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Food Freedoms
Written by Chris Ayers   
Sunday, 24 June 2012 20:13

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently announced a measure to ban sugary drinks in containers that hold more than sixteen fluid ounces, arguing that such drinks contribute to the obesity   epidemic that is facing the city and the country.  The ban would apply to sodas, sports drinks, sweetened coffee and sweetened tea.  Any establishment that sells those drinks would be prohibited from selling those drinks in sizes larger than sixteen ounces.  The New York City Board of Health (not the citizens) is scheduled to vote on the measure on September 13.  It is expected to pass.

There is no doubt that the country is facing an obesity epidemic.  However, there are many concerns from a precedent standpoint.  There are also concerns from a health standpoint.  If such a ban is implemented, what’s next?  Will we be implementing similar bans, for example, on the sixteen ounce New York Strip Steak?  How about double-scoops of ice cream?  What are we teaching our children about food and diets?  Is the message actually a healthy message in the long run?

I argue that such a move is an infringement on our food freedoms.  Thomas Jefferson once said, “If people let governments decide what foods they eat and what medicines they take, their bodies will soon be in as sorry a state as are the souls of those who live under tyranny”.  The ninth amendment to the United States Constitution protects the citizens from infringement on individual liberties not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution.  It exists because the Founding Fathers were concerned that, by listing rights explicitly in the Bill of Rights, the Government would not recognize rights not explicitly listed, and consequently lead to a dangerous expansion of Government power.

If we allow Government to legislate what we eat and drink, it sets a dangerous precedent that we, as citizens, are incapable of knowing what is good for us and what is not good for us and therefore need the Government to tell us how to live our lives.  It’s turning up the heat on the proverbial frog in the pot of water.  It presents a stark choice: Do we nurse from the breast of the Government or do we, as an informed citizenry, make our own choices about our own lives?  Accepting such legislation encourages a nanny state attitude that the Government knows best.  If the Government knows best, then why are we as a nation in more debt than the value of our GDP?  Surely, any good Nanny State government would make sure to run a budget in the black, right?  After all, a very important part of parenting children is setting a good example.  Perhaps Uncle Sam missed that parenting class.  Need I present more evidence on why we dare not trust the Government with our individual lives?!

What might the government be overlooking?  How about the fact that food itself is neither good nor bad.   The food you eat, be it salad or ice cream, is not, in and of itself, detrimental to your health.  You can eat junk food as your only food and maintain your weight or even lose weight (see “Twinkie Diet” for more information).  Your cholesterol levels will remain in healthy ranges.  You may even see drops in your LDL cholesterol and triglycerides – all on a junk food diet!  When Mayor Bloomberg’s argument is considered in this light, it simply does not hold water and begs the question as to whether we, as a society, are approaching health from the wrong angle.

What’s the real issue?  New Yorkers (and, by general implication, Americans) are gluttons!  That is something that you cannot and should not legislate out of people.  There is nothing in the legislation that prevents someone from buying, for example, three 16-oz bottles of soda instead of the two 20-oz bottles they would otherwise have bought.  This defeats the purpose of the ordinance.  Imposing a limit on the number of sodas a person is allowed to buy, similar to what is done with drugs containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, is the epitome of nanny state legislation.  Gluttons are creatures of habit and cannot be forced to change their ways.  While the ways of gluttons may be wrong, enacting legislation to change the personal habits of the people is not the proper purpose of government.

Labeling foods as good or bad foods has other health consequences.  It leads to our children getting the idea that being thin is necessary for acceptance into our society, and that if you are not thin, you are doing something wrong.  This can lead to the development of Eating Disorders like Anorexia Nervosa, which ends up killing up to 20% of those that contract it.  Eating Disorders can strike men, women, boys and girls from all ages and walks of life.  They are vicious, deadly diseases!

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found that hospitalizations for eating disorders in children under 12 increased by 119% between 1999 and 2006. It’s an alarming statistic, and it’s worth examining. It turns out that the messages schools now deliver to young boys and girls about what they eat and drink have fueled dysfunctional dieting.  And who is determining what’s being taught by the government?  Who is driving the messages that certain foods are good while others are bad?  Government.

I am not, by any means, arguing that one should eat junk food all day or drink soft drinks in excess.  The old wisdom that everything in moderation is good and that too much of any one thing is bad holds true.  What I am arguing is that calling out soft drinks, and trying to mandate behavior in relationship to them, constitutes a nanny state by a government that does not actually know best.  You can eat an unhealthy amount of fruits, or drink an unhealthy amount of milk.  Too much of anything is bad.  Will government limit how much food a person can buy at the grocery store “for our good”?  We see the beginnings of such wrongheaded policy in Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal.

The responsibility to educate our children on healthy eating habits falls on parents, not the government. We’d better be looking to our Ninth Amendment rights here in Wisconsin in order to protect against similar violations that might arise here in the area of food freedoms.  The Ninth Amendment is a far greater tool in protecting our children’s physical and mental health than any food mandate could ever be.

 

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