There’s this thing I have begun encountering in a certain sort of restaurant. It’s not a good thing. I first ran across this policy at a place I used to eat in Bend, OR, and it happened again tonight at Scratch Burrito here in Denver.
I went in, ordered a burrito bowl and an iced tea. Paid, found a table, went to the drink station and got my tea. Looked around and couldn’t find any sweetener. So I go back to the counter. Would you like regular sugar or agave, the guy asks. No, no, I need artificial, I reply – Sweet-n-Low, if you have it? Sorry sir, we only have natural sweeteners.
I let the tension build for a couple seconds. Turns out “nobody ever asked for it before.” Hunh.
You do understand, I finally said, that some of your customers have diabetes, right? Which got me a look of extreme discomfort and an apology, but obviously no artificial sweetener. So I took the agave.
Now, before I go on, I want to make something clear. My diabetes is well controlled and this wasn’t a matter of life and death for me. I probably inflict worse damage on myself than a couple teaspoons of agave several times a week. So I’m not trying to play martyr here.
However, for a lot of diabetics, this actually is a big deal. For me it’s a matter of principle (to say nothing of my professional curiosity over what strikes me as extremely bad business), but for others there are legitimate health implications.
The irony is that I was in Scratch because of health concerns. Earlier this week my new diabetes specialist laid the smack down on me re: carbs and we, ummm, agreed that I’d steer well clear of them in all their forms, as best I could, until I drop 10-15 pounds. Then we’ll adjust. His goal – and mine – is to get me completely off the medication through diet and exercise, and I have to be honest, living a longer, healthier life has a certain appeal to it.
My buddy Greg told me about Scratch and insisted that their food is both incredibly tasty and incredibly healthy. Get a burrito bowl – no tortilla – and you have a meal your doctor would serve you himself.
So I’m sitting there eating, trying to figure out the whole sweetener thing. At the place in Bend, given the whole menu and vaguely upscale hippie vibe, my working assumption was that the ban on artificial sweeteners was all about exorcizing evil carcinogenic chemicals. They not only wanted their customers to eat and drink healthier, I’m guessing, they were going to make sure of it.
I figured that’s what was happening here, too. But then I realized, no, wait. If paternalistic health-nazi was the agenda, then that drink fountain wouldn’t be serving Coke, would it? You know, Coke, made with high fructose corn syrup, the devil’s sweetener, perhaps the most unhealthy sludge this side of your nearest superfund site?
Not only that, the place serves beer (as did the restaurant in Oregon), and as much as I fucking love good local micro, let’s not kid ourselves that it’s health food.
So what gives? If they’re trying to make me eat healthier whether I like it or not, then the hypocrisy is off the charts. As for the “nobody ever asked for it” line, I’ll allow that this is theoretically possible if you’ll allow me, a guy who has studied the habits of zillions of diners in more restaurants than I can count, to be a little skeptical.
And if it’s neither of those things, then what is it? Can’t be a cost issue, I wouldn’t think. Never heard of anybody with especially strong religious objections to artificial sweetener. I really am at a loss.
In sum, I ask two things of the good folks at Scratch Burrito. First, as a courtesy to your customers who are waging a serious battle against sugar, could you please make an artificial alternative available? And second, can you please let me know what’s at the root of this policy? The curiosity is killing me.
PS: Greg was right. The food was really good. I imagine I’ll be going back to Scratch Burrito soon, despite my obvious annoyance over the, well, you know.