Nina in New York: The Garden State Diet (No Garden Salads!)
This column originally ran on April 26, 2011. With resident columnist Nina Pajak on vacation for two weeks, we’re taking a look back at her most popular rants.
By Nina Pajak
This weekend, I took a little road trip which mainly brought us through New Jersey. And on the various stops we made along the way, I discovered a wonderful thing: All the fast food at the rest stops seemed to be entirely free of calories.
Normally, I enter a commercial restaurant chain and am immediately crestfallen to see that anything remotely appetizing would account for a day and a half worth of caloric content. I’m faced with the choice between the most inedible item on the menu or consuming something that would leave me with an insidious guilt which no number of future penitent salads can dissolve. So I usually just sort of stomp around miserably while my husband casually downs a crispy chicken bacon cheese whatever, staring wistfully at the board and knowing I’m better off with nothing at all.
I have developed a love-hate relationship with the nutritional display rules in New York. As a lifelong calorie counter, I was incredibly excited at first. Finally, someone was making my hobby that much easier—and legitimate. Plus, it was enlightening in many ways. As sad and annoying as it was to have some of my favorite things exposed as surprising calorie bombs, I was grateful for the knowledge. It allowed me to make smarter choices, and I am all for better public nutritional education and understanding.
Sure, people may still choose to consume a triple decker mayonnaise burger with fried chicken in place of bread, or a fried sausage pizza with mozzarella-stick-stuffed crust, but at least now they know (or ought to know) what they’re getting themselves into. On the other hand, those who are like me can never enjoy said items ever again. The fun has been successfully eradicated. Even when I’m in a restaurant that isn’t obligated to display the stats, I can’t help but know that they’re missing. And in many cases, that someone has them in some back room, burning a hole in a drawer until some jerk like me gets all pushy and asks to see them.
But in New Jersey, magical New Jersey, there is no chance of ever knowing. They are not under any obligation to post anything! So, much like an item in a store that is missing a price, everything is zero! It’s the best diet ever. There, diners are released from the burden of knowing that we ought to know, because they’re just not gonna tell us. Counting calories there is like weighing yourself on the moon. Milkshake in Manhattan? 1,000 calories! Get your butt to the gym. Milkshake in NJ? That’s right, zero. Bucket of chicken in Brooklyn? Close to 2,000 fat ones! In Jersey? Nonezo. I think I’m going to start eating in Hoboken more often. Which is to say, sometimes. I’ll have to revise my anti bridge-and-tunnel policy, but that’s a small price to pay for freedom.
Do you find it helpful to have the nutrition facts posted at your favorite restaurant? Or would you rather not know how many calories you’re consuming? Sound off in the comments…
Dear Readers: While I am rarely at a loss for words, I’m always grateful for column ideas. Please feel free to e-mail me your suggestions.
Nina Pajak is a writer and publishing professional living with her husband on the Upper West Side.
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