And for something completely different…

Posted in Uncategorized on June 3rd, 2010 by bl1y

Because the clown wasn’t gay enough…

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Mmm…Mmm…Data

Posted in Uncategorized on March 26th, 2010 by bl1y

You probably missed it in the health care debate, but the new law will require fast food chains to post calorie counts on their menus.  This regulation has been in place in New York for a few years, and California and Oregon were on their ways to implementing it themselves.  But now, it will be a national requirement.  Well, not exactly “now.”  The FDA has a year to propose the specific regulations that would mandate calorie listings, but finalizing the rule could take much longer.

This regulation didn’t get a whole lot of press, not just because it’s a tiny change compared to the rest of the health care bill, but also because major restaurant chains supported it.  As states one-by-one created their own regulations, national chains would be faced with patchwork laws which would be harder to comply with, and require more work to decipher.  So, they favored a single national standard.

More health information doesn’t seem particularly controversial, especially when the restaurants themselves are supporting the law, but there is a bit more to it.  As OverLawyered.com points out, mega-chains are in a better position to deal with the regulations than smaller restaurant chains.  Hiring a lawyer to interpret the law, and a design team to touch up your menus costs a big chain about the same amount as a small chain, but a Burger King or Wendy’s is better able to bear the cost than a Taco Casa or Jack Astor’s.

I don’t think the big chains had this advantage in mind when they pushed for the law, but they get the slight advantage either way.

But, perhaps more important is that the calorie information could end up having a detrimental effect on health.  Whaaat?

Let’s go on a detour for a moment and talk about retirement savings.  Suppose the ideal amount to save from your paycheck is 5%, but that you only know this if you’ve done the proper research and planning.  Now, imagine your employer has a retirement savings plan, and will automatically deduct money from your paycheck.  You are free to change the amount at will, but your employer still needs to pick a default.  5% would be the optimal default.  If someone has higher expenses and can’t afford to save, they can lower the amount, but for everyone else it works.

But, let’s also consider what happens with 3% and 0% as defaults.  Under 3% what happens is that people assume the company has picked 3% for a good reason.  They’ll assume the company did some research about what people should be saving and based the default on that.  Many people will save the 3% and never question what they should be saving.  A few will realize they should be saving more, and opt to save 5%, but a lot will stay at the “sticky” 3% value.

Under 0%, a few people will save nothing, but almost everyone will realize 0% is not enough, will research what they should be saving, and then switch to 5%.  Either a 0% or 3% could result in total higher saving, depending on how many people choose to do research.  The difference is that with 0% more people will choose the optimal amount, but under 3%, the people who don’t do research are better off.

Now let’s go back to calories.  The optimal level of information for the consumer to have is a complete picture: calories, fat, sodium, fiber, protein, etc.  While our imaginary business could easily pick the optimal default, that’s not an option here.  We can’t possibly post a full nutritional breakdown on the menu (though the information is available at the restaurant), and if we could cram all the data in there, no one would bother reading it.

So, we have to choose between posting calories (the 3% option) or posting nothing (the 0% option).  Everyone knows that they should look at the full picture, but when calories are posted, very few people will ask to see the full nutritional information.  They’ll assume that calories are the most important consideration and stop there.  With no information provided, more people will take a complete look at the nutritional data, but more people will also not look at any data at all.

We essentially have two options, either everyone is a little informed, or some people are fully informed and some people are completely uninformed.  There’s no real way to tell how things will play out except for a very comprehensive study, but it’s worth bearing in mind that not everything we think will obviously help people make healthier choices will actually work how we want.

And, just for fun, let’s do a quick comparison of some fast food items:

McDonald’s: 10 pc Chicken Nuggets v. 5 pc Chicken Selects

Nuggets

400 Calories, 29g Fat, 1000mg Sodium, 24g Protein

Selects

660 Calories, 40g Fat, 1680mg Sodium, 38g Protein

Subway: Footlong Ham v. Footlong Tuna

Ham

450 Calories, 9g Fat, 2400mg Sodium, 36g Protein

Tuna

504 Calories, 60g Fat, 1860g Sodium, 42g Protein

Wendy’s: Baconator Single v. Mandarin Chicken Salad (with Homestyle Chicken Filet)

Baconator

600 Calories, 33g Fat, 1360mg Sodium, 35g Protein

Mandarin Salad

660 Calories, 34g Fat, 1360g Sodium, 28g Protein

And, if you’ve read this far, I assume you have a lot of time to kill, so here’s the nutritional breakdown of my lunch today:

Marie Callender’s Chicken Carbonara

390 Calories, 13g Fat, 780mg Sodium, and 22g Protein, and a whole bunch of vitamins and shit, because it has tomatoes and peas and shit.  …And by “shit” I mean “Parmesan Cheese Power” and “Mesquite Smoke Flavoring.”  And whaddayaknow, it was actually pretty good.

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At Least I Got Chicken

Posted in Uncategorized on March 1st, 2010 by bl1y

A Virginia man is suing McDonald’s after suffering burns from an exploding chicken sandwich.  Unfortunately (for us, not for him) the story isn’t nearly as dramatic as it sounds.  The man bit into a freshly cooked chicken sandwich and hot grease burst out onto his face, burning his lips and face.  He claims that the next morning his lips were blistered and bleeding.

Here’s what might kill his case: he didn’t see a doctor until several months after the incident.  So, it’s unlikely he has a solid evidence of any harm suffered.

This story probably reminds you of the woman who sued Micky D’s for $3 million in 1994 after being burned by coffee she bought at the drive through and then spilled on herself.  (She settled the case for an unspecified smaller amount.)  But, there are some big differences.

First, the extent of the harm.  Liebeck, the coffee lady, was taken to the hospital and it was recorded that she was burned on 16% of her body, with third degree burns on 6%.  The chicken guy appears to have much less severe injuries.

But the bigger difference is going to come in showing negligence.  In the coffee lady case, McDonald’s franchises were instructed to serve coffee at temperatures of 180-190F.  A liquid at that temperature can cause burns severe enough to require a skin graft in just 12 seconds.  That might seem like a long time to respond to spilling coffee, but remember this is coffee coming from the drive through.  You’re buckled into your seat and driving.  Lowering the temperature to 160F almost doubles the time a person has to respond to a spill.

The real kicker in the McDonald’s case though was that McDonald’s knew its coffee was dangerous.  From 1982 to 1992, McDonald’s had received over 700 complaints of burns from coffee, and had settled some claims for over $500,000.  They knew the coffee was dangerously hot and had an easy means of making it safe.

I’ve had several chicken sandwiches explode with hot grease (from Wendy’s, not the D’s).  One way or another, when the chicken is submerged in oil, sometimes the oil collects in a pocket within the chicken.  The chicken insulates the oil, so it keeps its temperature, until the pressure of biting down forces it out.  Not really an explosion, but close enough.  I’ve never been injured by it though, and I’m guessing this guy just got an extremely explosive chicken.

I think when it comes to finding negligence, it’s going to be hard to prove that there was a cost effective way McDonald’s could have eliminated the risk of exploding grease, and that’s what’s going to matter if this goes to trial, which it won’t, because nothing ever does.  How else do you fry chicken except to submerge it in hot grease?

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Why Your Diet Fails

Posted in Dumb Ideas Girls Have on January 14th, 2010 by bl1y

Any time I check my tag surfer, I see some sort of post about people dealing with hunger when trying to diet. A lot of people try using things like Diet Coke either as a replacement for their normal calorie-rich caffeine source, or as a way to fill up their stomachs and stave off hunger.

The problem is they don’t understand how hunger works. Drinking something sweet like Diet Coke will make you more hungry. Your body got hungry and you responded by telling it there is food around. So of course, your hunger doesn’t go away. Human still operate on caveman software, and cavemen needed to gorge to survive because of the risk of not finding food again soon. Once you tell your body food is around it will want to eat until it’s full.

Instead of something flavorful to fill up on, you need to go for low flavor things, like water, black coffee, or unflavored rice cakes. These tell your body that there isn’t anything worth eating, and soon your body will stop sending hunger signals to your brain. And, the less hungry you are, the easier it is to keep to your diet.

If this isn’t making sense, try thinking about hunger as an unattractive guy at a club or a bar. If he comes up and talks to you and you make conversation with him (aka: feed him something empty but tasty), he’ll become more interested and keep wanting to talk to you. But, if you brush him off (give him a rice cake), he’ll realize he’s not getting anywhere and give up.

I don’t plan on making any more posts on dieting in the near future, so I’ll just toss in some odds and ends on this one.

1. Don’t eat anything you don’t know the nutritional contents of. The four big things to look at are calories, fat, carbs, and sodium. Anything packaged has this info printed right on it, and virtually every restaurant has the info available online or on location. Look before you leap. The Arby’s Roast Beef and Swish Market Fresh Sandwich sounds like one of their healthier options, right? 810 calories, 42g of fat, and 1,780mg sodium say otherwise. It’s like eating two Super Roast Beef sandwiches.

2. Pay attention to sodium. Most people just look at calories, fat or carbs, but sodium is the secret diet killer. Too much sodium will make you retain water, and that can lead to quick weight gain. It’s easy to find fast, convenient foods that are low in fat and calories, but they’re usually super high on sodium. A Subway 6-inch double roast beef sub (that’s double the meat; you get a foot-long of meat on a 6-inch roll to save 230 calories) has 360 calories and 7g of fat, but 1,300mg of sodium; that’s way more than half your daily allowance.

3. Sushi is your friend. It’s one of the few things you can find that’s low on sodium (and fat and calories) that you don’t have to cook yourself. Sashimi is better, but you normally don’t eat too much rice with sushi anyways, so it’s not a huge deal. But, you must avoid spicy rolls. The heat comes from a spicy mayo blend, and mayo is a no-no when you’re on a diet. You also need to avoid using soy sauce. One tablespoon contains over 1000mg of sodium, over 40% of what you should consume in a day. Low sodium soy sauce isn’t much better, with over 500mg of sodium, or about 20% of your daily intake. The best option is to find out what fish you like the flavor of and learn to appreciate it.

4. Avoid any extreme diet. Any program that says to cut out a basic nutritional line, like carbs on Atkins, or EVERYTHING on the Master Cleanse is doomed to failure. Your body is a machine and needs fuel to operate. It must have carbs, calories, fat and protein or it will shut down. You will be much better off cutting each of these a small amount than cutting one a lot.

5. Plan your meals ahead of time. It’s easier to limit your portions when you’re not hungry, so plan your meals a good 5-6 hours before you’re going to eat (and stick to it). Whenever possible, set aside what you’re going to have in advance, or write it down. This makes it easier to stick with the plans you made when you weren’t hungry. For snacks and such, each morning try putting your daily limit into a bag or lunchbox and when it’s empty, don’t allow yourself any more snacks that day.

6. Walk. Walking at a leisurely pace for one hour every day will result in half a pound lost per week. This is a great way to add in more exercise when you feel too tired. You’re almost never too tired to put one foot in front of the other. Plus, you don’t need to bother with changing clothes, showering after, or going down to your gym, all of which makes it a low-hassle exercise.

7. Beware of “good fats.” Some fats are definitely better than others, no doubt. But, they’re still fat. Remember, you still have to limit your portions, you want to avoid the “health halo” (the tendency to over eat healthy foods). People at Subway consume on average 350 more calories than people who eat at McDonald’s. Consider that a 6 inch tuna sub contains 530 calories, 31g of fat and 1010mg of sodium, while a quarter-pounder (without cheese) is 410 calories, 19g of fat and 730mg of sodium.

8. Eat slower. It takes time for your stomach to signal your brain that it’s full. The faster you eat, the more unnecessary food is consumed between being full and feeling full. Also, it helps to not go back and forth between different foods. Changing flavors makes us hungrier (again, a result of your body thinking there is more food around). Try to stick with one item until you’re done with it (either finished, or given up).

9. Stand in front of your mirror with your shirt off and jiggle your fat. Do this for at least one full minute three times a week. This won’t sit well with the “love your body” crowd, but accept that while there are things about your body you can love, it’s perfectly fine to have parts of it you want to declare war on. Try not to think of it as a true part of your body, but an infection that’s invaded and must be disposed of. Fat is the Nazis and you’re the Dutch Resistance, not Vichy France.

10. Stop hating skinny girls. It’s incredibly hard to lose weight when you demonize those smaller than you. You don’t have to idolize people who are skinny to the point of it being a health risk, but remind yourself that plenty of people are thin, fit and healthy. When you hate skinny girls you make your size an “us v. them” battle, and as long as “them” is thin, attractive people, you’ll subconsciously prevent yourself from joining their camp. Put the traditional, thin, beautiful women into two camps: people you want to look more like, and people who are irrelevant and you won’t spend any more time thinking about. Too many women use Kate Moss as an excuse to stay fat, thinking that once they start to get thin it’s a slippery slope straight to completely disappearing. But of course that’s horse shit. There’s a sexy middle ground to be found (though, it’s far thinner than where the average weight is, so don’t use that as your metric).

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