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Political Pancakes



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Last weekend, my husband wanted to start his Father’s Day with IHOP pancakes. No doubt missing his own late father, he wanted to eat in a place he frequented as a child.

So, we hauled our three young boys down the road to the local IHOP. Shown to our seats, the waitress handed us three folded placemats containing crayons. My boys love these little giveaways — pictures of horses and racecars and cats and dogs to color; maybe a simple crossword puzzle or a maze to tackle. These fun distractions keep my boys somewhat calm until their food arrives. 

But the placemats we were handed weren’t your ordinary pieces of paper with puzzles and pictures on them. Oh no! This Father’s Day morning, my children received a little lecture on how to be a better — to use a nauseating Obama phrase — “citizen of the world” by being environmentally conscience and, of course, fit and trim. 

In the upper left hand corner of the placemat there was a picture of the earth over which the words “Clean Fun” were stamped. To the right, the first lesson: “Time to get busy learning what you can do today and every day to give back to the planet!” Just below the globe, a maze called “Recycle Road” instructs kids to “get recycling” by guiding the newspapers (located at the entrance) to the recycle bin (at the end of the maze).

Directly below the maze is a picture of the USDA’s nutrition plate (the plate replaced the equally useless and widely ignored food pyramid a few years ago) with the message that “It’s important to eat right and exercise every day,” with a link to the government website myplate.gov.  That’s right, children should check out a government website for nutrition information. It’s so old fashioned for children to simply be guided by their parents. Government knows best!

But the real fun was on the back of the placemat where my children found the “Tic-Tac-Toe Challenge,” which instructed them in a somewhat creepy Nazi-youth fashion to “encourage your family to walk or ride bikes instead of driving a car. Besides being better for the environment, it can be a lot of fun, too!” Surprisingly, it didn’t include a 1-800 number where children can report their pancake-eating, car-loving, slothful, and obese parents to the government. 

Oddly, the tic-tac-toe instructions include a shockingly insensitive instruction that the “loser” has to do 10 jumping jacks. Loser? No one’s a loser at IHOP! Someone call the public relations team at once. Imagine all the children running around with low self-esteem because IHOP thinks they’re losers. Wouldn’t “second-place winner” be the more appropriate term here? Thankfully, IHOP offers the loser an opportunity for redemption with the “Sustainable Sudoku” puzzle which instructs the child to “draw in the missing recyclable items so that everyone wins.” Just draw in the soda can, paper bag, newspaper and water bottle and you too can be a winner. Hooray, everyone wins!

The last item on the placemat instructs children to draw “one thing in your life to be powered by the sun,” with the reminder that after they draw it they should “be sure to add solar panels so the sun can power it.” My boy drew a solar-powered wrecking ball tearing down Solyndra’s headquarters. Good boy.

Finally, one finds the children’s menu which is also located on the placemat. It is truly a thing to behold. A shrine to Michelle Obama; a monument to the food nannies; a true reflection of how government pressure is changing the way restaurants are doing business.

Every single food item on the kids’ menu has the calories listed. The breakfast items ranged from 210 calories for scrambled eggs, a slice of bacon and five silver-dollar sized pancakes to 520 calories for a cheese omelet and a bowl of fruit (take note, nannies: the egg and fruit meal had more calories than the pancakes and bacon meal). The dinner options were similarly healthy, ranging from 150 calories for the (no doubt rarely ordered) Jr. Fish meal consisting of a baked filet of fish with a side of steamed broccoli (have mercy on these children and cover it with cheese!) to 490 calories for the cheeseburger and fruit meal. Fries do not come with these meals; those devilish things must be requested.   

One wonders about IHOP’s decision to pass out these placemats and the changes they’ve made to their menus.  Personally, while disgusted by the environmental nonsense, I was happy to see fruit on the menu only because my kids like fruit more than fries or hash browns. But it’s worth asking: Are these menu changes being driven by consumer demand or to satisfy the constant demands of the food nannies and fear-mongering public health officials? And while people may want healthier options, do people really go to IHOP for a healthy meal?

Most people probably just roll their eyes at this propaganda and dig into their syrup-smothered pancakes. My very young children were certainly oblivious to the messages being promoted. I doubt any of the environmental nonsense seeped in. But this type of political messaging (put on a child’s placemat!) certainly does make one ask, what purpose, exactly, do restaurants serve anymore? They used to simply be places to get some food. Today, it seems everything’s a vehicle to push a political agenda . . . even pancakes.

And IHOP should know that these environmental messages might just be leaving a bad taste in the mouths of their customers — a misstep for any restaurant. A recent Harris Interactive poll found that just a third of Americans say they are concerned about environmental issues — an almost ten-percentage-point decrease since 2009. That same poll found only 16 percent of Americans consider themselves environmentalists.

Clearly, IHOP is trying hard to satisfy the enviro-food nannies. After all, a pancake house specializing in fruit cocktail and green-living education is certainly a shift in purpose. Yet IHOP should know that the only way they will ever make these activists happy is when the pancakes are cooked over an open fire with the lights turned off, and when the pancakes, bacon, omelets, burgers and fries exit the menu. In other words: It simply won’t ever be good enough for these hard-to-make-happy activists.

Perhaps its best that IHOP stick to what it’s good at: pancakes. Hold the politics. 

Julie Gunlock directs IWF’s Women for Food Freedom project.



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