and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation


Barbara's Column
February 2002 #2

The Food Police:
For overeaters, like smokers, it's short step
from "Don't blame me!" to "Show me the money!"

by Barbara Anderson

The Salem Evening News
Tuesday, February 12, 2002

Now they've gone too far.

Sure, blame lung cancer and violent crime on tobacco companies and gun manufacturers. It's absurd, yet not funny.

But I predict that the silliness of blaming food providers for the costs of obesity-related illness will bring the country to its knees, tears of laughter rolling down its chubby little cheeks.

Already the fun headlines have appeared on the website of the Center for Consumer Freedom, "a coalition of more than 30,000 restaurant and tavern operators working together to preserve the right to offer guests a full menu of dining and entertainment choices."

They need a coalition to defend their menu? Well, maybe some government entity should keep an eye on the entertainment component. I'm a civil libertarian, but I wouldn't support human sacrifice or cockfights at my favorite restaurant, with the victim served up as the special of the day.

Today we'll just focus on your basic, presently-legal foodstuffs like pasta with cream sauces, bacon cheeseburgers, soft drinks and rich desserts.

The best Consumer Freedom's headline, speaking as Our Government Mob, is: "Nice restaurant you've got here. Hate to see anything bad happen to it."

Other goodies:

"Harry Potter and the Curse of Junk Science" -- apparently Coca-Cola is under attack for promoting the "Reading is Fundamental" campaign.

"Hungry lawyers eye food" and "Activists gorge on obesity 'epidemic'" -- articles about those who make money by attacking consumer choices.

And the answer to the question "Who's next?" asked by the Wall St. Journal about government-sponsored lawsuits: "Everyone's Next!"

Two years ago I wrote here about the game of suing tobacco companies to reimburse the states for Medicaid money spent on lung disease, and firearms manufacturers for the medical costs associated with gunshot wounds.

Sarcastically, I asked: Why stop there?; and joked that fast-food franchisees will someday be expected to subsidize research into heart disease. My partner Chip Ford told me not to kid about these things, since government doesn't hear sarcasm, only the sound of money swishing down the bottomless government pit. He predicted that it was only a matter of time until meal providers were either taxed or sued because some people eat too much for their own good.

Consumer Freedom just added another headline to its website: "Anti-consumer Food Fight Intensifies." ABC reported on Jan. 22 that "lawsuits against food companies are currently legal long shots, experts say. Some say government regulations, taxes and changes in insurance premiums are preferable and would achieve the same goals."

Long shot or not, the next day Fox News reported that the same mindset that sued the tobacco companies is eyeing food, considering "legal action against everyone from fast-food chains to the nation's leading snack food companies."

One of the hungry lawyers appeared on Fox's "Hannity and Colmes" to argue that since obesity costs society a lot of money in medical costs, businesses who provide unhealthy food should be liable.

Both the conservative and liberal hosts tried to make a case for personal responsibility, but the lawyer still insisted that Ronald McDonald should be held accountable for the girth of the nation. Now is your cue to laugh -- unless you are a restaurant owner, and have already lost business due to smoking bans, and can't imagine how you can afford to fight the government on the food issue, when all that money in the pit threatens to take you to court.

Yes, excess fat is bad. But you want to see excess fat? Take a look at the wallets of the lawyers who play the "Everyone's Next" game.

Somewhere out there, real scientists are doing real work with the human genome to fight disease. A year ago I wrote here about the "Eat right for your (blood) type" lifestyle I was trying, based upon research that showed we are not all the same in our genetic make-up. You won't be surprised to learn that I am not adhering religiously to my Type O requirements, which discourage wheat and cheddar while recommending vigorous exercise. But I remain convinced that the basic premise is correct; that whether or not blood is the determinant, people are as individual in their food requirements as they are in their personalities.

The government and lawyers cannot possibly deal with this. Food researchers alternately praise and discourage coffee, chocolate, butter/margarine, eggs, tuna, ketchup and milk. The food police can attack beef, which may be bad for some people, good for others, but then must attack allergy-causing wheat, corn and nuts for the same reason. Toss in animal-rights activists and grain-worshiping Druids, and you have chaos in the courts.

Nevertheless, it's coming. With greed supplanting personal responsibility in the lawsuit mindset, some restaurant is going to be sued for serving food. When that happens, the healthiest thing we can all do is laugh out loud.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem Evening News and the Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in other newspapers.

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