This is from an academic article titled The Accuracy of Stated Energy Contents of Reduced-Energy, Commercially Prepared Foods, which I picked up from the US Food Policy blog. The bottom line is that not only are restaurants underestimating calories (no real surprise there; can any franchise really keep squirts of mayo to company specs outside of their in-house labs?), but that frozen food producers are too. One advantage of mass production is supposed to be standardization, right?

The accuracy of stated energy contents of reduced-energy restaurant foods and frozen meals purchased from supermarkets was evaluated. Measured energy values of 29 quick-serve and sit-down restaurant foods averaged 18% more than stated values, and measured energy values of 10 frozen meals purchased from supermarkets averaged 8% more than originally stated.

Emph mine. I don't think this is horribly surprising either, honestly. To range pretty far in the metaphorical field, take recent baseball slugger, short-time home run record holder, and steroid abuser Mark McGuire. The guy has caught some grief recently for saying that he wished he hadn't played in the steroid era, and that if he hadn't (and had played when testing happened), he wouldn't have taken the drug.

The argument that these comments are disingenuous and that he still made the decision to take steroids (and Big Mac is thus an evil man) is flakey at best and its logic willfully unrealistic. Where there clean guys pre-testing? Perhaps, but within the rules of Major League Baseball (MLB), steroids weren't illegal. Sure, they were illegal in the "real world" but so is jaywalking, speeding, whaling on Sunday, and Limewire. We've slowly learned that illegal is nine tenths enforcement. If there's no good method of enforcing national laws, then baseball's lack of testing for steroids in baseball or even putting it on their banned substances list tells players that their sport is looking the other way. It's an implicit encouragement to use, and nobody can say that the Sosa-McGuire chase hurt MLB.

Same here with food and calories. Being able to argue that more food has fewer calories, I have to imagine, is a successful selling point for dinner makers. This study tells us that it's pretty obvious that many producers aren't reliably testing the caloric content of frozen food. And if your competitor isn't, what's you motivation not to follow suit? The unwritten rules of the game -- that there's no testing and fudging just enough to maintain some plausable, collective deniability -- say that you, too, cheat. In fact, there becomes a situation of double discourse (or, more accurately, a situation of expertise, of closed, culture-specific mores) that says that cheating is the rule and it is, at least implicitly, encouraged.

Though I try not to live according to these sorts of unwritten rules of expertise and inside deception, as I grow older I find it more difficult not to fault those who act surprised when it's discovered that those rules exist. Nuance your mind, folk.

(Yes, verbing weirds language.)

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