Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

08 December, 2006

Making War in Madison

Nick Rhoads recently published a piece up at Dane101.com called "Next front in the war on trans-fat? Let's make it Madison" in which he expresses his desire to have the city ban trans fats. Like Rhoads, I prefer "natural" peanut butter. I think it tastes better because there's no added sugar. But it is here that our agreement ends.

Mr. Rhoads' ability to dictate what foods people eat ends at his own gaping maw. Stop trying to dictate the diets of others. Do I promote the consumption of trans fats? No. What I do promote is the city staying the fuck out of the business of determining what oils restaurants may use. Trans fats or no trans fat, fast food is shite. As the Wisconsin State Journal noted, people generally can't tell that the trans fats are gone. I suspect banning them will only serve to promote the notion that fast food has somehow been transmogrified into a paragon of healthiness. "Ooh! The trans fats are gone. Now I can eat at McDonalds with a clean conscience." Banning trans fats is not going to make fast food healthy nor discourage people from eating it; and a ban will not make people start exercising nor adopt a healthy lifestyle.

What attempting to ban trans fats will do is distract the city government from other issues that, in my humble judgment, are more important than the types of oil French fries are cooked in. Former mayor Paul Soglin harps on these issues, such as crime, poverty, and education, constantly. For instance, he notes that "while Madison used to have 1/3 the crime rate of the nation, it is now approaching the national crime rate". Instead of jumping on the bandwagon of the latest prohibition trend from New York City, I would prefer the mayor and the council address these issues before tackling poor self-imposed eating habits. Let's work on crime, poverty, education, etc. first and then we can deal with polishing the facade we put on for Money magazine.

That Mr. Rhoads wants people to be healthy is noble and I certainly cannot take issue with this. However, if he wants to see restaurants stop using trans fats, then he and his fellow crusaders should band together and approach the restaurants. Start a campaign to let establishments know that they should not use trans fats and educate people about the health risks involved. But Mr. Rhoads and people like him need to stop trying to co-opt the city government to enforce their vision of how people should live their lives.

Next front on the war on poverty? Let's make it Madison.
|| Palmer, 9:51 AM


Actually, "fatness" is a giant national issue. People who don't take care of themselves burden the rest of us with extreamly high cost health care. The point is that trans-fats are not needed but are cheaper and therefore business will use them. I think it is clear that are not good to injest, so why keep them? I'm not saying we should ban everything but in some areas there needs to be an incentive or push to protect the public. Give me the reasons we should keep trans fats. What good do they do us?
Blogger Rhoads, at 3:53 PM  
Please let me be a bit more complete in my thoughts....
I beleive that small local governments should get involved in these types of issues because it has to start somewhere and god knows the fat cats of Washington won't be paying attention until half the country bans it. It has the same air as banning the poisoning of our ground water. Will we allow them to poison our bodies too?
Blogger Rhoads, at 4:16 PM  
Hi Mr. Rhoads,
Feel free to add as much as you like.
Let me say that I am NOT pro-trans fats. I make no claims that trans fats are in any way salutary. If all the restaurants in Madison decided to suddenly remove trans fats from their menus tomorrow, I wouldn't shed a tear. In fact, I would cheer their collective decision. Here is what I got out of your post and your comments here:

a) People should eat healthy foods.
b) Foods containing trans fats are unhealthy.
c) Thusly the government should ban trans fats.

You and I are in strict agreement regarding A and B. We part ways on C. I agree with you that people *should* eat healthy foods but do not believe that people *should be forced* to eat healthy food. Governments, whether they be small local or big federal or any point in between, are still governments. My argument is not that only government at this or that level should ban trans fats in restaurants but rather that no government at any level should ban them. High health care costs are apparently like taxes in that they are a price we pay for living in a civil society. Living in one means that many of your fellow citizens don't live lifestyles that you approve of. This means that your neighbors' diets are none of your business. You don't get to dictate what foods they eat and they don't get to dictate what foods you eat.

There are a couple areas in which I feel that city regulation could be of use here:

1) Banning trans fats from meal catered on the city's dime. If you want to mandate that firms that are contracted by the city to provide food at city functions, city office buildings, etc., to abstain from using trans fats, I think that's great.

2) Banning trans fats from meals prepared and served at our public schools for students. If you lobby to get trans fats banned from our school's cafeterias, I'm with you. Concomitant with this might be an investigation into the physical education programs at our schools. I honestly have no idea what they're like so investigating them and, if necessary, instituting changes would be a great step towards better citywide health.

Here are some other things I would favor:

---Restaurants following Culver's lead by voluntarily ceasing the use of trans fats.

---You or any other private group publicizing the deleterious health effects of the consumption of trans fats and attempting to engage restaurants & convince them to abandon the use of trans fats.

---The City of Madison undertaking a campaign to inform consumers about the dangers of consuming trans fats and helping them find out which establishments use them and foods that contain them.

I am certainly against the poisoning of our ground water. But ground water is a common natural resource whereas McDonald's French fries are not. People have the choice as to whether to consume trans fats or not. I will support you in any effort to convince the public to avoid them. Put up a webpage pointing out the ill effects of trans fats trying to get people to stop eating them and I will link to it as well as dedicate a blog entry to the cause. But I will not support any endeavor to get the government to coerce restaurants to stop using them. I do not want you or the government playing lifestyle arbiter.
Blogger Palmer, at 5:21 PM  

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