If Dunkin’ Donuts was a fatal virus, the city of Philadelphia would be on its deathbed. In the train station beneath City Hall, there are no less than three of them. You can see which one has the shortest line and go there. And that’s not counting at least two or three more within a four-block radius. If you are in one Philadelphia-area Dunkin Donuts, I practically guarantee that you can take a deep breath, hold it, and walk to the next one before you run out of oxygen. You get the picture.
The problem with this is that while I run around downtown, I am constantly bombarded by the suggestion that a Dunkin’ Donuts cookie or muffin is the perfect everyday afternoon pick-me-up. Most of the time I resist, but occasionally I used to give in. What’s one cookie to tide me over til dinner?
Over one fourth of the total calories I’m supposed to consume in an entire day, apparently.
In 2010, the City of Philadelphia took it upon itself to put the kibosh on my snacking inclinations, requiring any chain restaurant or retail food establishment with more than fifteen locations nationwide to post calorie counts on their menu boards. I still remember the first time I backed out of a City Hall Dunkin’ Donuts in a haze of shock, having learned that the chocolate chunk cookie has 540 calories. For reference, a serving of Häagen Daz chocolate ice cream has 260 calories (don’t ask why that information is so easy to come by at my house).
Since then, I’ve lived in a fog of shame and haven’t purchased a Dunkin’ Donuts cookie from that day to this (I’m sure this is why large food retailers love laws like Philadelphia’s).
It took awhile before I could look pastries in the face. But last week, over two years since the labeling law went into effect, I visited the pastry shelves of the Au Bon Pain, which, apparently undeterred by the infestation of Dunkin’ Donutses, has taken up residence in the train station. (The popularity of a chain called “Au Bon Pain” somehow gives me a tiny bit of hope for an American populace constantly derided for its linguistic ignorance. The fact that Au Bon Pain is usually full of customers makes me think that Americans have figured out that pain doesn’t mean the same thing in French as it does in English).
Of course cookies and croissants would be out of the question. But maybe a sensible muffin would do for a snack.
For old times’ sake, I looked at the croissants, sitting like convicts beyond visiting-room glass.
It’s a dreary life, choosing the Carrot Nut or Raisin Bran Muffin over these.
Wait a minute.
Now you just hold on here!
What the @#$% is going on here?
I reeled out of Au Bon Pain empty-handed. Is there no tasty item, easily and cheaply purchased with a minimum of caloric guilt, to sustain me between meetings??
By this week, the revelation had begun to sink in, and as I arrived at a downtown coffee shop for a morning meeting, I became aware of the true role of calorie labeling in my life.
A Carrot Nut Muffin has 560 calories, while a Raspberry Cheese Croissant has 370.
These things are all relative, aren’t they?