By Larry Levine –

Not too long ago Table Talk published an article that asked if the great chef’s of the world are trying to kill us by over-salting the food they serve. We pointed not just to the salt in the food itself but also to the growing fad of adding salt as a garnish to provide texture to a finished dish.

Now comes L.A. Times reporter Sharon Bernstein and a February 2, 2011, article headed “Big Burgers Still Rule.” The piece is written in the immediate wake of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s latest report urging people to cut down on their calories, fat and sodium. The article deals not with the upscale restaurants we discussed in our earlier piece, but with the fast food industry that is pushing lethal food products on the public just as surely as the shadowy figure on a dark street corner pushes drugs on the addicted.

Bernstein opens with an absolutely outrageous quote from Beth Mansfield, spokeswoman for CKE Restaurants Inc., which owns the Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s chains. Says Mansfield: “The bottom line is we’re in the business of making money off of what we sell. If we wanted to listen to the food police and sell nuts and berries and tofu burgers, we wouldn’t make any money and we’d be out of business.”

With an attitude like that they deserve to be out of business. It’s nothing less than “let ‘em eat cake.” No one is telling them to sell nuts and berries, just cut down on the crap you are shoving down the gullets of people everywhere with your multi-million dollar advertising campaigns. The only difference between you and the pusher on the corner is you can advertise on television.  

I’d impose a personal boycott of Carl’s Jr. and Hardees based on the attitude reflected in the Mansfield quote, except I never eat at either place anyway.

Illustrations accompanying Bernstein’s article point out the Footlong Cheeseburgers at Carl’s Jr. and Hardees contain 2,490 mg of sodium, the All-American Jack sold at Jack in the Box contains 1,510 mg of sodium; the Stuffed Steakhouse at Burger King weighs in with 1,250 mg of sodium and the Beefy Crunch Burrito Meal and Taco Bell registers 3,000 mg of sodium. Want to exceed the recommended daily level of sodium intake in just one meal, these will do it for you, or get you very close. You know that cute guy with the Styrofoam head you see on TV so often, he’s hell bent on killing you.

The numbers cited in the Bernstein article are a long way from nuts and berries, Ms. Mansfield. You and your colleagues are pushing hypertension, obesity and heart attacks on the public all in the name of your holy bottom line. More people are addicted to your legal poisons than all the illegal drug users in the nation.

But there’s another sad aspect to the Mansfield quote: the public doesn’t seem to give a damn about what they are eating. Mrs. Mansfield’s precious bottom line is constructed $3 and $5 at a time from people who pushed up the KFC bottom line last year in a frenzied rush to ingest the Double-Down, made of two fried chicken patties with bacon and two kinds of cheese stuffed inside. The high cost of health care in the U.S. starts at the order line in fast food joints like KFC.

Jane Hurley, nutritionist at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, asks in the Bernstein article: “Remember when the Big Mac was considered the bad burger? Now it’s the diet alternative to some of these (other) items.”

One final excerpt from the Bernstein article: “One barrier to making fast food more healthful is consumer preference for items with strong flavors, which often means adding high levels of salt and sugar, said Steve Sather, president of El Pollo Loco Inc.”

Bullcrap. I guess you can make bullcrap taste good with enough salt and sugar. And that’s just what the fast food industry is trying to do.

I cook at home a lot and I use virtually no salt or sugar. You see, there’s this stuff called herbs and spices. Let me spell it for you Ms. Mansfield and Mr. Sather: H-E-R-B-S, S-P-I-C-E-S. They are full of flavor and they don’t cause obesity, hypertension, or heart disease. Of course, they may be a bit more costly than salt and sugar, and there’s that matter of the bottom line again. I’m no health food messiah. I just believe we can eat well and healthfully at the same time.  

So, Ms. Mansfield and Mr. Sather, go ahead and go out of business. You’d be doing all of us a favor. Your so-called food police are part of the regulatory process that is trying to protect the public from you. They are the regulators that you and your political allies want to eliminate and your goal really isn’t less government, it’s greater profits.

As for Sharon Bernstein and the L.A. Times, “Brava”.

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