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Joshua Allen

Issue Exploration

At one time in human history, or so I was told in grade school, fat was fashion. When one

views Renaissance art, this beauty ideal is on full display as Rubenesque bodies lounge

about in scenes of leisure and lasciviousness. As the story goes, most of humanitys time on

Earth has been characterized by famine and hunger, so a little extra meat on the bones

served to indicate that an individual was a person of means, and therefore desirable.

When food is scarce, it may be a good strategy to hoard food or to overeat in preparation for

less bountiful seasons. But in times such as our own, in developed countries where food is

never more than a few minutes from our mouths, such a strategy can lead to chronic

overweight and even to obesity. We no longer view larger frames as a symbol of prosperity

in fact we have discovered that the condition of being overweight can have fatal

implications. It has been linked to life-shortening ailments such as diabetes, cancer, and

heart disease. (National Institutes of Health, 2017) In a strange turn of events, overweight

and obesity today seem to disproportionately affect the poor. (Levine, 2011) Obesity still is

associated with wealth in at least one important way it seems to be a problem primarily in

the wealthiest of developed nations, however even in wealthy nations it is the portion of the

population living in poverty which have the highest rates of overweight and obesity. An

article in the International Business Times revealed that, In developed economies the

quantity of food available to people is less of a differentiator than the quality of food thats

available. While low-income people have access to food, they have less access to quality,

healthy foods than high-income people do. (Mahaptra, 2013). In an opinion piece by David

Zinczenko, we find that access to quality nutrition may be only one facet of the problem; the

poorer families in our society may even lack access to information about nutrition that would

help them to make healthier choices. A study published in the Bulletin of the World Health

Organization showed conclusively that fast food transactions correlate positively with

obesity. To quote the author, Dr. Roberto de Vogli, Unless governments take steps to
regulate their economies, the invisible hand of the market will continue to promote obesity

worldwide with disastrous consequences for future public health and economic productivity.

There are a number of reasons why a government might take interest in helping its citizens

to maintain a healthy weight. Over two-thirds of the U.S. population are considered

overweight, and half of those qualify as obese. As of 2011, obesity-related illnesses

accounted for 70% of all health care costs in the United States, (National Institutes of Health,

2017) and consumed approximately 10% of both Medicaid and Medicare dollars. [SOURCE,

WSJ] Likewise, there are a number of ways that a government might go about changing

those figures. Previous measures affect the public school lunch program, the food stamp

program, and in some areas laws have been passed restricting sales of certain food items.

While politically conservative and liberal news sources seem to take a positive view of

legislation promoting active lifestyles and nutrition education (as with Michelle Obamas

Lets Move initiative), the choice about whether to restrict food options usually gets people

drawing lines in the sand. Generally speaking, I side with Zinczenko and agree that the food

industry exploits our ignorance, fosters useless fads, and employs marketing in a dishonest

and predatory way. The United States government has a long history of protecting

consumers from exploitative corporations, and it seems like a logical extension of that

protective power that it should be applied to mass-producers of food. When a company or

industry seeks to make a profit, where our health hangs in the balance, we need a Leviathan

to guard us from corporate titans.

I was living just across the river, in New Jersey, when New York City issued a ban on trans

fats (WHEN). New York being a trend-setting town, that ban reduced the consumption of

trans fats well beyond the city limits, [SOURCE] but it is less clear that this has had desirable

health outcomes. Some have argued that the ban (which aimed to lower cholesterol, not

weight) was not necessarily based on sound science, but rather on a momentary health

craze. [SOURCE, ePerspective] Nevertheless, the success in reducing consumption

encouraged the FDA to move forward with plans for a full, nationwide ban on trans fats by
2018. [SOURCE, CNN] An obesity-specific measure that New York City attempted to instate

shortly after was a portion cap on sugary drinks. The court, like the citizenry, was

bitterly torn on the issue, but eventually ruled that the New York City Board of Health had

exceeded the scope of its regulatory authority, noting that the trans fat ban had the effect

of regulating manufacturers, whereas the soda size limit regulated individual consumers

directly, an unacceptable overreach in the opinion of the court. The dissenting opinion held

that the courts ruling curtails the powers of the New York City Board of Health to address

the public health threats of the early 21st century. [SOURCE]

Personal choice is where the line is often drawn in these issues. Many would argue that an

individual should be free to eat or drink whatsoever he or she chooses to consume. I agree,

and I would extend that beyond eating and drinking, to snorting, smoking, suppositing

what have you. That, I think, should be the choice of the adult individual. Many will argue

that banning trans fat sales, or extra-large sodas infringes on your rights, but I think that is a

mistaken position. Despite the rulings of courts, the individual is still free to pour

themselves and their dinner guests a few extra-large buckets of cola at a dinner consisting

of trans-fat-fried meats and sweets. It is only those who seek to make money from that

endeavor who face regulation, and it is a matter of fair, safe, and honest business that they

should comply with certain rules.

Its a difficult distinction to understand for some. Food Renegade blogger Kristen Michaelis

extols the virtues of raw milk, real milk, as she calls it, although the Centers for Disease

Control and Prevention, evaluate its ability to cause foodborne illness by saying, raw milk is

one of the riskiest of all. Michaelis caught my attention because of a story she ran about

gross government overreach into Americas kitchens. To hear her tell the tale, a Wisconsin

judge, one Honorable Patrick J Fiedler, told a couple of unfortunate backyard farmers that

they had no right to own cows, milk cows they own, or drink the milk those cows produced.

She even provided several Fiedler quotes to that effect. [SOURCE] I found the story echoed

in dozens of blogs and natural news outlets. What a perfect capstone for my paper! I
thought. Ill end with an example of activist politicians run amok to contrast my earlier


Or so I thought. After reading the court transcript, [SOURCE] I realized that the case in

question was nothing at all like the blogs claimed. This wasnt a case of individual farmers

trying to enjoy a squirt of milk fresh from the teat. Far from it. The plaintiffs in the case

were operating a dairy farm, and distributing unsanitary dairy products, for money, without

a dairy license. The court transcript clearly states that the Wisconsin Department of

Agriculture, Trade and Commerce does not dispute the plaintiffs right to own cows. So

where did Food Renegades quotes come from? I traced them back to a blog called

Complete Patient.[SOURCE] Several of the other sites running this story traced back to the

same uncited source. On the positive side, it looks like a Wisconsin judge did exactly what I

hoped the government would do in a situation like this; protected unwitting consumers from

the exploitation of an unscrupulous market predator who didnt bother or didnt care to

provide a safe product for his customers. Im glad the government was there.

De Vogli, Roberto et al. The influence of market deregulation on fast food consumption and
body mass index: a cross-national time series analysis. Bulletin of the World Health
Organization. Sep 24, 2013. Web. Jan 28, 2017.

Michaelis, Kristen. Is Your Choice of Food a Fundamental Right? Food Renegade. Web,
Feb 4, 2017.
Grynbaum, Michael. New Yorks Ban on Big Sodas is Rejected by Final Court. New York
Times, June 26, 2014. Web. Feb 8, 2017.
Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund vs Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and
Consumer Protection.
content=pdf&seqNo=119002. Wisconsin District IV Appeals Court.
Levine, James A. Poverty and Obesity in the U.S. National Center for Biotechnical
Information. Oct 17, 2011. Web. Feb 4, 2017
Mahapatra, Lisa. Heres How Obesity Relates To Gender, Race And Income In The US.
International Business Times. Nov 13, 2013. Web. Feb 4, 2017.
Decker, Eric. The Impact and Consequences of Banning Trans Fatty Acids. Food Tech
Perspective. Nov 13, 2013. Web. Feb 4, 2017.
Christensen, Jen. FDA orders food manufacturers to stop using trans fat within three years.
CNN. Jun 16, 2015. Web. Feb 4, 2017.
Upton Sinclair's The Jungle: Muckraking the Meat-Packing Industry. Constitutional Right
Foundation. Fall, 2008. Web. Feb 4, 2017.