Occupational Licensing

Is Advocating the Paleo Diet Against the Law? A New Institute for Justice Suit Stands Up For Free Speech Against Occupational Licensing Law


Free speech is all too often a joke in this land, and one of the more ridiculous attempts to shut people up by law is hooked to "occupational licensing." Sometimes, says the government, you can only say certain things if some state-powered cartel gives you legal permission to do so.

The state of North Carolina's attempts to shut down Steve Cooksey's blog about how he believes the paleo diet helped him deal with diabetes on the grounds that he needs to be licensed by the state's Board of Dietetics/Nutrition is one of the sillier, and yet still grossly offensive, such cases to arise lately.

The Institute for Justice agrees, and has stepped in to file a lawsuit, Cooksey v. Futrell et al., in federal court against the state Board, which will be officially filed tomorrow, to stand up for Cooksey's right to speak what he thinks is true about diet and diabetes.

Summing up the case, from IJ's press release:

In December 2011, Steve Cooksey started a Dear Abby-style advice column on his blog to answer reader questions.  In January 2012, the North Carolina Board of Dietetics/Nutrition informed Steve that he could not give readers personal advice on diet, whether for free or for compensation, because doing so constituted the unlicensed, and thus criminal, practice of dietetics. 

The State Board also told Steve that his private emails and telephone calls with friends and readers were illegal.   The Board also ordered him to shut down his life-coaching service.  Violating the North Carolina licensing law can lead to fines, court orders to be silent and even jail…..

What is at issue goes far beyond diet advice:

This lawsuit seeks to answer one of the most important unresolved questions in First Amendment law:  When does the government's power to license occupations trump free speech?

"Advice is protected speech," said IJ attorney Paul Sherman.  "Just because the government can license certain types of expert professional advice doesn't mean the government can license every type of advice."

While whether Cooksey is "right" about the paleo diet and diabetes isn't what's important about this, IJ points out that a lot is at stake beyond the principle of free speech here as well:

Steve Cooksey began offering dietary advice because he is concerned about America's diabetes epidemic.  Over 25 million Americans have diabetes, including approximately 800,000 in North Carolina.  The human and financial toll is staggering.  Diabetes is now a leading cause of stroke, blindness, kidney failure requiring transplantation, and amputation.  Because diabetes is a condition of elevated blood sugar, Steve advocates eating foods that keep blood sugar low.  

After being diagnosed with Type II diabetes, Steve did research and learned that the high-carb/low-fat diet his doctors recommended to him may not be best for diabetics because carbohydrates raise blood sugar.  He adopted the low-carb "Paleolithic" diet of our Stone Age ancestors: fresh veggies, meats, eggs and fish, but no sugars, processed foods or agricultural starches.   

Steve lost 78 pounds, freed himself of drugs and doctors, normalized his blood sugar and feels healthier than ever.   He believes a low-carb diet is the simplest, cheapest and most effective way to treat diabetes…

I blogged in April about the these absurd attempts on the part of North Carolina to quell Steve's speech.

IJ's full litigation backgrounder on the case.

Dedicated website for what IJ is calling the "paleospeech" case.

Mike Riggs blogged a few weeks back on IJ's great report on the general idiocy and overreach of occupational licensing law in these here United States.

A cartoon promotional video about the case:

NEXT: Video of Talking Ron Paul's Revolution at the Cato Institute on May 15

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  1. Seems that having figured out a way of successfully handling diabetes 1) makes Cooksey something of a subject matter expert and 2) represents the best use of social media. No, his approach may not work for everyone, but that could apply to virtually any methodology for dealing with any medical condition.

    I suspect the hidden reality is that the great state of NC – where I lived for 20 years – simply wants Cooksey’s money so that it can bestow a license upon him and have the ability to control him somewhat. That the license does nothing with regard to his body of knowledge is purely secondary.

    The man was his own lab and is sharing his experience. It is no different than someone trying out a new workout program or weight loss program and sharing those results. The person’s licensure or lack thereof, has no impact on whether a regimen worked or not.

    1. The other licensed dietitians would never stand for that unless he had to jump through all the hoops they have had to to get their certification.

  2. But he could give bad advice. Obviously, having a license would prevent that.

    1. As I recall from a ReasonTV piece, it requires more hours of training to be an interior designer in Georgia than to be a security guard, or something like that.

      I’ve got an idea: one has to take a minimum of 100 hours of Constitutional “training” to be a politician!

      1. I’ve got an idea: one has to take a minimum of 100 hours of Constitutional “training” to be a politician!

        This idea won’t work…because fuck you, that’s why!

  3. NC’s state motto “Esse quam videri” apparently means, “Yankees be damned, we’re going to enslave SOMEBODY!”

  4. I’m kind of curious how “assessing and counselling” is separate from free communication. I guess dinosaurs aren’t very smart…

  5. Do you see a difference between giving advice and selling your advice?

    1. One earns a monetary profit.

    2. Do you see a difference between giving advice and selling your advice?

      Is it better advice when you over pay?

  6. If you’ve ever talked about the Paleo diet with a Paleo-dieteer, you’ll know it goes far beyond free speech into religion. They’ve made me feel more like an asshole for not eating meat than vegetarians and vegans have for eating it.

    1. I’m moderately interested in the idea, but there’s a reason we like grains and carbs so much: we need them. Just not to nearly the degree we get, especially the carbs and sugars.

      And: humans are *omnivores*. I really don’t understand why vegetarians are so opposed to what’s natural.

      1. For about 6 weeks, Ive been tracking my diet and limiting my carbs to 150g per day. Not Atkins level, but 1/2 of the RDA (300g for a 2000 calorie diet). Im not super strict on it, I dont track on weekends, or holidays, or when Im out of town on business. But the rest of the time, I follow it strictly. I dont go crazy on those other days, but I dont track.

        The biggest thing Ive noticed is it keeps my calories in check. With 150g of carbs, I just cant go over 2200 calories in a day. Any way, Im losing about 1# per week and I feel better (at least, I think I do).

        I was 216# when I started, am 209# now, and want to get to about 185#, but am in no hurry.

      2. Grains are so cheap too, and they preserve well. We in America are rich enough that we can afford to be picky with food sources, but when food is hard to come by, having an inexpensive and long-lasting source is pretty critical.

        Also, I wonder if the
        “meat is murder” vegetarians would be okay with allowing carnivores to go extinct. I know a lot of vegetarians think we should eat as little meat as is possible for staying healthy, which for most of the developed world could mean eating no meat at all, and I understand that. But for those that think eating meat is immoral, period, I wonder if they make exception for non-humans.

        1. Even the animal welfare vegetarians are ok with non-human carnivores.

          Curious why you didn’t go out and find an AWF and ask him/her yourself.

          1. I have; I asked my uncle a few weeks ago at a wedding. But it isn’t the animal welfare vegetarians I’m talking about, as most of them either fall into the “do little harm” camp or the “humans are moral and different” camp. I’m talking about the people that view ending animal life as wrong. I don’t understand those people.

          2. OK, I can’t speak for those people since I’m not one of them, but “killing (anything) is wrong” seems like a simple concept to understand. And in the case of Buddhists and Hindus it’s a religious doctrine so not subject to rational justification.

            Justifying it and practicing it are where the complexities and inherent conflicts arise.

            I understand the POV of the abortion=child-murder crowd even though I disagree with it. Not difficult concepts, really.

            1. The concept is simple, but the consequences and consistencies aren’t. That’s all I’m saying.

              I’m generally weary of compartmentalizing vegetarians in the first place, because people have so many different reasons for being one. On the kinda-vegetarian front, I only really eat fish, not because they can’t feel pain/don’t smile, but because they thaw quickly and fry nicely. Another guy I know only eats fish and chicken because they take less energy to raise, and he’s an environmentalist.

      3. Well, two things. a.) the paleo diet is not necessarily low carb, and b.) carbohydrates are actually the only macronutrient which is *not* essential for human survival. For most people a super-low-carb or ketogenic diet is not necessary or desirable, but that doesn’t somehow make grains or sugars essential dietary items.

        1. To be totally honest with you, I know next to nothing about diets and whatnot, so I essentially guessing my way through this. I defer to your superior knowledge.

      4. I really don’t understand why vegetarians are so opposed to what’s natural.

        I’d say your lack of understanding is a direct result of a complete failure on your part to engage them on that issue.

        Sure, they know we’re omnivores, and all that implies. It’s the human choice to kill and eat animals, particularly in the context of modern factory farming, that they’re against.

        Also, it’s perfectly possible to eat a meat-free diet if you know what you’re doing. Millions of buddhists, hindus, etc.

        1. eat a meat-free diet and be healthy

  7. So, does that mean bookstores that sell diet and nutrition books are guilty as well? Because that’s how I see this.

    1. They might see those as freedom of the press, while this case is freedom of speech. Personally, I favor amending the constitution to read “freedom of communication.”

  8. Good. I was hoping they’d take this one up. The marked-up letter the blogger got from the bureaucrat was breathtaking in its gall.

  9. IJ again making me feel good about my charitable donation. Got an email notifying me of this case this morning.

  10. Thou shalt not tempt a state needing tax revenues from the Research Triangle.

  11. OT: All the Reason Cruise ads say Space Is Limited, but everyone knows there’s going to be another one in a 6-12 months.

    1. It’s also a violation of Rule #1 in marketing: don’t turn off the customer. Reason knows all its readers are sci-fi nerds, and that phrases like “Space is Limited” make us uneasy, regardless of the context.

  12. So when is the North Carolina Board of Dietetics/Nutrition going to go after grandmothers dispensing nutritional advice or are they saving that for the ADA to go after grandmothers for dispensing medical advice without a license.

  13. Even being a doctor doesn’t stop people from giving bad advice. Apparently Steve Cooksey’s doctor told him to go on a high carb/low fat diet? Maybe the doctor had some old advice, but from everything I know (my husband was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes a year ago and we have friends and family members with Type 2), lowering carb intake is always #1 priority.

    I also want to know when they are going to start going after support groups and online forums where patients help each other with advice and encouragement. What about providing recipes? Is that going too far?

    Why they are making such an example out of THIS guy? Is it just because he put his name and what state he was from on his website? Making him easy to find? I guess not remaining anonymous is usually a mistake on the internet (although if some people had their way, that wouldn’t be an option).

  14. Anyone here tried the full paleo diet for any extended time? I’ve been a vegetarian for about four and a half years and a vegan for three years of my life so far and have been considering doing the paleo diet lately purely out of curiosity.

    Where it seems hardest, if you’re trying to be “authentic” about it, would be reducing cooking oils and salt intake. Also, I actually found abandoning grains for a week was much harder for me than abandoning meat and dairy.

    1. I’ve been largely paleo (plus some dairy) for about a year and a half and have had a very easy time following the diet. Was never all that much of a foodie, which probably helps. It’s definitely quite meat-centric, but that’s part of what makes it simple, dinner can be as easy as throwing some chicken or a cut of beef into a grill pan.

      As far as the cooking oil goes, you can sub with olive oil, coconut oil, or animal fats like butter or ghee. You don’t really have to worry about salt too much, cutting out the processed snack foods which paleo proscribes pretty much takes care of it, and you can season your food however you like. A lot of paleo people go overboard in avoiding salt.

      The hardest part about the diet is really finding a workable routine of preparation and planning for your meals. Even that’s not that hard, though.

    2. not a problem going with the high protein aspect but, as you point out, grains are so inculcated in our existence that avoiding them takes a conscious effort.

      The one problem with this write up is you have to question just how many “fresh veggies” Stone Age man was able to grow. Picking fruit off trees or bushes is one thing; purposely planting and growing lots of things is another.

      One last thought, an abundance of protein also means more gas than the usual diet. Still, cutting the carbs tends to mean reducing body fat for most folks since carbs are the macronutrient most likely to be over-consumed.

      1. Right, the philosophy itself seems misguided in a variety of ways.

        First and foremost, cavemen didn’t live long enough to develop often age-related diseases like cancer. They didn’t eat enough in general to develop obesity. Their constant exercise is probably much more the reason for their comparative health than their diet.

        Many anthropologist think that the “cavemen” really didn’t have the tools to hunt much big game. They probably ate a lot of small birds, lizards, bugs, etc. but not much along the lines of the animals we currently consider “meat”. TV shows like Beyond Survival and Medicine Men Go Wild where the hosts go live with indigenous people who still live off the land and do not farm indicate this to be true.

        Also, cavemen likely would not have the plethora of vegetables we eat today. And then theres the question of whether the cavemen would have cooked much of anything they were eating. So in essence the paleo diet as prescribed is really nothing at all like the actual paleo diets.

        Still. I like the protein-richness in concept and am curious to try it.

        1. Just go and actually read some of the actual paleo literature, because all these questions have been discussed in a lot of detail. I won’t go into all of it, but on the subject of caveman life expectancy, plenty of paleolithic-era humans did live to a ripe old age. Everyone thinks they all died at age 30 because the average life expectancy statistic is skewed by the much, much higher rates of infant mortality which prevailed at the time.

          Speaking generally, the point is not to emulate in every single particular the diet consumed by paleolithic ancestors (which is impossible), but to use it as a guideline indicating the sorts of foods we are most likely best adapted to consume. A steak or a chicken breast gets you a lot closer to that than a bowl of Cheerios or a poundcake.

    3. Haven’t done the FULL paleo diet, but have been doing a Primal diet, which is a modernized version of the paleo diet. I’ve had good success with it. Google Marks Daily Apple for a website that will provide all you’ll need to get started.

  15. The paleo diet that Steve Cooksey adopted may or may not work for everyone. So my stand about this is don’t take his advice to the dot and expect similar results. Explore paleo, and it’s low carb diet and if it works for you then good, if it doesn’t then you have the choice to stop. But if you think and feel that a paleo lifestyle improved your body’s health as compared to your body before going on paleo then decide if you want to continue. We are responsible for our own body and we take full consequences of our actions.

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