Compulsory Calorie Counting

Thanksgiving in New York: After gorging myself at my aunt's Long Island Thanksgiving feast, my family and I went into the city to troll around the Public Library, admire the window displays at Macy's, eat a juicy buffalo burger at Ted's Montana Grill, and go see "Time Standing Still" with Laura Linney.

Given this little expedition was taking place on Black Friday, I expected the crowds of belligerent shoppers to be the main source of annoyance on an otherwise perfect day in Manhattan. But the unwashed shopping masses weren't the issue: it was the ubiquitous calorie announcements.

I had forgotten that as of April 2008, New York restaurants (with a few exceptions) are required by law to post calorie totals for all menu items. Although I've never been one to count calories, I found myself rather compulsively tabulating the values for my dining selections. I still ordered two glasses of Pinot Grigio (240 calories), a Caesar salad (510 calories) and a rare buffalo burger with onion rings (1,100 calories). Enjoyed every bite, too. But I was irked just knowing the caloric value of what I had eaten. After all, one isn't supposed to do arithmetic on vacation.

Are New Yorkers who are confronted daily with these large-and-in-charge listings still fazed by the number of calories in that grande hot chocolate or that seemingly modest spinach salad? According to my sister, a long-time Queens resident, "not really." Obviously, I'm not the first person to wonder about the effects of these calorie postings on the average citizen's eating choices. Results from studies have been mixed.

From a tourist perspective, I can say it adds an unwelcome dimension to eating in New York, which is a real pity considering one of the city's greatest virtues is its dining opportunities. I still look forward to returning again in a few months to fulfill a longtime dream: a pizza tour through all five boroughs. But I'm glad Houston allows me to indulge ignorant of numbers.

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