Is Fast Food Tasty When You Know the Caloric Toll?

Fast food restaurants in New York will start getting fined Friday if they don't post nutrition information. We talk to Times Square restaurant-goers about whether they still have an appetite for that five-piece fried chicken meal once they can see the calorie count.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

In New York, a new city law is requiring chain restaurants to post the calorie counts of all their menu items. If you don't do it by midnight tonight, you can get fined. NPR's Robert Smith went out this morning to see how New Yorkers are dealing with the new caloric reality.

ROBERT SMITH: It's hard enough standing in line at Starbucks in the morning. You're bleary-eyed. The line is long here in New York City. But now, at least there's something you can do while you're waiting. You can look at all of the different calorie counts, and you can even play the calorie-count game. I'm here with Chantal Henry (ph) from Brooklyn.

Ms. CHANTAL HENRY (Resident, Brooklyn, New York): Yes.

SMITH: What do you think has more calories? The banana nut loaf or the rainbow cookie?

Ms. HENRY: Banana.

SMITH: The banana nut loaf actually does have 460 calories and the rainbow cookie 420 calories.

Ms. HENRY: Mm-hm.

SMITH: Does this change the way you shop? Does this change what you buy at Starbucks every morning?

Ms. HENRY: Yes. I just will cut down, cut down a little, because I usually have Starbucks every day.

SMITH: She looks so bummed out, that I don't point up that her caramel frappuccino is 380 calories. So, I go across the street to McDonald's, and I ran into a very trim...

Ms. RONI HANSEN (Resident, Bergenfield, New Jersey): Roni (ph) Hansen from Bergenfield, New Jersey.

SMITH: You're here in McDonald's. What did you have for breakfast?

Ms. HANSEN: Oh, yeah, what'd I have? A McMuffin.

SMITH: Now, the surprising thing, when you actually see the McDonald's menu, is that the Egg McMuffin, which is the symbol of terrible fast-food morning breakfast, is in fact:...

Ms. HANSEN: The least amount. I noticed that.

SMITH: It is the lowest-calorie thing on the menu.

Ms. HANSEN: I know, because I was going to get the burritos, and they were higher, and I said, ah, I'm going to go with the Egg McMuffin.

SMITH: So, already, this is changing your behavior. On just the first day they're doing this, it's changing your behavior.

Ms. HANSEN: Sure, definitely. I'm definitely looking to make sure I don't put on extra weight.

SMITH: Come on. On your birthday, do you want someone to serve you a slice of birthday cake and say, oh, by the way, happy birthday, it's 782 calories?

Ms. HANSEN: No. But if you don't want to know, you don't have to look.

SMITH: That is the strategy employed by Lonnie General (ph) sitting at the next table. He's eating...

Mr. LONNIE GENERAL (McDonald's Customer): Baked-egg-and-cheese breakfast meal.

SMITH: Did you even look at how many calories that is up there?

Mr. GENERAL: Nope. I don't care.

SMITH: Well, luckily I wrote it down. That's 660 calories. That's one of the highest calorie items on the entire menu.

Mr. GENERAL: I'll take a bite out of that.

SMITH: Is it delicious? Is it simply delicious?

Mr. GENERAL: Yes, it is. The government needs to minds its own damn business. Let people live their life the way they want to live their life, in a nutshell.

SMITH: For those New Yorkers who don't want a shot of nutritional reality in the morning, there is an alternative, a loophole in the law, you see, it only applies to chain restaurants. If you're a mom-and-pop independent store, you do not have to post the calorie counts, so you can do what I did this morning which was, when the line of Starbucks was too long, I went over to my local coffee cart.

I'd like a regular cup of coffee, cream and sugar, and a raisin bran muffin. Do you know how many calories are in that bran muffin?

Unidentified Man: I don't know.

SMITH: You don't know. So, I should just eat it and be happy.

Unidentified Man: Yeah. Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Man: Yeah, just like that (unintelligible).

SMITH: I guess it's truly a guilt-free breakfast. Robert Smith, NPR News, in Time Square.

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