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The Assault on Food

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The Assault on Food

Instinct tells us to fear poison. If our ancestors were not cautious about what they put in their mouths, they would not have survived long enough to produce us.

Unfortunately, a side effect of that cautious impulse is that whenever someone claims that some chemical — or food ingredient, like fat — is a menace, we are primed to believe it. That makes it easy for government to leap in and play the role of protector.

But for every study that says X is bad for you, another study disagrees. How is a layman to decide? I used to take consumer activists' word for it. Heck, they want to save the world, while industry just wants to get rich. Now I know better. The activists want money, too — and fame.

To arbitrate, it's intuitive to turn to government — except ... government scientists have conflicts, too.

Who becomes a regulator except people who want to regulate? Some come from activist groups that hate industry. Some come from industry and want to convert their government job into a higher-paying industry job. Some just want attention. They know that saying, "X will kill you," gets more attention than saying that X is probably safe.

I don't suggest that we ignore the experts and eat like pigs. But the scientific question should not overshadow the more fundamental issue. Who should decide what you can eat: you? Or the state? Should government decide what we may eat, any more than it decides where we live or how long our hair will be? The Food Police claim that they just want to help us make informed choices. But that's not all they want to do. They try to get government to force us to make healthy choices.

The moral issue of force versus persuasion applies even if all the progressives' ideas about nutrition are correct. Even if I would be better off eating no fat and salt, that would not justify forcing restaurants to stop serving me those things. Either we live in a free society or we don't.

It is no coincidence that the push for more food regulation came at a time when Congress obsessed about the rising cost of medical care.

When government pays for your health care, it will inevitably be drawn into regulating your personal life. First, politicians promise to pay. Then, they propose to control you.

Where does it stop? If we must control diet to balance the government's budget, will the health squad next ban skydiving and extramarital sex? How about another try at Prohibition?

Government attracts do-gooders and meddlers who believe that, as Mark Twain put it, "Nothing so needs reforming as other people's habits." Or, as Twain's spiritual descendant, H.L. Mencken, said about Puritanism, government health officials seem to have "the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy."

Often the Food Police strike an innocent pose, claiming that they just want to give people information. Information is good. But it's not free. Mandated calorie signs in restaurants cost money. Those costs are passed on to consumers, and the endless parade of calorie counts and warning labels make us numb to more important warnings — like, "This Coffee Is Scalding Hot."

It's not as if dietary information isn't already available. Health and diet websites abound. Talk shows routinely discuss the latest books on diet and nutrition. TV diet gurus are celebrities. That's enough. We have information. We don't need government force.

Let the marketplace of diet ideas flourish. Let claim meet counterclaim, but let's not let government put its very heavy thumb on one side of the scale.

The assumption behind so much of government's policy regarding food (and everything else) is that everything good should be encouraged by law and everything bad should be discouraged.

But since everything is arguably helpful or harmful, this is a formula for totalitarianism.

Thomas Hobbes assumed an all-powerful government was necessary to protect us from violence. He called it Leviathan. But he never imagined Leviathan would plan our dinners.

John Stossel is host of "Stossel" on the Fox Business Network. He's the author of "Give Me a Break" and of "Myth, Lies, and Downright Stupidity." To find out more about John Stossel, visit his site at <a href="http://www.johnstossel.com" <http://www.johnstossel.com>>johnstossel.com</a>. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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Comments

2 Comments | Post Comment
Excellent article John, and I agree 100%. Back in the late 70' or early 80's a report came out that eating fried bacon caused cancer. That's when I decided that maybe these "scientific" studies weren't so accurate. I could be wrong but I think humans have been eating fried bacon for quite a number of years, so "if true", most of our ancestors would have died of cancers. Bananas are good for us, unless you eat too many, then you get diarrhea. All things in moderation is my mantra. as well as it's better to eat a variety of all foods. Let's keep government out of the choice of our selection of foods we prefer!
Comment: #1
Posted by: Suzanne
Fri Apr 27, 2012 6:43 PM
Just reporting about our govenrment is not enough............. we the people need to do something about these lawmakers.............. like fire them. George Washington had to be screaming in his grave when the government sued that couple who "the Fed Gov" called their property wet lands. Ours is a "Government Gone Wild". Stossel, I hereby name you as our countrys watch dog. Keeep us informed as to who ought to be fired and who ought to be re-elected. We the people despertly need someone who can keep up with all the misguided deeds our government is hobbling our good citizens with and post on your sight a report card. Every law maker who you come incontact with, or hear about, grade them and post it, and come election day, all we have to do is check your sight and get our local law makers grade (A throu F) and vote accordingly. I have thought of creating such a sight myself, but I am just not up to it. But I know you are. If there was anyone who ever could be a "Good Dictator" you would be that person. I love and agree with 110% of every show I hav ever watch you do.
Thank you John
Comment: #2
Posted by: Harry Surtees
Sun Apr 29, 2012 2:26 PM
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