Right now New York is the best city in the world when it comes to one thing. What is that?

Calorie Listings! Everywhere!

I don’t actively count calories, but when I am at a restaurant and see the calories in whatever I’m ordering I find myself looking for the healthiest option that I will still find good. When I’m at a restaurant in Des Moines, Chicago, or Wiesbaden I find myself just guessing at what might be healthy. While I know that calories don’t come close to telling us everything about a food, it’s definitely an excellent place to start.

Has anyone else actually looked up the nutrition facts to something you order at a restaurant? When I do this I find myself surprised. Who would’ve thought that the fatty sounding option isn’t always the worst for you. Often there are those healthy sounding options on menus that turn out to be the most unhealthy item available. Salads are sneaky.

So I know that there are many controversial points currently being discussed as the Supreme Court is looking at “Obamacare.” I really don’t like to portray my political views publicly, but I will say one thing. I hope that no matter what happens to the rest of Obamacare, there is one part that should somehow happen – chain restaurants adding calorie counts to their menus.

It doesn’t affect businesses – I’m still going to eat my McDonald’s and Chipotle and the various other chain restaurants affected periodically, I just might decide to opt for two hamburgers instead of a burger and fries, or a burrito bowl instead of a burrito.

What would happen if the entire United States opted for a burrito bowl instead of a burrito at Chipotle – simply removing the flour tortilla and thus 290 calories? Well according to their 10K in 2011 they had $2,269,548,000 in revenue. Assuming this revenue is entirely from stores, let’s do a little made up math based on my experience at Chipotle.

I would guess that 1/2 of people get burritos at Chipotle (that guess is on the low side), and the other half gets other options (bowls, quesadillas, tacos). Since we’re looking at the half that gets the burritos, we’ll start by dividing the revenue in half.

$2,269,548,000/2 = $1,134,774,000 so this is the number we’ll start with for burrito revenue. Burrito prices are $5.10 for chicken, $5.25 for steak, $5.65 for carnitas (which when researching I found out all the carnitas are prepared in Chicago!), $5.50 for barbacoa, and $4.95 for vegetarian. Once again relying on my experience at Chipotle I’d guess that Chicken is ordered three times more than the other options and steak is ordered twice as much as the other options. So we have:

($5.10×3 + $5.25×2 + $5.65 + $5.50 + $4.95)/8 = $5.24 per burrito

I’d say that less than half of people get chips and a drink when they order. Unfortunately I can’t find this information anywhere. So I’m going to assume based on my extensive experience standing in line at Chipotle that (on the low side) 1/4 of people get chips and 1/4 of people get a drink.  In 2011 it cost $.45 in most markets for chips, and .95 for chips and salsa, $1.40 for guac, and $1.85 for chips and guac. I’m going to average those since I’d say that probably 1/4 of people get one of those options, but I have NO idea what’s most popular.  So $1.16 for the average chips (or guac) purchaser. Drinks in most regions in 2011 were $1.50. Very few people get non-soft drinks at Chipotle so I’m going to assume (since some markets have drinks for cheaper than $1.50) that the average drink price is $1.50 to balance out cheaper and more expensive drinks.

Assuming 1/4 of burrito orders have a $1.16 charge and 1/4 of orders have a $1.50 additonal charge, that’s an average of .67 cents added to each burrito. This brings our average order up to $5.91. You might be thinking “I always pay more than that” – well don’t forget this doesn’t include taxes and prices vary by market. So how many burritos were ordered in 2011? $1,134,774,000/$5.91 = 192,009,137 burritos. 192 MILLION BURRITOS!!

If all of those people ordered a burrito bowl instead of a burrito it’d save the Chipotle customers 290 calories per burrito by not eating the flour tortilla. That’s a total of 55,682,649,730 calories saved. At 3,500 calories per pound, that’s about 15,909,328 pounds less that America would weigh if everyone made 1 healthy choice based on calorie count. Even if only 1/4 of orders were a burrito instead of a burrito bowl that would be 3,977,332 pounds. Wow.

Now I’m not suggesting at all that Chipotle should no longer sell it’s signature burritos. I’m just saying that if Americans were presented with the information, some Americans might actually start to make informed decisions about our health. There would still be many people who wanted to order a regular burrito, and I know about the calorie count in the tortillas yet I sometimes make that informed choice, but what would happen if 1/4 of burrito purchasers a year when looking up at the calorie contents on the menu made the decision to order a burrito bowl instead of a burrito? America would be 3,977,332 pounds lighter.


p.s. There is no Chipotle in Germany so after writing this I want to eat a burrito bowl, but instead I think I’ll have to make myself a burrito tonight.


Disclaimer: If any of my math is incorrect I apologize. This entire calculation is based significantly on assumptions and I’m attempting to type this on a German keyboard, so typos and inaccurate information are likely.