As some states have made calorie information on the menu mandatory, many national chains have instituted such policies across the board. Burger King is one of those chains, with each item on the menu board bearing an estimated calorie count. What studies are beginning to show, though, is that no one cares. Instituting mandatory calorie labeling hasn’t lead to people making different choices. To my mind, this makes perfect sense. I walked in to Burger King wanting a double whopper with cheese, and that’s what I was going to leave with. The fact that the menu board informed me I was about to consume about a thousand calories didn’t sway me.
The information may not have moved me, but it did stick in my head. As I ate the sandwich I considered the number over and over again, constantly comparing it to what I was eating. I have no problem eating a thousand calorie sandwich. Some back-of-the-envelope math had the kimchi grilled cheese I made at close to 1000 calories, and had I included bacon it surely would have gone a ways past 1000. So it wasn’t the size of the number that was needling me, but simply the number in comparison to the sandwich. Because above all else, what struck me about the Burger King Double Whopper with Cheese was how insubstantial it was. The patties aren’t particularly thick. The bun isn’t tremendously fluffy, large, dense or really anything at all. There’s no sea of mayo, it’s only a few slices of cheese at most, but somehow you end up with a sandwich where there’s nothing there. The lettuce and tomato are lost in the mayo, what little flavor the beef has is lost in the cheese, but the beef is really very dry so the texture of the beef overwhelms everything else. The bun is quickly compressed to almost nothing, and just like that you’re left picking sesame seeds out of your teeth, having consumed a few slices of cheese and a helping of mayonnaise. And for this you’ve paid 1000 calories. The last time I brought up calorie count on this blog was over two years ago, in discussing a sandwich at Panera Bread. “You only get to eat so much in this life,” I said. “There’s no reason to waste 1000 calories on this sandwich.” In that case, it was that 1000 calories were wasted in the service of a borderline lousy sandwich. In this case, though, I think the sin is greater. It’s one thing to waste 1000 calories on a bad sandwich, but quite another to waste them on nothing at all.