Who’s the most powerful food activist in America? With so many overzealous pleasure-phobes to choose from, you’d think it would be hard to single out just one. But it’s really no contest: The “winner” of that ignoble distinction has got to be New York City “public health” czar Thomas Frieden. As our new profile of Frieden lays out in detail, his legislative track record reveals a mind that doesn’t simply blur the line between public and private health — it barely recognizes its existence.
As the heavy-handed commissioner of the Big Apple’s absurdly named “Department of Health and Mental Hygiene,” Frieden has — in just a few years — successfully spearheaded mounds of freedom-killing food regulations. These nanny-state initiatives have virtually nothing to do with containing and controlling legitimate health threats, and everything to do with eradicating perfectly innocuous food choices that Frieden happens to find personally objectionable.
Case in point: Frieden was a prominent force behind New York’s citywide ban on the use of trans fat — a food activist favorite that can be found in such life-threatening products as margarine and pastries. (It turns out that many of the ingredients restaurants are now using as replacements for trans fat are actually less healthy.)
In January Frieden ignited a media firestorm when he announced that city virologists had uncovered an untreatable HIV “super strain.” The hysteria following the pronouncement, though it got Frieden’s name in the paper, proved unnecessary: the strain eventually responded to conventional treatments and was confined to a single person.
As part of a public relations campaign aimed at getting New Yorkers to drink more tap water, Frieden’s department pays people to hand out empty water bottles on street corners. And, at his request, the city has commissioned subway-themed condoms. Seriously.
Keep in mind that Frieden presides over a city that just a few months ago was publicly embarrassed when a video emerged online of rats scurrying around a downtown restaurant the day after it had passed a city health inspection. It appears that Frieden has more pressing priorities than city-sponsored condoms and culinary witch hunts. Too bad the nuts-and-bolts work of, you know, protecting people from actual diseases won’t get him nearly as much attention as throwing gobs of (taxpayer) dollars at trendy food scares.