Sunday, January 22, 2012

Should restaurants have to provide an ingredients list when asked?

Other than rush hour traffic (sigh), I love living in my busy little community of West Los Angeles. Located near Sawtelle Ave. and Olympic Blvd., the area I live in is a "Little Tokyo" area of sorts. There are many sushi, noodle houses and kushiyaki restaurants, artsy boutiques, a cool little Japanese coffee place where they roast their beans in-house, and a touristy knick-knack store with oodles of Hello Kitty goodies.  Normally when my digestive and immune system aren't failing me (like it currently is) I'd be slurping up a bowl of soba noodles or eating some beef satay. But sadly, many private eateries will not divulge their ingredients, even to someone like me who has a dietary reason. Others are just not knowledgable in dietary needs.

There is a popular boba tea establishment in my neighborhood - Volcano Tea House, where I discovered their yummy milk tea drinks with boba (tapioca balls). I've always had a liking for green tea, especially ice cream, but I find these teas to be addictive. When I first discovered this place I was coming 2-3 times a week. And at about $4 per drink, its not a cheap habit! But the more I have become educated in nutrition, I started questioning everything I was putting into my body.

So today my fiance - who is unfortunately pent-up in our apartment due to a complicated foot surgery,  resulting in a large cast and the need for pain killers - asked me to walk across the street and grab him a boba milk tea. Since he's not having much fun for the next several weeks (try more like 8-12) I'd do anything to put a smile on his face right now. So I jotted across the street to pick a few up. We order ours with just the milk tea mix, boba and ice.They usually add a simple syrup which I find to be sickeningly sweet, so I ask them to make it without the sugar.

While I was there, I remembered reading Food Babe's blog yesterday (posted on Food Renegade's Fight Back Fridays blog)  about a yogurt store called Yoforia she visited, and how they were marketing the use of organic ingredients. She asked for the ingredients in the store and several times via email, all with resistance. So it got me thinking - I wanted to see if this establishment - which by the way, is not a mom and pop store; Volcano Tea has locations in Monterey Park, Brea, Garden Grove, Las Vegas and West LA - provide a list of their ingredients.

Nope. No ingredient listing.

Of course this was according to the cashier, who was about 20 years of age, not really interested in my question and more interested in singing along to Lady Gaga's Bad Romance. I told her that most food establishments to my knowledge, are encouraged (although not required) to have ingredients available when asked, especially for those with allergies or food intolerances. She raised her eyebrows and asked me where I heard that from. I told her to check out the FDA website. She said she would speak with the manager about this, and I told her I would come back later to find out management's response.

When I returned home, I visited the Food and Drug Administration's website. I found this page, which provides "guidance" recommendations about ingredient listings for food establishments. In short, the FDA at this time does not require full nutrition labeling. However, if the establishment is making a claim, such as "low-fat," then those ingredients have to be available to support the claim.

I don't believe, to my recollection, that Volcano Tea House is making any health claims. But, out of consideration for their customers well-being, having ingredients available would show they care and also support their product. I know many people would also appreciate this. But then, most people don't stop to think what they are putting in their bodies on a daily basis.

In the case of Yoforia on Food Babe's blog, Yoforia was posting "Organic Tastes Better" all over their stores. Sadly, they will probably get away with this because they aren't specifically stating that ALL of their ingredients are organic, nor are they saying they don't use other ingredients known to be unhealthy. In many cases like this, people fall for marketing ploys and believe it is a healthy product. If you read Food Babe's blog, you will find out that this frozen yogurt also included many artificial ingredients and hydrogenated fats. I know I used to believe something was healthy when I saw a package stating it had a large amount of whole grains or it was "heart healthy."  Nowadays that has changed.  Especially with the most recent and personally disturbing (in my opinion) marketing campaign of changing the name of "high-fructose corn syrup" to "corn sugar." I could go on and on about why I think this is deceiving, but I'll save it for another blog.

For me, the point of writing this particular blog is to spread awareness of how manufacturers, restaurants and fast-food establishments can market their products in a less-than truthful way to gain consumers. It is a business, after all, and are in it for one thing most of the time: to make money. It is up to each individual to think and ask questions.

If you are health-conscious, are truly believe you are what you eat, then you are probably like me and believe you have a right to know what is in your food.  If businesses don't provide this information when asked, I  personally will go elsewhere. After all, what is there to hide? If we all continue to do this, hopefully our demands will be heard and the world will change along with our need for a more health-conscious environment.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this issue.  Do you believe restaurants should be required to provide nutritional information?  Why or why not?


  1. Greetings,

    Thanks for the post. I came across it while searching Google for "are restaurants required to provide ingredients."

    I am in a similar situation as I recently emailed a local restaurant who didn't want to provide ingredient information through email. The person said they would be willing to meet with me and give me a tour of the prep kitchen, but that ingredients for some products they serve can't be given. Of course I find this ridiculous and share your view that I should have the right to know what I'm eating. So I've added this place to my "do not eat here" list.


  2. Talk about serendipity - I was Googling "paleo crackers" and yours was one of the first hits! I'm in Santa Monica and am looking forward to reading your archives, as I am also gluten/dairy/sugar-free.

    Being both celiac AND fructose-intolerant, I think all restaurants should be required to provide ingredients when asked. I find that 99% of the time, when I ask I'm either met with resistance ("we can't give that information out") or cluelessness ("no, it doesn't have wheat in it - wait, is flour wheat?") so I've taken to only eating out when absolutely no other choice is offered to me.

    However - I had the most delightful dining experience at, of all places, the cafeteria at the UCLA Medical Center last week. I asked if something had wheat in it, and I was handed a printout of the ingredients and the exact recipe! It was one of the best meals I've eaten in recent memory, in part because I knew I could enjoy it without paying for it later on in the form of gastro distress.

    So - yeah. More restaurants should follow this model!

  3. Glad to read someone else shining the light on a major causal factor of American public health epidemic! Keep up the good work!

  4. Anonymous - Thanks for the compliment! Food education is a real passion of mine.

    janeray - It is so frustrating when someone in the food industry is clueless about the products they are supposed to represent. That is great to know about UCLA. I hope more medical institutions follow suit, because that is where there should be more focus on nutrition.