The Los Angeles Times published an op-ed today calling for less government meddling in our dietary choices. Julie Gunlock's piece questions whether recent state controls regarding food labeling, bans on trans fat and taxes on unhealthy foods are really fitting for a country of free citizens with a limited government.
The argument isn't new, but New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's recent ban on sodas larger than 16 ounces, which will take effect in five months unless the courts intervene, seems to have particularly inflamed the foodie freedom fighters.
Gunlock lists other atrocities beyond the soda ban, including New York's ban on trans fat, liquor laws in general and requirements for warnings regarding undercooked meats, but in pointing out the "sin tax" that's moved beyond cigarettes and alcohol to special taxes on sodas in four U.S. states, Gunlock seems especially tone-deaf.[jump]
The problem with Gunlock's argument is it ignores the "sin subsidies" that have been in place since economic turmoil plagued American farmers in the 1920s and 1930s. The government has been meddling with our food supply for nearly a century now by giving farmers incentives to grow the corn, soybeans and other crops that have fueled the fast food and sugar industries that lead to our raging obesity problem.
Why are we suddenly so mad about it now? And why is it OK to meddle with the economics that steer the decisions of massive corporate farms, but not enact small fiscal incentives that gently push American consumers to make healthier decisions on their own behalf?
According to Gunlock, Americans should be making their own food and health choices, but she advocates against the very labels that would help those consumers make informed decisions. She also completely ignores the fact that the obesity problem centers not on the people who have the means to choose between a Big Mac with super-sized fries and a $12 wrap from a boutique salad restaurant, but on the people who live in food deserts who have few choices in what they eat every day.
When the subsidies that fueled the ingredients that helped create our obesity crises began, they were enacted to stabilize commodity markets and protect the family farmer. Those measures worked beautifully in the short term but they've backfired over the decades as corporate farms bought up smaller farms and subsequently gobbled up all the subsidies. Our government admits there's a growing obesity problem while they subsidize the ingredients that go into the products that make us fat.
I'm all for less government in my food chain. Lets get rid of rules that ban raw milk consumption, let burger stands serve their ground beef bloody, let people drink whatever, wherever they want, and hell, let's let them smoke a whole bunch of pot too. But before we turn ourselves loose in the Hostess aisles of our local Walmarts with a 7-Eleven Super Big Gulp in hand, let's get rid of all the excess corn syrup and vegetable oil we stocked the shelves with first.