by Lindsey Hubbart
Personal responsibility is a primary American value, which means that we must make decisions for ourselves rather than relying on the government to step in and act as a parent. Thomas Jefferson expressed this idea when he wrote, “I predict the future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.”
Recently, while pretending to take care of us, the government has become far too intrusive in our food choices. One example of this excessive regulation is Mayor Bloomberg’s attempt to ban sodas more than 16 oz. in New York. Fortunately, the day before the law was scheduled to go into effect, the Manhattan Supreme Court struck this ban down, calling it “arbitrary and capricious.” Mayor Bloomberg defended his law by saying, “I’ve got to defend my children, and yours, and do what’s right to save lives. Obesity kills. There’s no question it kills.” Mayor Bloomberg is right, obesity does kill. But he is missing the point completely. You are not a nanny, and you cannot tell the people of New York that they can have 16 oz. of soda but not 17 oz.
I want to clarify that I do not endorse drinking soda. I have not had a soda in about seven years. However, if I decide that I want a soda, I ought to have the right to drink as much as I want without the government telling me it’s wrong. I do not think that anyone needs the government to say that drinking a soda is unhealthy. We have the right, and the personal responsibility, to make decisions for ourselves. Without the government telling me what to do, I chose to give up soda because I value my health. Similarly, anyone else can make that decision for him or herself.
The government has also tried to mandate calorie counts on the menus of chain restaurants, which have proven completely ineffective. A study completed by Yale University and New York University surveyed people dining at fast food restaurants in New York City before and after the calorie count law, as well as in Newark, NJ, which has no law about posting calories. The researchers found that “only about half of the fast-food customers in New York said they noticed all this helpful information, and only a quarter of the patrons in this group said it made any difference in their choices.” However, among those that said the calorie information affected their choice, the average consumption actually increased from an average of 823 to 846.
Besides the ineffectiveness of this law, it is also an unnecessary burden on restaurants. First of all, it is very costly for restaurants to pay for lab work to test the caloric load of the meal, and then have their menus changed. It also decreases the flexibility of the chefs. Many do not use exact measurements of ingredients when preparing a meal, but will have to in order to maintain an accurate calorie count. Additionally, it will become more difficult to serve special dishes, since they will need to calculate and publish the calorie count each time they want to serve a new meal. As businesses in the free market, restaurants have the right to serve what they want and how they want it as long as they are not posing an immediate danger to the customer. One high calorie meal at a restaurant is not an immediate danger.
Once again, we do not need the government impeding our personal decision-making abilities by telling us what is “good” to eat and what is not. We are perfectly capable of making these decisions on our own.
Contact Lindsey Hubbart at firstname.lastname@example.org