Saturday, August 9, 2008

Fast food is the new tobacco: the next advance of the nanny state

Have you ever heard anyone joke, "what a great country America is! Even our poor people are fat!" Well, the left has plans to change that. It was only a few short months ago that I heard a medical school classmate, as I've mentioned before, advocate taxing fatty foods to encourage those who tend to eat such foods to eat more healthfully. Now the discussion has gone national. In an article at Slate, William Saletan describes an ordinance passed by the Los Angeles City Council prohibiting construction of new fast-food restaurants in a 32-square-mile area inhabited by 500,000 low-income people. Saletan seems to be against it, but on close reading his reaction is basically the "shock" that liberals are always evincing to phenomena they should have been able to predict:

We're not talking anymore about preaching diet and exercise, disclosing calorie counts, or restricting sodas in schools. We're talking about banning the sale of food to adults. Treating French fries like cigarettes or liquor. I didn't think this would happen in the United States anytime soon. I was wrong.
Well, why didn't you think it would happen in the United States? Look at what's happened with smoking. The left has already virtually won that war; why shouldn't they turn to unhealthy food next? And notice that by Saletan's own description, we're not talking about treating French fries like cigarettes or liquor, we're talking about treating them more severely than cigarettes and liquor, which are freely available for purchase by adults.

Saletan does make a good point in the article. Among those who think that the obese poor need more governmental help with their culinary choices, it is often said that poor people in urban environments have no choice but to eat fast food, since there are no supermarkets in their neighborhoods because of high crime and economic deprivation. Saletan thinks that's bogus:

And the helplessness attributed to poor people is exaggerated. "You try to get a salad within 20 minutes of our location; it's virtually impossible," says the Community Coalition's executive director. Really? The coalition's headquarters is at 8101 S. Vermont Ave. A quick Google search shows, among other outlets, a Jack-in-the-Box six blocks away. They have salads. Not the world's greatest salads, but not as bad as a government that tells you whose salad you can eat.
I tend to agree with this. During the first year of medical school, we were all forced to do a public service project, and one group decided to examine nutrition in poor areas of the city. They claimed that in one area, for blocks and blocks in every direction, there was no store selling fresh produce. Despite such claims, I find it hard to believe that the denizens of the "inner cities" can't find healthy food. Even if they don't have cars, they have public transportation. Most of them do work, meaning they are probably leaving their neighborhoods daily for somewhat more thriving ones. Yet the left accepts the "poor people don't have stores selling healthy food accessible to them" idea as gospel, and will not consider that it might not be true, using it to shut down debate when one suggests that we shouldn't regulate fast food.

In any case, while there's nothing morally wrong with tobacco, it's not a necessity of life and there's no question that chronic smoking is foolish. Yet eating is a basic necessity, and as I pointed out above, the left wants to treat it more strictly than tobacco. Perhaps it will soon be time to formulate a new law. Something along the lines of: in liberal society, the more natural and normal an activity, the more it will be constrained and regulated according to what the elite deems best. I don't think we have sufficient examples of this yet, but be on the lookout for more.


Smith/Wesson said...

Get ready for medical school curriculum based on this. We're going to be the new arm of the nanny state. Might as well call it the department of alcohol, tobacco, firearms, and french fries. It's already standard procedure for medical students to inquire about patients' firearms. All while we slide toward socialized medicine.

Hermes said...

Oh, my school is there already. It's a shame; I'm interested in a few pediatric subspecialties, but going into one of them would require getting through 3 years of a pediatrics residency, taking orders from left-wing, mostly female attendings to offer adolescent patients contraception without their parents' knowledge and follow the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines for a well child visit where you're supposed to grill the parents about guns in the home. I sometimes think I'd have to either be a wimp and defer to them for 3 years, or be honest and forthright and get dismissed from the residency for my "extreme, inflammatory" views.

Anonymous said...

I think it is more likely that the salads that are available are usually not as cheap as the fast food. Also when you have a dollar to spend on lunch, and you can choose a tiny salad or a cheeseburger, I think most poor people are going to choose the most food for the dollar, not necessarily the healthiest.