The blame game

In New York, the City Council is prohibiting the sale of "junk food" and soda in all city schools during specified hours.

In Los Angeles, similar laws have been in effect for nearly a year—going so far as to specify precise beverage formulations (number of calories, carbs, etc.) for what is and is not allowed.

And, Kraft Foods recently announced plans to change its food and snack marketing efforts in order to combat obesity—especially in children.

Growing concern: All across the foodservice landscape, foodservice and restaurant companies are wondering not only if but when they and their own product line and marketing efforts will be held liable for contributing to obesity—even though many agree that at some point, corporate responsibility ends and individual responsibility begins.

In non-commercial foodservice, many operators already do an exemplary job of blending their need to sell foods and meals that customers demand with their obligation to help consumers make proper choices:

Today's average non-commercial cafeteria has more variety than ever before.

Nutritional information is often readily available (much more so than in restaurants) in the form of brochures, Web sites, posters and serving line signage.

And, the RD certification continues to show up after more and more of our readers' names, especially in schools, colleges and, of course, hospitals and nursing homes.

Second nature: Maybe that's the point: the nature and mission of many non-commercial operations is to not only be nutritionally responsible but nutritionally proactive as well. School foodservice, for example, is rooted in part in a post-World War II effort to improve kids' health (actually, to create a physically fit fighting force, based on what our new (in the late 1940s) Dept. of Defense thought was a relatively under-nourished recruit contingent).

In healthcare, of course, both acute and long-term, nutrition is virtually synonymous with patient feeding, and, in some cases, meals are heavily restricted and scripted in terms of fat grams, calories, carbohydrates and sodium. Foodservice directors in long-term settings often face the opposite problem of obesity: getting seniors, dementia and other patients to eat enough and prevent them from losing weight.

Of course, the typical college dining hall or foodcourt, or B&I cafeteria, plays a less mission-based role in administering nutrition and imparting nutrition education. Despite the lore of the "freshman 15" (or the lure of what causes it), I have yet to visit a non-commercial cafeteria in any segment that doesn't offer at least some nutritional data, a "heart-healthy" alternatives line, a decent variety of good and good-for-you options, and/or the ability to obtain guidance on healthy eating habits.

Judgment day: I make these points because I know that at some point, the fear of lawsuits and legislation now gripping operations on the commercial side of the business, particularly the quick-serve and casual segments, will some day descend upon operators in the FSD world (if it hasn't already). When that day comes, I can't imagine that you and your peers won't be ready and able to fend off the finger-pointers, for, as I've outlined above, you've been more than proactive in doing your part to balance profitability concerns with nutritional responsibility.

But as we know all too well, in the world of litigation, outcomes often aren't even close to what we expect, are they? At one point, the idea of a man suing McDonald's because he wound up obese sounded ludicrous—but then it happened, and even though nothing much came of this particular suit, others will undoubtedly follow.

Just be ready for them, that's all I'm saying.

What's your opinion? Will the non-commercial segments one day become embroiled in the "blame game" as much as some restaurant chains and food manufacturers are today? What will happen to school foodservice if lawmakers continually take away their ability to earn extra revenue via vending and a la carte programs? Send your comments to pking@foodservicedirector.com. Your input is welcome and appreciated!



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