In the wake of New York City’s ban on restaurant use of trans fat, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the ban is “not going to take away anybody’s ability to go out and have the kind of food they want, in the quantities they want. . . . We are just trying to make food safer.”
That, my friends, is tyrannical double-talk. Let’s look at it. Trans fats are derived from partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. They can raise blood levels of LDL, the “bad cholesterol.” According to Dr. Elizabeth Whelan, president of American Council on Science and Health, trans fats are about two percent of our daily caloric intake, while saturated fats, which also raise LDL blood levels, make up 10 to 15 percent.
Naturally, we might ask, why the attack on restaurants using trans fats and not saturated fats? The answer’s easy; we just need a historical reference. When the anti-smoking zealots started out, they too went after a relatively small target by demanding non-smoking sections on airplanes. That success emboldened them to demand no smoking on planes at all and in airports as well. Then came laws against smoking in restaurants.
Today, in Calabasas, Calif., smoking is prohibited outside, and several California cities have banned beach smoking. Had the anti-smoking zealots revealed their full agenda when they started out, they wouldn’t have been nearly as successful. They would have encountered too much resistance.
The nation’s food zealots have taken a page from their anti-smoking counterparts. They’ve started out with a small target — a ban on restaurant use of trans fats. Here’s what I predict is their true agenda: If banning a fat that’s only two percent of our daily caloric intake is wonderful, why not ban saturated fats, the intake of which is much higher? Then there’s the size of restaurant servings.
Instead of a law simply requiring restaurants to label the calories in a meal, there will be laws setting a legal limit on portions.
There’s a Washington, D.C., organization, Center for Science in the Public Interest, that some call busybodies, but they are more accurately described as petty tyrants. They’ve made a list of foods you shouldn’t eat. Among them are: Dove and Haagen-Dazs ice cream, Mrs. Field’s cookies and McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets. If they are successful, you shouldn’t be surprised to see a ban on these and similar foods.
Food zealots, who share the mindset of Mayor Bloomberg and are “. . . just trying to make food safer,” will not be satisfied controlling restaurant menus. After all, most eating is done at home. So why wouldn’t the food zealots enact bans on what can and cannot be sold in supermarkets? Nine chances out of ten, most of a person’s saturated fat intake occurs during the family dinner.
You say, “Williams, that’s ridiculous! They would never tell us what we can eat at home.” That’s precisely what you might have said when the anti-smoking zealots started out. Belmont, Calif., has recently enacted a law not only banning smoking in apartments and other attached dwellings, but also on the street, in a park and even in one’s own car.
Smokers have been relatively passive and have allowed the anti-smoking zealots to run roughshod over them. The question is whether those of us who wish to eat as we please will allow the food zealots to do the same. These people are cowards, and here’s why: If Mayor Bloomberg and other food zealots think I’m eating too many trans fats, let them personally come and take fatty foods off my plate or remove them from my shopping cart. Since they don’t have the guts to do that, they correctly deem it safer to use the brute force of the state to control what I eat.
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Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University.