Government-Mandated Fad Diets?

Could long waits at the DMV soon be matched by time spent standing in anti-bread lines? Sure, if government-mandated Atkins diets turn carbohydrates into contraband. Though bread bans seem laughable right now, laws like New York City’s trans fat ban illustrate policymakers’ predilection for governing by trends, as an online Washington Post op-ed argues today:

By singling out one substance, the city is sending a dangerous message that health is about eliminating “bad” foods rather than making better lifestyle choices. This is the policy equivalent of a fad diet — it will grab the headlines for a short while without changing anyone’s actual behavior.

Motivation for banning “bad” foods extends beyond legislators’ desire to fit the public into skinny jeans. Since laws against cheap, fast food disproportionately affect the poor, it’s not hard to catch a whiff of elitism emanating from the halls of power. Claiming the poor “are the torchbearers of an emerging new class system based on nutrition,” a Sydney Morning Herald column alleged last week that weight may provide the last acceptable grounds for discrimination. Obesity, then, supplies justification for wealthy citizens and lawmakers to pass “elitist snap judgments” based on the contents of a shopping cart or lunch order. Luckily, not everyone flaunts food scares to mask feelings of moral superiority, and many people do not regard pastries or pie as social currency. One resident of Delaware may speak for the silent majority who still believes that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Responding to a question by the News Journal about ordering food that might contain trans fat, Ogletown resident Marie Wheeler says, “I think about it … Then I just order the french fries anyway.

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