photo by slice“People have the right to make up their own mind about what they eat or don’t eat.”
- Retailer Julian Graves, whom I accused in The Worst Sugar Pushers of All.
I don’t disagree with this. People do have the right to make up their mind about what they eat - and thank heaven for that. At current levels of knowledge about nutrition, intervention by the authorities would probably damage people who want to be healthy as much as it would protect those who do not.
Yet there is a difference between choosing what to eat from the available food and being able to choose what food is available. We must get used to the idea that some foods should never have been available in the first place and must now be banned.
FreedomWe think freedom is about being able to do what we want – but in reality freedom operates only within the bubble of our own experience. If we are not aware we ever had an option, there is no sense of loss when the option is withdrawn - we do not feel any less free. So if it were possible to engineer mass, experience-specific amnesia then we could ban something without anyone feeling their rights had been eroded.
However, we cannot do that. Instead, people get used to food they like being available then perceive the threat of its withdrawal as the erosion of their rights or freedoms. Quite reasonably from their own perspective, their complaints might include:
- I am capable of eating this stuff in moderation so why should my pleasure be taken away because others cannot exercise self-control?
- My health is my business, so I should be allowed to eat this stuff.
- Instead of banning things, you should concentrate on educating people to eat them sensibly.
What Monkey Wants Monkey GetsTaking things away from people does not sit well in the agenda of political parties. Our democratic systems, envy of the world though they may be, encourage a doctrine of ‘what monkey wants monkey gets’ – you’re not going to vote for the candidate who stops you doing the things you like. This is part of the reason cigarettes are still on sale; and governments are more than happy to dress up their profiteering and corporate appeasement as pandering to liberal ideals.
Photo by spin spinSo instead of taking things away from people, we inch our way towards solutions painfully slowly. One by one, US states ban trans-fats. Milligram by milligram, regulations about salt content in processed foods shift in favour of reductions. The absurd and merry dance continues between companies wanting to make money from selling rubbish, researchers reporting that the rubbish damages our health and people telling the authorities they should be allowed to eat rubbish if they want to.
In the meantime, obesity rates inexorably increase, diabetes incidence rises to unprecedented levels, cancer rates increase and drug companies spend billions developing semi-effective cures for our diet-induced ailments.
SqueamishSo I say we must change the emphasis of the merry dance. Yes, let’s educate. Yes, let’s respect people's sense of loss. Hey, let’s even see if we can find a way for companies who manufacture this rubbish to land a bit more softly when we ban it...but we must become less squeamish about this concept of freedom.
People will complain at first, but then forget. They will find new foods they like. They probably won’t thank anyone for the extra few months of life they were given by being forcibly prevented from eating so much high fructose corn syrup - but then gratitude is not what this is about.
This is about making society collectively healthier so that some of the billions currently spent looking after the sick or squandered on misguided medical research can be spent on other ways to make the world a better place.
What Can We Do?Clearly it will take time for the world to change - but I believe we can all help things along by recognising that:
- The gratification of our every preference is not necessarily a right
- However much we resent government intervention, sometimes it is the only way to create a better future
The Worst Sugar Pushers of all: Health Food Stores
Julian Graves Responds to 'Sugar Pushers' Post