Public Health

The Assault on Food

If we must control diet to balance the government's budget, will the health squad next ban skydiving and extramarital sex?

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Instinct tells us to fear poison. If our ancestors were not cautious about what they put in their mouths, they would not have survived long enough to produce us.

Unfortunately, a side effect of that cautious impulse is that whenever someone claims that some chemical—or food ingredient, like fat—is a menace, we are primed to believe it. That makes it easy for government to leap in and play the role of protector.

But for every study that says X is bad for you, another study disagrees. How is a layman to decide? I used to take consumer activists' word for it. Heck, they want to save the world, while industry just wants to get rich. Now I know better. The activists want money, too—and fame.

To arbitrate, it's intuitive to turn to government—except…government scientists have conflicts, too.

Who becomes a regulator except people who want to regulate? Some come from activist groups that hate industry. Some come from industry and want to convert their government job into a higher-paying industry job. Some just want attention. They know that saying, "X will kill you," gets more attention than saying that X is probably safe.

I don't suggest that we ignore the experts and eat like pigs. But, as I argue in my new book, No, They Can't: Why Government Fails—But Individuals Succeed, the scientific question should not overshadow the more fundamental issue. Who should decide what you can eat: you? Or the state? Should government decide what we may eat, any more than it decides where we live or how long our hair will be? The Food Police claim that they just want to help us make informed choices. But that's not all they want to do. They try to get government to force us to make healthy choices.

The moral issue of force versus persuasion applies even if all the progressives' ideas about nutrition are correct. Even if I would be better off eating no fat and salt, that would not justify forcing restaurants to stop serving me those things. Either we live in a free society or we don't.

It is no coincidence that the push for more food regulation came at a time when Congress obsessed about the rising cost of medical care. When government pays for your health care, it will inevitably be drawn into regulating your personal life. First, politicians promise to pay. Then, they propose to control you

Where does it stop? If we must control diet to balance the government's budget, will the health squad next ban skydiving and extramarital sex? How about another try at Prohibition?

Government attracts do-gooders and meddlers who believe that, as Mark Twain put it, "Nothing so needs reforming as other people's habits." Or, as Twain's spiritual descendant, H.L. Mencken, said about Puritanism, government health officials seem to have "the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy."

Often the Food Police strike an innocent pose, claiming that they just want to give people information. Information is good. But it's not free. Mandated calorie signs in restaurants cost money. Those costs are passed on to consumers, and the endless parade of calorie counts and warning labels make us numb to more important warnings—like, "This Coffee Is Scalding Hot."

It's not as if dietary information isn't already available. Health and diet websites abound. Talk shows routinely discuss the latest books on diet and nutrition. TV diet gurus are celebrities. That's enough. We have information. We don't need government force.

Let the marketplace of diet ideas flourish. Let claim meet counterclaim, but let's not let government put its very heavy thumb on one side of the scale.

The assumption behind so much of government's policy regarding food (and everything else) is that everything good should be encouraged by law and everything bad should be discouraged

But since everything is arguably helpful or harmful, this is a formula for totalitarianism.

Thomas Hobbes assumed an all-powerful government was necessary to protect us from violence. He called it Leviathan. But he never imagined Leviathan would plan our dinners.

John Stossel (read his Reason archive) is the host of Stossel, which airs Thursdays on the FOX Business Network at 9 pm ET and is rebroadcast on Saturdays and Sundays at 9pm & midnight ET. Go here for more info.

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56 responses to “The Assault on Food

  1. Alt-text: This is a rat burger? Not bad! Matter of fact this is the best burger I’ve had in years!

    1. Everything tastes better with alt-text.

    2. “You call this a dog? Son, I’ve eaten dog, and *this* dog got no dog!”

    3. I love that movie! Stallone does satire!

  2. Either we live in a free society or we don’t.

    It started with the former but is pretty quickly becoming the latter.

    Health and diet websites abound.

    Until the government shuts them down for not being properly licensed.

    everything good should be encouraged by law and everything bad should be discouraged.

    “Ah, smoking is not good for you, and it’s been deemed that anything not good for you is bad; hence, illegal. Alcohol, caffeine, contact sports, meat, bad language, chocolate, gasoline, uneducational toys and anything spicy. Abortion is also illegal, but then again so is pregnancy if you don’t have a licence.”

    1. and it’s been deemed that anything not good for you is bad; hence, illegal. Alcohol, caffeine, contact sports, meat, bad language, chocolate, gasoline, uneducational toys and anything spicy.

      Irony abounds: I’ve been going to a specialist from a large and well-known teaching hospital for a raft of symptoms including what felt like arthritis. His diagnosis? I was short of saturated fat. No that’s not a typo. He also wants me off vegetable oils, especially from soy and rapeseed, AKA “Canola.” Crazy as it sounds, it worked. My symptoms have been fading fast.

      1. I can’t help but think of Dr. Nick Riviera instructing Homer to rub his food on a napkin; if the napkin turns translucent, eat the food.

        1. Hehe! I didn’t see that one. I’ll look for it.

        2. Found, downloaded and watched King Size Homer. Good thing I don’t get my diet advice from TV or I’d think eating fat makes you fat.

  3. “If you haven’t done anything wrong, we’ll look harder.”

  4. if the nanny state existed in the time of early man, some of its advocates would have been clubbed and eaten. The caveman diet was largely animal protein, augmented by nuts, fruits, and berries. All manner of scientific studies show that following such a diet promotes lean muscle mass, keeps body fat low, and is generally healthy.

    Of course, pigging out repeatedly is bad for you. But that is the case whether you overindulge on pizza or on whole-grain bread and yogurt. When calories in > calories out, you will gain weight. It’s not that complicated.

    1. The caveman diet was largely animal protein

      And very high in animal fat. They prized the marrow and organ meats, which are high in fat.

      When calories in > calories out, you will gain weight. It’s not that complicated.

      Animal studies show time and again that obesity has to do with how the fat cells take in and release their energy. If something impedes their output or expedites their input, the result is the body collecting fat, even at the expense of the muscles and organs. Most obese people eat more and/or are less active because their cells are suffering from what amounts to internal starvation. I know, before I found out how to solve it I had a 55.5 BMI and a raging appetite.

      1. how exactly did you fix it?

        1. Easy answer? Watch Fat Head.

          Even though I’d never heard of him at the time, I lost 125 pounds in 8 months doing what he advocates.

          1. Thanks for the site, I’ll check it out

  5. No alt-text?

    How bout “Need more fries to go with my dog”

  6. I am smart. If you were smart, you would do as I say. Since you don’t do as I say, you are not smart. Since you are not smart, you cannot be trusted with the freedom to do as you please. Once you can demonstrate that you are smart by doing as I say, you will have demonstrated that you are smart enough to be trusted with the freedom to do as you please.

    You are free to choose to do the right thing, you are not free to choose to do the wrong thing. A free man would choose to do the right thing, your failure to choose to do the right thing proves you are not free.

    I will not force you to do as I say, you must want to do as I say. You must truly love Big Brother.

    Is that really so hard to understand?

    1. We have always been at war with our appetites.

    2. I feel like the US Government has created a new witches brew taking the the worst of both “A Brave New World” and “1985” totalitarianism to create a new kind of totalitarianism using just the right amount of carrots and sticks to take away all our freedom. I’m sorry, not freedom, they just want to take away choice…completely different.

  7. What the hell is John Stossel talking about?

    1. He’s promoting his new book and I think making a sidewise commentary on the mandate debate and how far it can and will extend….

    2. Food.

    3. Government overregulation? Can’t keep up big guy?

      1. Government regulation keeps Tony up. It’s his Cialis.

  8. we’re already suffering under a huge moral compromise:

    That I can rightfully enlist a group of people to go and point guns at others, stealing earnings and property from them in my name.

    We tell ourselves “it’s ok, because the money gets used for good things!”, like roads and schools, etc.

    But NO GOOD can come from any evil. In the long run, the state will implode, and we will destroy ourselves, if we keep deluding ourselves of this fact.

    The use of violence does not solve social problems. It *IS* a social problem.

    1. At the most basic level though you still need some authority with a monpoly on force for things like a justice system. And of course protection from foreign aggressors

  9. I think there’s a big difference between the nudge method that informs (say by disclosing the calorie content of a meal) and the outright banning of a food.

    I’m ok with disclosure requirements for food, I’m not ok with banning them.

    As for healthcare and food that’s a tricky question. The ideal solution of course would be to get government out of healthcare, although that looks very unlikely, especially for seniors.

    On the same token though, if you are getting assistance from the government, don’t you have a obiligation to try and minimize that expense?

    1. I think there’s a big difference between the nudge method that informs (say by disclosing the calorie content of a meal) and the outright banning of a food.

      Not me. Forcing the posting of information is still the use of force. And it’s force trying to correct something the government caused in large part with George McGovern’s dietary commission and the fraudulent Food Pyramid.

      I want the government out of my food.

      1. Maybe it is still the use of force, but the amount matters. And I don’t buy the slippery slope argument either, I’m ok with a certain amount of regulation, but not prohibition.

        Just like I would be more than fine with a big warning on say coke or weed, just don’t outlaw them.

        1. I’d be fine with that, too.. but the idea that without government force, food producers would opt to not disclose what’s in their products doesn’t make sense. Whether or not it’s a result of government-mandated nutrition labels, consumers want to know what’s in their food.
          Would be a pretty dumb business move to opt out of providing that information to your customers absent the mandate.

    2. I’m ok with disclosure requirements for food, I’m not ok with banning them.

      Are you ok with “And if I had all the guns I would impose my beliefs on everyone else”? Because the point isn’t whether or not something might be a good idea, it’s about whether or not you should have to argue for your point of view or can simply thump people upside the head and make them accept your point of view.

      1. I think disclosure requirements for food (or drugs) are generally within what would be ok for a state (the federal government of course would not be allowed this under the consitution).

        So yes, I’m ok with using the police power of the state for disclosure requirments.

    3. I’m ok with disclosure requirements for food, I’m not ok with banning them.

      The problem is now that the little independant pastry shop selling handmade croissants is now at a huge disadvantage to the corporate producer. The guy making them by hand is measuring the flour and butter by hand, mixing the dough and rolling out the pastry. If the supplier makes a small change in the fat content of the specialty butter used or the back-up baker adjusts the recipe even slightly and his reported content is thrown way off. Someone tests one and finds that the numbers are off and now the owner can be sued by the guy who ate 3 per day and couldn’t lose weight.

      You don’t need to know how many calories are in the croissant. IT’S FLOUR AND BUTTER. IT WILL MAKE YOU FAT!

      1. I’ve never seen food disclosure requirements on a single bakery. They’ve always only applied to a chain with multiple outlets.

  10. Stossel lemonade. Fresh broken.

  11. Consumers couldn’t possibly decide for themselves whether to buy lemonade or baked goods from kids.

  12. Attorneys general and state’s attorney are very fucking evil. Don’t sugar coat it.

  13. Canada is the new United States.

  14. Ha, too many taxi cabs in D.C.

  15. “Newcomers should be squeezed out.”

    This guy is the king of the circular argument.

  16. I wonder if the raw milk cops had to pull their guns because they had authority boners, or if they had authority boners because they got to pull their guns.

  17. Caged Stache: The Stossel Behind Bars Story

  18. Good luck finding a cop not high on his power.

  19. Contempt of cop. There is absolutely no accountability.

  20. Drug raids happen solely because of the $$$.

  21. Paul Chaubot is an idiot and he can prove it.

  22. Initiating violence and discharging weapons in homes containing children. Very few things as cravenly reckless.

  23. Paul is pretty glassy-eyed every time I see him in an interview. Either he’s a chronic weeper or he’s just into chronic.

  24. Who made the sex laws? The same assholes who made the other laws.

  25. I love the blank stare from prohibitionists when confronted with the negative effects of their policies.

  26. “It isn’t about you, honey.”

    That much is true.

  27. The FDA isnt regulating food because they want you to be healthy, they are regulating food so that the only foods you have left to choose from are made directly from the biggest food companies that control the industry. Leave out the whole health aspect/fat discussion issue, thats not what this isssue is about. Its all about corporate influence upon the regulating industries which in turn forces its mandates upon the people under the guise of protecting them.

  28. and everything bad should be discouraged.

  29. you have left to choose from are made directly from the biggesthttp://www.edhardypoort.com/ food companies that control the industry.

  30. Who becomes a regulator except people who want to regulate? http://www.nikewinkel.com/scho…..-c-36.html Some come from activist groups that hate industry.

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