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May 13 2015

Josh Barro's Lesson in Economics and Healthy Eating

Julie Gunlock

Josh Barro’s latest piece in The New York Times is must read not just for useful tips on how to eat healthy in chain restaurants and for the beautiful photography accompanying the article but for a lesson in why free markets work.

Barro acknowledges that many chain and fast food restaurants—like McDonalds and Chipotle--don’t focus on health (and perhaps they shouldn’t be expected to, right?). Filling this void is a whole new group of restaurants—the type of place that I like to call “good food fast.”  Barrow writes (emphasis mine):

There’s another, albeit smaller, rising group of restaurants with menus that are both tasty and healthy. These chains include Chop’t, Lyfe Kitchen, Maoz Vegetarian, Modmarket and Native Foods Cafe. At these, you can often eat a meal that has a reasonable number of calories, and a nice array of nutrients, without thinking too hard. Sweetgreen, which makes the grain bowl you see above, got its start in Washington, from three Georgetown students frustrated by the existing restaurant scene.

We expect these kinds of restaurants will continue spreading, perhaps beyond the largest metro areas, as more Americans look for ways to eat right.

Barro’s got it right. These healthier restaurants will grow because Americans want healthier food; they’re demanding healthier choices. And businesses are more than happy to comply.

This might explain McDonalds’ and other traditional fast food restaurants’ eagerness to test new products, introduce new and fresher-looking items to their menus, and provide consumers with choices beyond the standard fast food fare.

Of course, there are those who are still clamoring about the evils of fast food and the need to regulate or somehow restrict restaurants that provide consumers with…you know, things that taste good (the NERVE!). But as Barro’s piece beautifully illustrates, government action really isn’t necessary because the market will take care of this. If Americans’ eating habits and taste preferences are indeed changing (and I firmly believe they are), then enterprising businessmen and hungry entrepreneurs will feed this demand—literally—by creating restaurants that serve healthy and affordable food prepared quickly.

There’s no need for South Los Angeles-style bans on fast food restaurants, Bloombergian soda taxes, and government mandates for calorie postings because consumers will simply stop going to restaurants that don’t meet their demands for healthier food. Read Barros whole piece here.

Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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