Fast-food bills will only raise question: You want guilt with that?


My dear departed mother, God bless her, was raised a Catholic and converted to Judaism.

She was capable of inflicting guilt on her children at levels that were difficult for outsiders to the Smith family to fully fathom. In addition to the substantial guilting skills all mothers possess by the nature of the profession, she could also shame us in Irish-American-Yiddish.

Not that she felt much guilt herself. That’s the irony of the shame-dealers among us. They sleep well at night while the rest of us sit up until the wee hours on trial in the Court of Heavy Conscience.

While she would notice if, for instance, I hurled an epithet at my sister, she could cuss like Earl Weaver at a home-plate umpire and feel not a scintilla of compunction.

Heaven and Jack LaLanne help me if I put on a few pounds, but she was known throughout the family for picking out dessert first at restaurants. To this day my daughter reminds me of grandma’s legendary dining advice — “Order dessert first!” — before we’ve cracked open the Applebee’s menu.

Now that you know I grew up in the shadow of the Mickey Mantle of guilt, you will better appreciate this statement: My dear mother would have flat out adored Nevada Assembly members Harvey Munford and Lucy Flores. She would have attempted to adopt them as her own.

Munford is the well-meaning legislator who last month introduced Assembly Bill 122, which if passed would assess a nickel fee on chain-restaurant fast food with a calorie count of 500 or higher. (To my knowledge, that includes almost everything on the menu except the overpriced bottled water.)

As reported in the Review-Journal, Munford’s stated goal is to draw attention to childhood obesity. The revenue raised would trickle into the coffers of public schools, which are notorious for serving fat-filled food to the inmates.

While I wouldn’t bet that Munford’s bill survives, my mother would fully appreciate his point: inflicting a little guilt and raising awareness.

Then there’s Flores, truly a woman after mom’s own heart. The assemblywoman wants most chain restaurants to be compelled to accurately list the calorie content of their food. If that triple-bypass burger has 2,000 calories, she wants you to know. If that behemoth burrito and four-cheese pizza are packed with enough calories to fry a calculator, she wants you to see the hard numbers before placing your order.

Flores’ legislation shadows the new rules coming from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Despite the fact she’s an elected official in Nevada, a state known the world over for successfully marketing the Seven Deadly Sins, Flores actually wants to make our restaurant calorie law apply to more burger joints than mandated by the federal standard.

I can almost see the public-service announcement now: “Welcome to Nevada, where the casinos and bars never close, but ironically we’re concerned about your weight and cholesterol.”

A recent Review-Journal article reminded readers that a 2011 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found customers didn’t flinch at the listed calorie counts of their favorite fast foods. In fact, they had them deep-fried and covered in nacho cheese.

A study in that same journal also let the air out of the notion that fast-food restaurants’ “healthy choices” of salad and so forth contained appreciably fewer calories than the standard fare. Alas, devoted chef salad-smothered-in-ranch-dressing eaters, they don’t.

If listing the caloric weight of double cheeseburgers doesn’t exactly change anyone’s eating habits, it may have an unintended upside. Perhaps our much-vilified schoolchildren, the endomorphs and ectomorphs alike, will improve their math skills as they add the calories of all the greasy burgers and fries they’re consuming.

Whatever the fate of those high-minded bills, I already feel the weight of the guilt they are intended to inflict. My mother would be tickled.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I am off to lunch, where I plan to eat what I want — and order dessert first.

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295. He also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/Smith