Shame on you, restaurants

fortune-cookies-354525_1280Today I went out to lunch with some friends from work. We went to a Chinese restaurant. The menu featured the usual Chinese restaurant fare — you know, lo mein, egg rolls, beef and broccoli, General Tso’s chicken, etc.

One section of the menu featured some appealing options. You could choose from chicken, shrimp or scallops. Then pick three veggies — choices included mushrooms, bell peppers, baby corn, carrots, snow peas and many more. Have it all steamed or stir-fried, with a choice of rice (fried, white, brown).

Sounds great, right?

Until you see that the heading for this section of the menu is DIET SPECIAL.

It gave me a slight pause upon ordering (chicken, bell peppers, broccoli and asparagus, steamed, with brown rice, thank you). But then the more I thought about it for the rest of the day, I was the one who was steamed.

Why not call this section HEALTHY OPTIONS? Or HEALTHY CHOICES? Or FRESH CHOICES? Or anything other than DIET SPECIAL? Dubbing it as such adds an unnecessary sheen of shame to the ordering process. Do I need to be on a diet if I’m ordering from that section of the menu? Should I feel like a glutton if I order from the non-diet special section of the menu? Why categorize it with a scolding spin?

Because the thing is, choosing to eat lean protein and fresh veggies, prepared in a healthy way (e.g., steamed, sautéed, broiled) and accompanied by a whole grain (such as brown rice), shouldn’t be considered a DIET SPECIAL. Or any form of dieting, for that matter. It should be the way we eat the majority of the time. There’s not really a need for dieting when one eats whole foods in as close to their original state as possible. And there’s no need to categorize it as such.

When I hear “diet special,” I think of diner throwbacks like an ice-cream-scoop-shaped heap of tuna salad with cottage cheese on a lettuce leaf. I think of a meal that’s more of a chore because clearly, by its categorizing, it probably isn’t tempting nor appealing. It doesn’t sound at all rewarding or pleasurable.

I don’t know about you, but when faced with myriad choices on a restaurant menu, I sometimes have a hard time making the healthier choice. And when that choice has a built-in stigma — because it’s dubbed as DIET — it can make me less inclined to make that choice. I can almost hear a little voice in my head: “Who are you to tell me I should have a diet meal?”

My lunch was tasty and fresh and made me feel clean and energized. Ideally, that how most meals should feel. Without the shame of labels.

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