I received an interesting email yesterday morning from Julie Gunlock, director of the Women for Food Freedom Project at the Independent Women’s Forum. She was promoting an opinion piece she had written for the Los Angeles Times. Although she asked for nothing, I suppose she was looking for a secondary outlet for her message.
The article was titled, “Keep the State off My Plate.” The writer is yet another activist weighing in on government involvement into what—and how much—Americans eat and drink.
Gunlock makes a few good points, but her overall message is one that I imagine wouldn’t sit well with most Americans if they really think about it. She’s basically advocating a kind of food anarchy.
“Americans must ask themselves: Do we really want government bureaucrats in charge of how much soda we can drink and what amount of salt can go into a can of soup?” Gunlock concludes in her article. “Is this really fitting for a country of free citizens with a limited government?”
I think the answer is, yes and no. I’ve argued previously that attempted government controls are often poorly conceived and ill-fated, such as New York Mayor Bloomberg’s ban on the sale of fountain sodas of more than 16 ounces.
But government does provide some protections for Americans, not only from themselves but from unscrupulous practices on the part of Big Business. Does Gunlock actually want food manufacturers to have the unchecked ability to put whatever they want into the food we eat? Laying aside questions about government excesses or questionable practices, without government agencies such as FDA and USDA who would have the power to protect the health and safety of citizens from unregulated food manufacturers?
Ironically, in Gunlock’s article she actually makes two pro-government points in attempting to prove its ineffectiveness. For example, she cites a 2009 study of the effect of New York’s edict to require restaurants to post calorie and nutrition information. She wrote that, according to the study, “only half even noticed the government-required calorie information displayed on menu boards. Of those, only 28% said the information influenced their ordering.”
I would argue that the posted information actually caught the eye of many customers and influenced the decisions of a significant number of them—people who might not otherwise have considered the choices they were making. Whether you believe the government should have the right to mandate nutrition posting, the study demonstrated that it was having some impact.
Gunlock also touched on the four states that currently have a “sin tax” on sodas. “They rank among the most obese states in the nation,” she wrote. “So much for the government's war on obesity.”
What Gunlock apparently failed to realize—or conveniently chooses not to point out—is that the taxes were imposed becausethese states have high rates of obesity. They haven’t been in effect long enough to have had any impact on obesity rates. Are these taxes just? I’m not sure. The fact remains, it is far too early to measure their effectiveness.
The extent to which government entities should have control over our food and beverage choices certainly is debatable. But a government stripped of its power to influence the food, beverage and restaurant industries would have far more dire consequences for Americans.