Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Into My Pints this Winter

I have been into my pints this winter. And I don't mean beers, although I may have had one or two of those. I mean ice cream, pints of ice cream. Here is the pint count:

Americone Dream (Stephen Colbert's)Ben & Jerry's6
Caramel ConeHaagen-Dazs5
Karamel SutraBen & Jerry's2
Strawberry CheesecakeBen & Jerry's1
Dulce de Leche CaramelHaagen-Dazs1
Rum RaisinHaagen-Dazs1

Strawberry is my clear favorite. That's a long story. My grandfather turned me onto strawberry floats. Often these were vanilla ice cream with strawberry pop poured over the top. But the ultimate was strawberry pop with strawberry ice cream. If you have only had root beer floats, you just haven't lived.

A strawberry float when I was a youngster working on a hot Iowa farm day was easy calories to burn off. As a city dweller with a desk job, I have to work a little harder. In the winter, that the best strategy is to skip the pop and have the ice cream in lieu of a meal.

I got reacquainted with strawberry ice cream this past summer on a bicycle trip through Begium and the Netherlands. Turns out they brought back strawberries from the new world and planted them there. You can get better strawberries (and better strawberry ice cream) than here in New England (almost but not quite up to Iowa snuff). Very easy to pedal off.

Back to my pints. The calorie count per serving of ice cream doesn't sound so bad. Only 250 calories. OK, that includes 140 calories from fat. But for a pint of ice cream, the nutrition label says there are 4 servings per container. The reality is I am going to eat the whole pint at one sitting, so that is 1000 calories. That's about half the calories an adult needs for a day. A meal, the main meal of the day, an ice cream dinner.

Now here is where the marketing ethics comes in. The Ben & Jerry's containers are a full pint, 16 fluid ounces (473ml). The Haagen-Dazs containers are only 14 fluid ounces (414ml). Same exact $4.99 price. Either way that's not bad for an full course dinner.

But why am I buying Haagen-Dazs when I could be buying Ben & Jerry's and getting more for the same price? True, I like the Haagen-Dazs strawberry but Ben & Jerry's has a pretty good strawberry flavor too. The real reason is that I get 12.5% less with Haagen-Dazs and that means a container with 125 fewer calories. Over 33 containers that's 4125 calories, or the same as not eating for 2 days.

Frankly, I would probably buy a 12 ounce container or a 10 ounce container if I could. And that is true of a lot of food products, particularly serving portions in restaurants. If I could get 20% to 25% less, I would.

It's harder than you think. My favorite lunch in Harvard Square is the hot meal counter at Pronto. They scoop into a container, so you think they could easily downsize the portion size on request. But I have spent 3 years without success trying to train them not to top off the container. It's so ingrained that even when I shout "stop" they keep scooping the food in.

I have noticed that because of the recession or rising commodity prices or the desire to make a profit, Dorito's has made the $.99 bag of chips smaller. I think that's great, because again I am always going to eat the whole bag.

What we need in this country is a consumer willingness to pay more per unit for smaller portion sizes. That way Food Inc. can still make its profits, and I can lose weight. Think about that the next time you shop at Costco.

Club Passim in Harvard Square has done this with success. The Veggie Planet portion sizes used to be huge, and a lot of people regularly got doggy bags. Which just makes more work for the waitresses. I of course would eat the whole meal and skip breakfast the next day (OK, sometimes I would skip breakfast).

Now Passim has the same menu but with a smaller portion choice, which is what I now always order. And sometimes a beer, which they didn't have before. My final check is often more. See how that works, corporate America.

Still I must admit that I have been a little to into my pints this winter. So I am going to cut them out for now. Since Lent starts today, I will give them up for Lent. And thank the Catholics for that.

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