Gut Check ain't exactly nostalgic for the good ol' days of the George W. Bush administration. Still, a phrase that Dubya once used has stuck with us over the years: "the soft bigotry of low expectations." He was talking about education, but you can apply it to all sorts of things.
Like, say, the hoopla surrounding Darden Restaurants' announcement that it would cut the calorie count in the food served in its chains
-- Red Lobster, Olive Garden and Longhorn Steakhouse among them -- by 20 percent over the next ten years.Michelle Obama
, who has made healthier eating the hallmark of her time as first lady, hailed the announcement
as a "breakthrough moment in the restaurant industry."
Seriously? This is what passes for a "breakthrough moment" these days?
Now, there's nothing wrong with Darden Restaurants reducing the calories and sodium in the food at Olive Garden, Red Lobster, et al. Quite the opposite. Olive Garden's "Steak Gorgonzola Alfredo," to take an extreme example, currently clocks in
at 1,310 calories and 2,190 milligrams of sodium. Heck, even a measly Olive Garden breadstick has 150 calories and 400 milligrams of sodium. (That's assuming you don't interpret "unlimited breadsticks" literally, of course.)
Of course, "healthier" food doesn't mean healthy food. Reduce the calories and sodium by 20 percent, and you still have a "Steak Gorgonzola Alfredo" with about 1,050 calories and 1,750 milligrams of sodium.
Really, though, these dishes' healthiness or lack thereof is beside the point. What's galling is that anyone -- let alone Michelle Obama, who planted an organic garden on the White House grounds, after all -- would hail such a gesture as a "breakthrough moment."
It feels more like a capitulation, an acknowledgment that we, as a nation, are powerless to think for ourselves. Of course, we
can't be expected to exercise the self-control necessary to eat out less often or order healthier menu items or not finish the entire portion. Instead, we require a major corporation to make our bad choices slightly less bad.
And when that corporation does just that, we fall over ourselves commending them.
I'm a restaurant critic. I eat for a living, and I encourage other people to eat. Often, the food I celebrate is high in calories and fat. I try to practice moderation and portion control. When I fail -- and I do, more frequently than I'd prefer -- I blame no one but myself.
I take back what I wrote above. It's not galling that the first lady called Darden Restaurants' announcement a "breakthrough." It's just sad.