you. Your server was not actively attempting to ruin your day (unless you deserved it, and you know who you are). Food servers are real people too. Often times, they have a lot more to deal with than you realize, and sometimes you end up on the receiving end of their bad day. Maybe your server had a headache. Maybe he or she just got dumped, or was in a car accident. Maybe the person bringing your food to you has been studying for a test, or is dealing with a misbehaving child. Maybe you were just a total jerk. The concept that one should “leave their troubles at home” is a joke. Nowhere else in the workforce is that ideology more expected than in food service. If you are fighting with your spouse, are you expected to not only keep it to yourself, but also expected to be smiling and happy while people around you demand things from you every minute of your workday? That happens to food servers everyday of their life. Try giving them a break.

It is also ridiculous to assume that your food server is your own personal servant. That is the person who is handling your food. There is nothing to stop them from messing with it. You should be doing everything you can to please your server, not the other way around, in order to make sure your pasta doesn’t have that “extra” ingredient. Somewhere along the way, the whole customer service rule got way out of hand. Who decided that it was ok to yell at someone or call them horrible names simply because “the customer is always right.” Guess what, right after you told that woman she was stupid and slow, she “accidentally” dropped your steak on the floor drain in the kitchen.

Sure, there are health and safety laws that should keep that from happening, but there’s not. There is no OSHA guy sitting in the back, regulating the cleanliness of your food. There is no magical protective charm cast on your hamburger to keep a disgruntled employee from spitting on it. And if you think the restaurant manager is watching out for that sort of thing, think again, Restaurant managers were once food servers too, and they also have bad days.
Food servers are the controllers of your food. If you are smart, you will take my advice and try not to piss them off.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Candy Wisdom for the Masses

There are some things in life that everyone knows to be true. Time flies when you’re having fun. It always rains the day after you wash your car. The price of candy at the movies is outrageously overpriced.
The story is universal at all movie theatres. A customer will belly up to the candy stand to order a box of popcorn and a soda. He’ll ask the concession worker how much a small popcorn is. When the minimum-wage paid employee recites the various prices, the response is almost always the same. “Four dollars for that! Is it gold plated or something?” or, “For that price you should have to sing me a song too.” The employee will give a polite, half-hearted chuckle, offer butter on the popcorn and think to herself “I’m not the one pricing the popcorn, so why is this guys getting upset with me.”

The price of snacks your local movie theatre is high, ridiculously high, but for a reason. Theatre owners are not looking to gouge you on candy because you’re trapped inside with no way out, starving and thirsty, hoping to get a snack fix. There isn’t an evil man, twirling his mustache in the back room, laughing maniacally every time someone buys a box of Juju B’s. In fact, most theatres have a very lax, don’t ask-don’t tell policy on bringing in your own food if it is well hidden. The reason the prices are so high is that concession is the only place where theatres make any sort of profit.

If the theatre is running with a minimal crew of only five staff members; box office attendant, usher, concession worker, manager and projectionist, and assuming that all staff are paid minimum wage, including the manager, one movie would have to bring in seven paying customers (at a ticket price of at least $9.00) just to cover the cost of wages for its employees. That number does not include the price of rent, the cost of gas and electricity or any of the other odds and ends that theatres owners have to pay for to keep the doors open. Additionally, that number is loosely totaled since most theatres only make a (sliding scale) percentage of the box office profits, having to share the rest with the movie’s distributor.

With the high cost of showing a movie, and the increasingly declining attendance numbers at the average movie theatre, the only way to make a real profit is through concessions. The mark up on candy averages 200 percent and is as much as 300 percent in come cases. The candy isn’t any better than what you buy at the market. Cost does not follow the rule of supply and demand. The only reason movie theatres continue to stick it to consumers in the snack department is that by charging an exorbitant amount for your popcorn, they are able to turn a profit and continue to offer you a nice, relaxing evening at the movies.

So the next time you patronize your local movie theatre, make sure to stop by the candy stand and stock up on the over-priced snacks. You might even want to say thanks to the underpaid employee. After all, it takes them two hours to make what you just spent on a box of popcorn and a coke.