Enemies of Food Freedom Committed to Cause

Published November 14, 2010

You may have heard that San Francisco has become the first major city to ban Happy Meals. This should not surprise anyone — it is just one obviously absurd consequence of making government responsible for managing everybody’s health choices.

Ban Goes National

The policy isn’t really surprising in a city known for fringe notions out of touch with basic concepts of liberty, which has produced politicians such as former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and with so few children clamoring for the boxed cheeseburger and toy (84 percent of San Francisco households are childless).

What is surprising is that it did not happen sooner, perhaps thanks to local liberal politicians such as Mayor Gavin Newsom, who announced a veto of the measure to express his disgust, but is likely to be overruled by a veto-proof margin in favor of the ban. But the Happy Meal ban isn’t going to stop in San Francisco — it’s going national, just one more step down the progressive path toward solving all our health problems by government mandate.

History of Food Authority

In his forthcoming book, What Would the Founders Say? (Sentinel, 2011), University of Dayton Professor Larry Schweikart notes how unrecognizable the U.S. food management bureaucracy would appear to the nation’s founding generation and even those born early in the 20th century.

“By the 1950s,” Schweikart writes, “the FDA and public health officials had stretched their authority to a new level, moving from careful monitoring of poisons in the American food and drink supply to recommending to the public what foods to eat and what drinks to consume.”

Unfortunately, as Schweikart details, the government-knows-best dietary program has included massive mistakes based on junk science — faulty recommendations which, paired with equally ill-conceived food subsidies, ultimately sped the rise in obesity. This total failure didn’t stop those committed bureaucrats, whose passion for government managing the lives of citizens has become a matter of sanity-killing devotion.

George W. Bush administration Surgeon General Richard Carmona, for example, once said that putting a 20-ounce bottle of sugary soda in the hands of a child is as dangerous as giving him or her car keys. I don’t suggest you test that thesis.

Crying Wolf on Food

Such scare tactics are easily ignored when they’re nothing more than recommendations of overly excitable bureaucrats. But as the nation’s taxpayers have been forced to shoulder more and more of the costs of health care, officials have used cost containment as a pretext for mandating individual behavior changes — and forcing the entire population to adhere to standards designed for people susceptible to certain health conditions such as heart disease or high blood pressure. Despite the science indicating that all most Americans need is to moderate consumption and get a little more exercise, the government has declared outright war on salt, fat, sugar, and more.

These mandates frequently backfire. As The Heartland Institute’s Health Care News reported earlier this year, the bureaucrats’ new, completely arbitrary sodium standards would cause the costs of curing meats such as ham and bacon to skyrocket while the risk of food poisoning (the reason the FDA was created in the first place) would actually rise.

Government money doesn’t come without strings attached. In a system where others must pay the price for your wanton ignorance of the latest government recommendations, you cannot be allowed to decide what to feed your family. Big Brother is watching your menu choices.

The enemies of food freedom are committed to their cause. “This is not going to stop at San Francisco,” a supporter of the Happy Meal ban told the Los Angeles Times, describing the intent to take the ban nationwide. They’re nothing if not consistent.

Perhaps you really should just eat what they tell you. Or perhaps, like me, you feel like grilling tonight. The government is swell and all — but they’ll get my last piece of bacon when they pry it from my cold, dead hands.

Benjamin Domenech ([email protected]) is a research fellow at The Heartland Institute and managing editor of Health Care News. This oped originally appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch and is reprinted with permission.