Pop quiz: “Whose fault is it that so many Americans are fat?”

“‘Fault’ is a hard word.” That’s trial lawyer John Banzhaf’s inadvertently self-parodying answer to a question from anchor Stone Phillips on last Friday’s “Dateline.” Perhaps most (in)famous for his participation in the failed lawsuit against fast food companies on behalf of a Bronx native who blamed them for his obesity, Banzhaf was ostensibly on the show representing all those hefty Americans who hold restaurants responsible for their bulging waistlines.

Common sense tells us that what goes into your body is your decision. But Banzhaf thinks — or at least says — differently:

It’s hard to believe that just over the last 20 years, which is when this [obesity] epidemic started, that somehow we all lost personal responsibility. Because if we did, we’d have far more automobile accidents, far more accidental shootings and so on. We don’t see that.

He argues that a restaurant’s failure to provide warning labels stating that food makes people fat is the cause of obesity. And he wants to extract big bucks from the big companies that don’t fit his movement’s ever-shifting standards.

Banzhaf: If I can go there and show that a company misrepresented a product, I can sue on that basis alone and never have to prove that a single person became obese…

Phillips: But nobody’s forcing us to eat fast food or to eat so much of it.

Banzhaf: No. But if a fast food restaurant doesn’t tell you in an effective manner, what’s in the food… if people are confused — thinking, for example, the Chicken McNuggets, because they’re chicken, is [sic] healthier than the hamburgers — people can’t make those choices.

Beyond the fact that most of the Food Police’s favorite targets provide easily accessible nutritional information about the products they sell (for a few examples, see here, here, and here), the real problem with Banhzaf’s blame-business-first mantra is its limited understanding of consumer choice. Just as you get to choose between the salad and the cheeseburger once you’re in the restaurant, you also get to decide which restaurant you want to go to in the first place.

Restaurants are in the business of pleasing customers. If they don’t, people simply won’t come back. The fact that Banzhaf’s targets haven’t already posted all the gratuitous warnings he’s calling for is evidence that consumers aren’t clamoring for them.

But it’s no secret that Banzhaf isn’t really looking out for consumers. (This is a man who sells lawsuit kits on the Internet.) And he’s garbing his greed in the guise of public advocacy.