The next thing you know, Michael Bloomberg will be telling you to eat your vegetables and drink your milk. This certainly seems to be the next in a logical progression of the mayor’s efforts to turn the government into your mother. New York City’s overzealous attempts to protect citizens from themselves reached a new degree of preposterousness Tuesday with the announcement that trans fats were to be forcibly phased out of all restaurant fare over the next two years. This ban is symptomatic of two very serious flaws in American society: unwarranted government intervention in the lives of the American citizens and an utter lack of self-responsibility on the part of the citizens themselves.
To my knowledge, one does not walk into McDonald’s in search of a healthy and well-balanced culinary experience. One walks into McDonald’s in search of a Big Mac, probably with a side of fries and a soda and maybe even one of those little apple pies. Despite recently added “lighter” offerings, it is not a place typically known for its health food. However, the fact that McDonald’s has profited from the gluttony of America’s — and indeed, the world’s — citizens does not make it evil or corrupt, contrary to popular opinion. No one is forcing you to eat that Big Mac. You are the one who decides whether to eat it. If you choose to, however, you must accept the consequences of your actions, including the risks of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. And because of the ever-increasing coverage of health issues in the media, one would be hard-pressed to find an American who is truly oblivious to what he is putting in his, or his child’s, mouth.
The frivolous lawsuits associated with many restaurants are a testament to the unwillingness of Americans to accept the consequences of their own decisions. The extent of this dearth of self-responsibility is appalling; it extends from the individual citizen to the entire U.S government. (For the moment, however, we will confine our focus to the former.) If a person knowingly consumes junk food day after day and eventually finds himself obese and suffering from heart disease, he has no grounds to sue the purveyors of his vice for his own foolish habits. It boggles the mind that these cases are not laughed right out of the courtrooms in which they are heard. Either way, in light of these lawsuits and the accompanying public outcry against the fare proffered in many dining establishments, it is no wonder that both high-end and low-end restaurants are feeling the heat, so to speak. Why, at any moment, a disgruntled businessman could appear with a battalion of lawyers raising hell over supposed chest pains no doubt instigated by the brie en croute!
Taking this into consideration, is it in fact the case that the New York City mandate is actually benefiting businesses by simply removing one more of their liabilities? Certainly not. The time and expense required to remove every last trace of trans fat from all of the city’s restaurants will be enormous. Trans fat is present in the most basic staples of many kitchens, such as margarine, as well as in many popular desserts. Considering that the likelihood of a lawsuit against an individual business is admittedly pretty low, the expense for that business to eradicate trans fats is huge. Banning trans fats will require restaurants either entirely to rework their menus at high personal cost or to substitute saturated fats, which are no healthier. Ultimately, therefore, the expense will be great and the health impact minimal.
But the real question, however, is whether the government even has the right to be dictating what people can and cannot eat. This case is far different from the smoking-ban controversy of years past. It has been scientifically documented that secondhand smoke poses serious health risks to those exposed to it. To my knowledge, there is no such thing as secondhand fat.
Because the consumption of fat poses no threat to anyone other than the consumer, there is no reason for the government to be legislating against it. The government’s assumption that the citizenry is too incompetent to act in its own best interests is, frankly, a highly dangerous one. The government is not our baby-sitter, ever watching to make sure that we don’t swallow poison or stick forks into electrical sockets. The purpose of the government is to protect citizens from each other, from foreign threats and from tyranny. Though the American citizenry has indeed become highly irresponsible, the government has neither the obligation nor the right to restrict legitimate business enterprise in order to protect each citizen from his own folly.
Laura Marcus is a freshman in Morse College.