America has not reached the point where the government tells you what you can or cannot eat. But New York City seems to be greasing that slippery slope.

Earlier this week, a federal judge upheld a New York City food labeling regulation. Effective Monday, any food-service establishment with 15 or more locations in the United States is required to include calorie counts on its menus.

The availability of dietary information about the food you consume is not a bad thing. Many large chains already promote that information on their websites, in brochures available at their restaurants, and in-store kiosks. But mandating the information and format as this regulation does is a separate issue.

First, it will increase the operating costs of chains doing business in New York City. Those businesses that already publish that information will have to redesign and republish their menus and/or retrofit their signs between now and June 3rd, when the city will begin to fine non-compliant restaurants.

Then consider the 15-location threshold. If your brand has 14 locations, you don’t have to worry about caloric content. But as soon as you open location #15, you have to get all your food tested for calories and publish that on your menus. Those extra costs may factor into the decision whether a New York City restaurant brand expands into new markets, or a restaurant brand from another part of the country enters New York City.

Why should it matter to you what happens in New York City? Because according to the National Restaurant Association, similar regulations have passed in King County, WA, and New York City’s lead will give momentum to measures pending in several large cities and at least five states.

What you eat should be a matter of individual conscience, not of government omniscience.

– David Guenthner