Food Labeling

Big Government Will Help You Eat Right

The busybodies know what's in your best interest.

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Americans so dumb. Not know how to do basic stuff, like eat. Or read. Or math. Dumber than sack of hammers, really. Take labels on boxes and cans of food.

"Nutrition Facts" — you seen them. Black-and-white rectangle: Calories, total fat, cholesterol, carbs, protein, vitamins. All that stuff.

Pretty simple, right? Easy to understand? Not for dumb-o public! Just ask First Lady, Michelle Obama. Few days ago she explain why Washington changing those labels. First Lady went to college. Princeton. Harvard. Smart lady! But she grok what life like for us stupid folk. Here she tell what it like for typical numbskull American trying to read label we have now:

"So you marched into the supermarket," she say. "You picked up a can or a box of something, you squinted at that little, tiny label — and you were totally and utterly lost. . . . All you could do was scratch your head, confused and bewildered, and wonder: Is there too much sugar in this product? Is 50 percent of the daily allowance of riboflavin a good thing or a bad thing? And how on Earth could this teeny little package contain five whole servings? . . . Unless you had a thesaurus, a calculator, a microscope or a degree in nutrition, you were out of luck. So you felt defeated, and you just gave up and went back to buying the same stuff you always buy."

Yup. So confused. So defeated. Brain hurt, go lie down.

First Lady leave out part about putting food bags in back of '85 IROC-Z Camaro before stopping at discount cigarette store on way back to trailer park. Aside from that, though, she nail it.

But it not just her! Michael Jacobson agree. Him head of goody-goody group Center for Science in Public Interest. Last year he also explain why gummint need to fix nutrition labels. He say "label complexity" big problem. Can "leave many shoppers mystified." Simpler labels help "encourage consumers to make smarter choices."

This how most media see it, too. "Choosing healthier foods at the grocery store may soon be a little easier," say CNN. New labels be "easier to read," say "Today" show. And here Allison Aubrey, reporter for NPR: "If you're perplexed about how to make healthy choices when you're shopping for food, you're not alone. We've all puzzled over a food label that was confusing and hard to follow." We sure have, Allison!

In another piece on "All Things Considered," Aubrey do riff on First Lady theme: "You pick up a box of pasta or a can of soup," she say, "and there's just too much information to interpret." Boy howdy.

But no give up! Because, as Aubrey say next, "help is on the way. The FDA has redesigned the nutrition label with these problems in mind."

Whew! Big relief. Getting scared there for a minute!

Nutrition labels good. Person putting hard-earned money down has right to know what he buy. (Or she buy.) Fraud bad. Nobody want to buy big box that say: "Contents: FOOD." Specially if contents really just powdered drywall. Or rat poison. Honesty best policy.

But still. Guess who design awful, complex, mystifying, puzzling current labels in first place? Federal gummint. FDA — same people who now say current labels no good! It was federal gummint tell everybody worry about fat, put fats at top of label so everyone pay close attention. Now federal gummint say forget fats. Now sugar bad! Bad, bad sugar! No eat!

Also, everybody hate Nutrition Facts serving sizes. Everybody know half-cup of ice cream not equal one serving; half-cup just a taste. One serving of ice cream equal one BOWL, darn it. Big bowl, if you have bad day.

Well, who came up with stupid tiny serving sizes? Not evil food companies trying to trick poor little shoppers! Federal gummint did that. Based on "reference amounts customarily consumed," whatever that is. As 1991 New York Times article about new rules put it, "the F.D.A. will set uniform serving sizes for all foods." Now same people going to set new serving sizes.

And hey, remember food pyramid? Two decades ago federal gummint introduce food pyramid to tell everybody to eat lots of carbs — six to 11 servings a day! Food pyramid say carbs should be foundation of your diet; tell people eat six to nine servings fruits and veggies. Now federal gummint say "make half your plate fruits and vegetables."

Oh.

Odd thing about labels. Good to have them, but most folk don't pay them no mind. Carnegie-Mellon study of restaurant menu labels show "people still choose the food they like, not what's supposed to be healthier," as news stories put it.

Maybe real problem not "label complexity." Maybe real problem is, Americans not respond to gummint stimuli like trained rats in lab. Actually think for they own selves. Eat what they want, not what gummint tell them to.

Funny — you'd think pointy-headed know-it-alls smart enough to figure that out.

This article originally appeared at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.