The Continuing Battle Against Serving Size

Photo by bi11jon

As I write this, there's a Gatorade bottle next to me.

It's the classic "Lemon Lime" version, the one that tastes a bit like sweetened battery sweat -- but, you know, in a good way! -- and has the same hue as the skin color of characters from "The Simpsons." That one. And on the back label, as is the case for most every food, there's a listing of what exactly's in it. So, let's take a look: 50 calories, 110 milligrams of sodium, 14 grams of sugars, and a whopping 0 grams of protein. That doesn't sound so bad. But, unfortunately, that's not where the story ends.

Instead, as we all know by now, to get a true sense of what's inside you have to go towards the top of the label, the smaller print, where it reads "Servings Per Container." And in this case, inside this 20-ounce bottle of Gatorade, there are two-and-a-half servings. (Mathematical spoiler: That means you have to multiply those initial numbers by 2.5 to get the full story.) So goes the messy nature of serving sizes.

Buzzfeed recently put together a tremendous video looking at the difference between what we actually eat (i.e., full "single-serving" packages of food) and the amount that the "serving size" calls for. Take a gander:

The fact is: People do not open a small bag of Doritos and eat when they've reached the serving size. They eat until the bag is empty. They do not stop drinking their Big Gulp once they've had the eight ounces or so that constitutes a serving size. They slurp it down until the straw is left scanning the bottom of the cup for any remnants of fluid. While a little voice inside our heads whispers that maybe it's not the best idea to finish the entire whatever-it-is -- a little voice whose angrier, louder sibling will scream its own displeasure a little while later from the stomach region -- people are going to shut that little voice up. It is our nature.

Which is why certain legislators feel that perhaps we need a helping hand to keep us from the dangers of serving sizes. (The best current example of this, of course, is New York mayor Michael Bloomberg's large soda ban.) Now, some of us enjoy those kinds of laws, and some of us believe they're the work of Obama's evil "nanny state." Arguments from both sides are numerous and legitimate. But the Wisconsin state legislature is taking the unprecedented step of completely ending the possibility to have a conversation about it: They're trying to ban the state's cities themselves from banning large, sugary drinks:

The provision added to the budget would prohibit any Wisconsin city or county from enacting a ban or resolution that disallows or restricts the sale of any food or drink based on the number of calories, portion size or other nutritional criteria.

While no Wisconsin city has yet to even officially consider such a ban, the Republican-led state Congress wants to make sure they don't even think about it. Which, really doesn't make a whole lot of sense. As Democrat opponent of the bill Jon Edwards put it, "This is a solution in search of a problem."

Set aside the weird idea of a Republican-led group trying to take away the rights of small governments -- as the irony may stop your brain from working -- and simply focus on the fact that by going through with this step, the debate over what makes a food company responsible is gone. And by losing that debate, we pretty much lose most of the democratic process.

But that's Wisconsin, and frankly it has a ways to go from becoming law over there. The question for us, then, is how would L.A. residents would feel if the state of California tried something like this:


Now if you'll excuse me, I have to find 2.5 mini plastic containers I can put this bottle of Gatorade in.

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About the Author

Rick Paulas has written plenty of things, some of them serious, many of them not, scattered over the vast expanses of the Internet. He lives in Los Angeles and is a White Sox fan.
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Science has shown repeatedly that when it comes to obesity, all calories count, regardless of their source. This is why bans are ineffective and counterproductive. If we really want to get serious about obesity, we need to focus on education, not regulation. Bans do nothing to teach people about healthy lifestyle habits.

-Maureen Beach, American Beverage Association