One aspect of the health care bill that is taking effect immediately is that chain restaurants will be required to prominently display nutrition information. This could be a significant step in changing the food landscape in America.
The AP Reports:
More than 200,000 fast food and other chain restaurants will have to include calorie counts on menus, menu boards and even drive-throughs.
The new law, which applies to any restaurant with 20 or more locations, directs the Food and Drug Administration to create a new national standard for menu labeling, superseding a growing number of state and city laws. President Barack Obama signed the health care legislation Tuesday.
The idea is to make sure that customers process the calorie information as they are ordering. Many restaurants currently post nutritional information in a hallway, on a hamburger wrapper or on their Web site. The new law will make calories immediately available for most items.
This rule will also apply to vending machines carrying convenience foods.
So how might this change the American food system? There have been many recent news events and cultural moments in the US that are educating people to be more informed about what is actually in the food they are eating, and the impact that has on both their health and the environment. Americans' appetite for cheap processed foods and factory-farmed meat impacts everything from carbon emissions to water quality to pesticide and antibiotic use on farms. The Oscar-nominated documentary 'Food, Inc.' made a huge splash with informing people about the problems with the industrial food system. Oprah had author and food expert Michael Pollan on her show to discuss the film, which she called thought-provoking and eye-opening. Michael Pollan also appeared on The Daily Show and told Jon Stewart in January that he thought the passage of health care reform would have a big impact on changing the way people eat, because health insurers would have a financial motive to keep people away from eating unhealthy foods that can cause long-term health problems. "Suddenly the health insurers will have an interest in your health, which they don't have now," he told Stewart.
Michelle Obama has also become a public face of increasing access to real food, gardening and fighting childhood obesity with her Let's Move campaign. Last week she spoke to the Grocery Manufacturers Association about completely rethinking the junk food they sell.
"We need you not to just tweak around the edges but entirely rethink the products you are offering, the information that you provide about these products, and how you market those products to our children," she said.
The Wall Street Journal points out that there could be delays in getting all of the rules about labeling into effect because the FDA has to write several of the rules before they can be enforced.
However, this could be seen as a historical turning point in the American consciousness about actually having awareness about where food comes from and what goes into how it gets made. As the trailer for 'Food, Inc.' intones, "The industry doesn't want you to know the truth about what you are eating, because if you knew, you might not want to eat it."
Calorie information may be the first step in knowing.