Accidental Activist

Small Jump From Pad Thai to Cinnamon Buns

How we are supposed to live a healthy life when even our more reputable dinner joints are serving us fat-, sugar-, salt- and carcinogen-laden fodder?

By Ben Bull
Published March 09, 2010

A couple of years ago, on my way to the Formula 1 race in Indianapolis, I stopped at an Appleby's Restaurant in the middle of a car park just outside Cleveland. What I saw inside weighed me down. You know those moments that are captured in your brain like a photograph? I'm looking at one now:

There's a lady - a very large lady - sat across from her generously rounded husband. The two of them have just finished a Steak and Fries main. They are staring at a pair of humongous cinnamon buns which the waitress has just plonked down in front of them.

The lady is emptying a bottle of syrup all over her bun. Squirt, plop, squirt...round and round it goes, up and down, zig and zag. Mmmm...


Like most memorable pictures this one has a message beyond the lens. The lady appears lost, melancholy, alone. It's as if she doesn't want to be there, with him, eating all that food. I remember the two of them never spoke a word throughout the whole meal. Even the waitress was silent.


I remember wanting to ask the lady: Why are you eating all that crap? Why do you need sugar on top of your sugar? I wanted to yell: Stop!

I saw a lot of weird things on that trip. At the circuit, waves of waddling Americans clutching hotdogs, cans of coke, Slushies or Budweisers. Everyone was holding something. It was as if they were worried they would fall over if they weren't held upright by something drinkable or edible.

I remember the quaint little food signs, like the one hanging over the Souvlaki stand: 'Meat on a stick'.

This excursion came back to me today after my wife showed me a little snippet from the Toronto Star. Every week the Star analyzes a dish from a local restaurant or fast food place.

Normally the health statistics relate to the usual junk food suspects, burgers, breakfast biscuits - something beginning with 'Mc'. And normally the stats are pretty grim.

Today's dish though, was a relatively posh affair - Pad Thai from Spring Rolls.

Here are the stats:

Pad Thai

Recommended daily allowance (Men/Women)

Two days' worth of sodium and almost a whole day's worth of calories - in one meal!

As I read this I got angry. How we are supposed to live a healthy life, I wondered, when even our more reputable dinner joints are serving us this fodder. Isn't anyone looking out for our interests?

My wife struggles with her weight. So, it seems, does half the planet. More than half of America is obese.

While it is common knowledge, I hope, that anything that takes less than three minutes to take out is probably not the healthiest fare, the amount of crap contained in some of our supposedly 'healthier' dishes - Pad Thai? Noodles? What could be less fattening? - is worrying indeed.

Same goes for packaged food. How many countless hours have you wasted scouring the labels in the supermarket, only to have to throw half the stuff back on the shelf? That '50% less fat' label doesn't tell the whole story. 'Low in sodium'? High in carbs.

And don't get me started on carcinogens. How is that we can know about the effects of these additives and yet do nothing to remove them?

Whenever I'm feeling paunchy or shielding my wife's eyes from the digital readout on the bathroom scale, I think back to the Appleby's lady and wonder: If only it were that simple.

Ben Bull lives in downtown Toronto. He's been working on a book of short stories for about 10 years now and hopes to be finished tomorrow. He also has a movie blog.


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By arienc (registered) | Posted March 09, 2010 at 10:18:15

One question though..have you ever seen the plates of pad thai from Spring Rolls? They're huge. A single order could easily (and should, really) feed 2.

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted March 09, 2010 at 10:43:12

Huge portions are part of the problem. Of course Canada's got nothing on America for portion sizes!

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 09, 2010 at 11:18:51

I'm also guessing that the quality of calories from well-prepared Pad Thai is better than a cinnamon bun. And yes, who sits down and eats an entire plate of Pad Thai by themselves??

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By JM (registered) | Posted March 09, 2010 at 12:41:57

...i've never been able to finish a plate of Pad Thai

i guess thats a good thing!

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By old boy (anonymous) | Posted March 11, 2010 at 17:33:10

In days long gone from my Scottish homeland, my mother preached, to me and my siblings, never to enter a restaurant where the tables didn't display a white tablecloth and proper settings, and never, never to eat in any establishment where sauce bottles and condiments were left on the table. Social graces from another era and which I no longer uphold, unless at fine dining establishments, but I do have now have one edict of my own, not to eat in places where there are fat food servers. My earlier traditional behaviour has lapsed but not so my older sister, visiting me from the UK last year we were set to dine in a fine room when she noticed the young teenager, in a family at the next table, was wearing a baseball cap. In matronly fashion she asked hime to remove it and scolded the parents for allowing it. My wife and I were looking for an escape route but I suddenly realized that I too was offended by the lack of social grace being shown by this ill-mannered young man and I thought good for her, good upbring always shines through.

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