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Photo by Claude Estèbe.

Subway six-inch Cold Cut Combo: $3.29, 460 calories; Pizza Hut 1/2 Pepperoni P-Zone: $4.50, 710 calories; Swiss Chalet Garlic Cheese Loaf: $7.99, 860 calories.
With numbers laid out like these, it’s hard to tell if you’re paying with your wallet or your weight. But if the Ontario Medical Association has its way, this may well be the newly accepted format for menus. On Tuesday, the OMA proposed that both schools and restaurant chains should be forced to print caloric content on menus to help fight the “growing battle against obesity,” as the Globe reported yesterday. And while we’re cool with health and all, we’re wondering―are numbers really the best way to tackle the problem?
Ever since Spurlock’s Super Size Me and the beginning of the war against Fast-Food Nations, most quick ‘n’ cheap chains have made their nutritional content available for the masses online or in-store. So have many sit-down chains (thankfully, now we know what Chili’s meant by “awesome blossom“―the fantastical amount of growth around one’s waistline after consumption of the “starter”). This, with so may adults already addicted to adding up calories, we can understand. California and N.Y.C., among a few other U.S. jurisdictions, already require fast-food restaurants to print caloric information next to items on their menu, and 17 British restaurant chains have agreed to do the same come June. And we’re not saying this is wrong (the restaurants in which we prefer to dine won’t have to post it anyways).
But what is scary is that the Medical Association now wants to make this information prominently displayed in schools, as a major method of helping children learn what’s best to put in their bodies. Rather than teaching kids what is good for them―an apple a day and some exercise―it hands out what looks more like a problem in math.
Rather than teaching that counting calories is everything, schools ought to focus on health education, educating kids on the benefits of good fats versus bad fats, how much sugar is too much, and, most importantly, which foods contain which. Shouldn’t kids, who most need enough nourishment to build the foundation for a healthy adulthood, be concerned with meeting all of their body’s nutritional needs rather than fearful of exceeding caloric requirements? Shouldn’t they be aware of the vitamins in their vegetables and the fibre in whole wheat bread, rather than assume that grilled cheese is healthier than a hearty veggie stew simply because it makes less of a dent in their day’s caloric intake? Children, like the rest of us, need to recognize what foods give them energy and what ones don’t―but that’s not determined solely by a simple numerical value.
If all artists were told to paint only by numbers, they’d surely find all of their options more difficult to choose from when faced with a clean slate. Similarly, kids will soon have to fend for themselves in the real food world, where not everything adds up with simple arithmetic. And what we really don’t want? To cultivate a new generation that counts calories as meticulously as our own.