Cheesecake Factory in China

Exporting the American norm of excess food

Anyone who has traveled the world knows that U.S.-based franchise restaurants know no borders.  You can find McDonald’s in India and Starbucks in Paris.  Kentucky Fried Chicken is extremely popular in Japan.  In fact, it’s the  official Christmas food of Japan, despite the fact that almost no one celebrates Christmas there.  Not to be outdone, Cheesecake Factory is expanding, and recently opened the first restaurant in Hong Kong.  It was an eye-opener for Hong Kong locals.

Let’s think about this.  Cheese.  China.  No connection whatsoever.  There is no dairy industry in China.  Milk and cheese are not traditional parts of their diet.  Ever see Cheese Lo Mein on a menu?  Moo Shu Pork in cheese sauce?  I think not.  So here we have a restaurant dedicated to cheese, particularly the iconic cheesecake desserts, opening in a place that doesn’t do cheese.  The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) article referenced above is alternately hilarious and cringe-worthy.  Chinese customers flocked to the new restaurant for the experience, standing in line for 2-hours to get in.  Some said they’d heard about American food excess, but had never actually seen it in action.  Portions in China are normally small, and of course every course isn’t loaded with cheese.  The article notes the common reaction:

How are we supposed to eat all this food?

That thought probably never occurs to Cheesecake Factory patrons in the U.S.  The ginormous portions are what we take for normal.  Which is why obesity is rampant.  Not because we fail to stick to Paleo Diets or vegan diets or fail to avoid gluten or to obsess about the glycemic index.  We just eat too much of everything.  Period.  And sadly, while other chains adapt and adjust menus to accommodate local tastes, Cheesecake Factory is belligerently adamantly refusing to change a thing in China.  Not menu options.  Not portion sizes.  A spokeswoman is quoted as saying “The Cheesecake Factory has always been about choices.”  Yes, you can choose too much, or too much, or too much.  And have some cheese with that.  To their credit, the customers in Hong Kong are taken aback by the portion sizes, not to mention the cheese on everything.

Meanwhile I still can’t find any nutrition information whatsoever on the Cheesecake Factory website.  What am I missing?  Every other chain restaurant on the planet at least has nutrition information somewhere on the website.  What are they hiding??  If you search on “Cheesecake Factory Nutrition” you get hits on random websites like Self or SparkPeople that claim to have information, but if the corporation doesn’t provide it on the website, then where are these websites getting it?  I wrote about cheesecake calories over 4 years ago, and actually went to a Cheesecake Factory, bought a piece of cheesecake, took it home, weighed it and did the math, based on standard values for cheesecake.  By my estimates a piece of plain vanilla cheesecake was 650 calories.  It only goes up from there.  Apparently there’s a cheesecake that’s layered with chocolate cake, brownies and coconut pecan frosting.

It’s as if the Hong Kong Cheesecake Factory is selling a nightmarish Disneyland-like experience of the worst aspect of American food culture — excess.  I was happy to read that plenty of the Chinese patrons recognize food excess when they see it, and recognize that it’s not normal.  I can only hope people in the US start to realize that food excess is not normal or desirable.

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