March 9, 2006

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Concord Publisher's Note: Fat free or die
By Dan Szczesny

Concord Hospital made news recently by revamping its cafeteria menu.

Starting next month, gone will be fried foods, ice cream, tater tots, and other so-called “unhealthy” choices. They’ll be replaced by items such as whole-wheat pizza crust, baked fries, sorbet, and so on.

First reaction: How dare they! Taking away tater tots from hungry employees and homesick patients alike—where will it end? Will airlines now start serving their captive audience of passengers healthy food only? (Actually, the question is whether or not airlines will ever serve any food of any kind anymore.)

Don’t people have the right to choose anything for themselves anymore? This is New Hampshire, where the license plates say “Live Free or Die,” not “Fat Free or Die.” They took our highway tokens away, but we still ought to be free to make pigs of ourselves!

Plus, there are good financial reasons to not pull the plug on artery-clogging fare. Hospital cafeterias function as money-generators for parent companies, which usually try to maximize revenue by giving employees and patients what they crave: cheeseburgers, shakes, onion rings and candy bars.

Take away the junk food, and you’ll take away revenue that keeps other costs down, thus causing the price of health care to rise for all, whether we eat bran or bacon for breakfast.

Also, it’s possible that rather than helping anyone, Concord Hospital’s new “healthier” cafeteria will create an artificial environment that makes employees and patients more tempted to indulge in the real world, where highways are lined with outlets for McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken and so on.

After picking at salads in the Concord Hospital cafeteria all day, how will patrons be able to resist the temptation of the Golden Arches or the giant revolving bucket of chicken? After a long day of nothing but Melba toast and sprouts, will a Concord Hospital employee driving home be more or less likely to swing into a drive-thru?

OK, let’s be serious: It’s actually quite a daring thing for a hospital to revamp its cafeteria to feature healthier but inevitably less popular items. That’s not because of the reasons listed above, but because Americans are so mired in high-fat diets and lousy eating habits that you have to wonder if we’ll ever really change.

Even after generations of education, and with new information coming out all the time about how our diet and lack of exercise are killing us, people aren’t changing. We still drive everywhere rather than walk, we still choose the cheeseburger instead of the salad, we still watch TV instead of actually going out and living a real life.

Concord Hospital’s decision to take a stand at the frontier of the cafeteria is brave in the sense that it’s better to light one candle than curse the darkness. For one thing, it might indeed cost the parent company money, in terms of lower sales and a less popular cafeteria overall.

But will it make a difference? People aren’t likely to respond well to a “we know what’s best for you” menu, but time will tell.

Tater tot fans shouldn’t look at this move and ask “where will it end?” Instead, they ought to look at the hospital’s example and ask, “Is this where I can begin?”

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