Hold the SPE, Not the Butter

January 23, 2013

SPE Certified

It should surprise no one that I would take issue with an article titled “Hold the Butter.” SPE is a logo which would indicate which dishes on a menu are “healthy.” The SPE stands for Sanitas Per Escam which is Latin for “health through food.” (Does anyone else find that pretentious?) “Those three letters are “supposed to convey a message that seems simple, on the surface, even if its execution is complex: Our team of experts has vetted this dish, and you can rest assured that it is good for you.” Somehow I doubt that’s going to help me sleep at night.

My issue with this concept is obvious. Who gets to decide what is “healthy” and impose that on everybody else? I get exposed to enough conventional wisdom as is, and now it’s going to be rammed down my throat at restaurants, too? The person responsible for this idea is Emmanuel Verstraeten, the Belgian entrepreneur behind a Michelin-starred Manhattan restaurant named Rouge Tomate. The Rouge Tomate has a nutritionist on board who makes sure the food is “healthy” by, among other things, ensuring it’s low in salt and “bad fats” – which apparently include the cream and butter that have been banished from the kitchen. Oh, and smoking and chargrilling meats is also a no-no.

“SPE dishes contain more of what you need and less of what you don’t.”

Really? Quite frankly, I’m surprised the restaurant isn’t vegan.

There are aspects of the SPE assurance that I support. Supposedly the SPE food is seasonal and sustainable and the fish is less contaminated and not endangered. But shouldn’t all food be carefully sourced?

So far SPE Certified has signed on with the University of Massachusetts, Celebrity Cruises, and Hotel Plaza Athenee. Emmanuel Verstraeten is hoping this logo will end up on menus around the world, both at fast food and high end restaurants.

Should there come a day when a giant global chain like McDonald’s signs on, “I’m going to become very rich,” said Mr. Verstraeten, who goes by Manu. “That’s my target, of course.”

It’s unfortunate that Mr. Verstraeten will wholly believe he is helping people be healthy in the process.

One chef (Linton Hopkins of Restaurant Eugene) said it well:

“I like this idea,” Mr. Hopkins said. “I’m just confused about it.” Though he applauded the notion of creating nutritional options, the chef pointed out that one man’s concept of healthy and sustainable nourishment might clash with another’s. Why slaughter a pig, he said, if you’re going to restrict the use of the fattier parts?

What are your thoughts on such labeling initiatives?

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Anna January 23, 2013 at 6:06 AM

This labeling is crap, and anyway, in this day and age there is no single “healthy” diet. Just try to accommodate the newly gluten-free, diabetics, carb-sensitive, egg-free, PCOS sufferers, vegan, raw vegan, grass-fed, SCD and nut-allergic people at once and you will know. I mean, make a label for THAT!


[email protected] January 23, 2013 at 9:27 PM

Well said. And good luck to anyone that tries.


Aaron January 23, 2013 at 6:51 PM

‘Since when is butter bad?’ – asks the French chef. Loved that one.

Otherwise, hey, what’s not to like about this? It shows which meals to steer clear of (the ones WITH the label) and saves more butter for us!


[email protected] January 23, 2013 at 9:26 PM

Yah me too. But then it seems like he felt he needed to qualify that he doesn’t use that much of it in his kitchen… and I was thinking exactly the same thing – I scrutinize most menu items, but the ones with that logo would get a new level of investigation.


Elise Lin January 24, 2013 at 5:47 AM

My thoughts on labeling initiatives? They could be very convenient, when used for known diet styles. Like “paleo”, “vegan” etc. For self made-up judgements on what is healthy it’s no use, and honestly I find it annoying at best and even misleading at worst. For example: the store where I buy most of my food has two labels as well, called “conscious choice” and “healthy choice” for their own brand (from an initiative that’s called “the tag”). I saw it on several items like soft drinks (sugar free, artificially sweetened). Then the tiny print says: “within this product group”. It’s just a new way of advertising, seen in cosmetics as well.


[email protected] January 24, 2013 at 7:35 PM

Agreed, I wouldn’t mind seeing a paleo label – it’d probably have to be pretty orthodox paleo though so that not many people could find fault with it. And a vegetarian one or a vegan one would be pretty definitive as well.


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