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Column: Calorie counts on menus? Not in my restaurant.

The suggestion that all restaurants could display calorie counts is farcical – and it won’t help tackle obesity, argues Michelin-starred chef Oliver Dunne.

Oliver Dunne

Minister for Health Dr James Reilly wants to put calorie information on fast-food menus, and some have suggested this could be extended to all restaurants. But many restaurateurs question whether this is feasible.

In an interview with TheJournal.ie, Michelin-starred chef Oliver Dunne of Bon Appétit in Malahide explained why the proposal is “farcical”.

IF WE ARE talking about fast food restaurants, like McDonalds, no problem. But for actual restaurant businesses, it won’t work. The minister’s plan is actually laughable.

First of all, there is no one there to monitor it. To actually spend money on introducing this, and then not to monitor it just doesn’t make sense. It is a waste of people’s time and tax payer’s money.

This is how a restaurant operates. You come in that day, and you decide what should be on the menu. You see there is sea bass there, cabbage and carrots are coming in today – so that will make a nice meal. This is what happens on a daily basis.

If you have to wait for calorie counts to come in, the process would be: I would come up with a dish I want to prepare for the dinner service. Then I would have to send it away to a dietician or a nutritionist. They would have to analyse it. If I use any other ingredients – like adding ketchup maybe to create a sauce – then I would have to get onto the manufacturers of that sauce, like Heinz, so I can get the exact breakdown of the ketchup.

Heinz isn’t going to be in hurry to provide me with that information, and might even charge for it. I wouldn’t imagine you would get an accurate response back for about a month. Then that meal would be allowed on the menu.

But restaurants simply don’t operate that way. We don’t specify if we put five green beans on a plate, or if we put exactly 20g of butter in a dish.

‘Healthy eating is not about eating out’

The issue of obesity has been given as a reason to introduce this. I would argue that it is generally not obese people that go to restaurants as such. For one thing, very few of the actual population dine out regularly. Children are obese because of bad parenting – simple as that.

Healthy eating is not about eating out at restaurants. Healthy food and eating correctly is more about the portions you eat on a daily basis, or the amount of crisps or chocolate you eat while watching the TV, drinking cans of beer. That is what causes unhealthy people and obesity, not going to restaurants.

If the minister for health is proposing to spend money on this, he should be looking at spending money on education, on teaching parents and children to cook responsibly. There have been studies done by dieticians that show that some low-income families order in two or three times a week – pizza one night, Chinese food the next.

Perhaps they could look at a tax break of some sort whereby you go off and learn how to cook probably; it would save money from the health system in the long run. People simply don’t know how to cook any more.

This cannot happen, full stop. It factually cannot be achieved. They tried it in America, and they could not do it. No disrespect to Ireland, but if the United States of America tried to do this and they failed, it is just not going to work here. People are not going to spend thousands of euros out to see how many calories are in each of their dishes.

If this was implemented I don’t think it would have a huge effect on people going to restaurants. People might pay attention to it for the first couple of weeks, but then I don’t think people would even notice.

Oliver Dunne is the owner and head chef of Bon Appétit in Malahide, Co Dublin. Byline photo by James Horan/Photocall Ireland.

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Oliver Dunne

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