According to a recent article on CBS news, Americans get more than a third of their meals outside the home. However, not many restaurants make nutritional information easily available, or offer a complete list of the ingredients going into their meals. This can make it more difficult for those dining out to gauge nutritional intake or avoid unhealthy ingredients like trans fats and high fructose corn syrup. Along with recently banning super-sized sodas, New York City has also put a ban on the use of trans fats in restaurants. A recent study shows that this has already proven beneficial to the health of its citizens, but is it help the city government has a place to provide? Is this a government overreach, or a protective measure?
One of the main focuses of the recent healthcare debate in America has been whether the government has a right to step in regarding the nation’s food supply, and if so, when and how. Americans’ polarized views on the anti-obesity movement have extended into attitudes toward food itself. Some insist that a government program intended to encourage and modify food choices and food availability stands at the precipice of a slippery slope leading to an eventual policing of people’s individual food choices. Those who support this notion bristle at Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity cause, calling it unwelcome and invasive parenting from the government.
Others point out that the government has been subsidizing and favoring food corporations who push unhealthy, processed products for decades, and that it’s about time those who stand for sustainable agriculture and healthier options pushed back. The book Fast Food Nation in particular chronicles the history of American food corporations and how their actions and practices have not only proven detrimental to the health of the American consumer, but have reduced small farms, agricultural diversity, and humane conditions for lower-level workers in the industry. In part of his indictment, the author cites the American government as a supporter of these practices through not-widely-publicized subsidies and tax breaks for such corporations. If one side of the government supports one approach to food production, then why shouldn’t officials with differing ideologies push back politically? Going further, some posit that if Affordable Care Act means to mandate certain healthcare provisions, including the purchasing of insurance, then it should at least include subsidies and benefits that reward non-corporate farmers and increase the affordability of fresh meat, dairy, and produce.
The recent New York City ban on trans fats was based off of an interesting idea. Rather than restrict customer choice, as in the ban on huge sodas, the local government put the onus on restaurant owners to replace a highly unhealthy ingredient with a healthier option. This way, customers can continue to make whatever menu choices they want at whatever establishment they want, and still experience the benefits of a lowered trans fat intake. On the other side of the coin, this measure does place an additional burden on restaurant owners, as trans fat, a lower quality food product, is also likely to be cheaper. Replacing it could lead to higher costs for the businesses/corporations. Perhaps another option, to be considered by other local governments, would be to mandate a greater transparency from restaurants regarding what goes into their product, leaving the choice–and consequences–up to both the consumers and the companies?
Or should such mandates be made at all? It is arguable that the government should stay out of the food business and let restaurants, farmers, and consumers do their thing. However, wouldn’t this also mean taking subsidies and tax breaks away from food corporations who peddle unhealthy products at the expense of small farms and the health of the consumers? Or are requirements regarding at least a certain level of transparency, if not food quality, a workable solution? In solving the nation’s rising rates of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, does the responsibility lie with the government, the food corporations, the customer, all of the above, or none of the above? Please share your thoughts in our comments.