“All You Can Eat” Is No Bargain

The July Project: Day 12

Try this exercise: Drop in on a Chinese buffet at the height of the lunch rush. Take a quick visual survey of the first 10 adults you see. Notice how many of them are overweight. Count the number who could probably be described as morbidly obese.

Now turn around, walk out, and go eat somewhere else.

I understand the arguments in favor of buffet dining: you don’t have to limit yourself to a single menu choice, it’s easy to feed yourself quickly, there are plenty of things that the kids like, and so on. I’m also not bashing Chinese cuisine in general—it offers plenty of options for eating well.

I’ve focused on Chinese restaurants because they’re the segment of the buffet market with which I had the most personal experience in fatter days. The people who run them have figured out that “all you can eat” (or “all you care to eat”) is a popular draw. If the model is profitable, that’s because it relies on stuffing diners full of cheap food—mountains of rice and fried stuff doused in sauces full of sugar, salt, and monosodium glutamate. The buffet setting encourages us to overeat by reinforcing our flawed perception that volume equals value. It’s hard to resist the drive to “get your money’s worth.”

I hope I don’t sound judgmental or dictatorial. People should certainly be free to eat at buffets if that’s what they want. But that’s not what you want, is it? You want to be healthy, and you want to make food choices that are about quality, nutrition, and genuine enjoyment.

Don’t sacrifice your food values in favor of speed or cheapness. Unless you have the self-control of a Buddhist monk, stay away from buffets except as an occasional treat.

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