Eating: Pleasure Or Hazard?

We might be closer to finding warning labels on our food telling us that ‘eating may be hazardous to your health’ than we think,” writes cookbook author Giuliano Hazan in a New York Times op-ed. After all, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is “considering placing warning labels on packages of foods deemed unhealthy by government scientists,” according to The Boston Globe. John “Sue the Bastards” Banzhaf and the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) are working for their own brand of warning labels. And one state legislator in Texas wanted the dire warning “Eating Fatty Foods May Lead to Obesity” slapped on restaurant menus next to every item that gets more than one-third of its calories from fat.

If warning labels like “eating may be hazardous to your health” do appear, Hazan argues, “that would be a very sad state of affairs indeed, as nothing could be further from the truth.” Instead, he insists: “Savoring a good meal simply makes us feel good. Food should not be feared. It should be a source of pleasure and well-being.”

The simple idea that eating should be pleasurable is getting a bad rap these days. Reporting on last month’s food cop confab hosted by TIME magazine and ABC News, columnist Radley Balko notes:

During the panel, food activist Marion Nestle of New York University decried the way food companies tell children that they should have their “own food,” and that food should somehow be fun. “That,” Nestle said, “is the most insidious thing of all.” I thought that was a pretty ridiculous comment. It was then that I overheard a reporter for a diet website say to a reporter covering the conference for a major national newspaper (I probably shouldn’t identify either, given that this is hearsay, and neither was speaking on the record), “She’s right you know. Food shouldn’t be fun for kids. Food is fuel. If kids want to have fun, they should play football.” The newspaper correspondent voiced her agreement.

Baltimore Sun reporter Arthur Hirsch described a similar phenomenon after sitting down to a meal with CSPI’s Michael Jacobson:

The Tomate Bistro Italiano pea soup has more salt than Jacobson cares to think about, but still he pronounces it “good.” The rainbow trout, smoked in house and grilled in lemon, butter and herbs with potatoes and julienne carrots on the side, is also pronounced ”good.” Seems Jacobson is short on things to say when he likes food. You won’t hear him wax enthusiastic about the particular fabulousness of a caramelized shallot orchestrated with a fragrant red pepper coulis. You won’t find him sitting around reading Bon Appetit.

Hirsch describes how Jacobson has “issued the consumer equivalent of a fatwa” on a long list of foods, including kung pao chicken, fettuccine Alfredo, and movie-theater popcorn. No wonder Jacobson’s been called all of the following and more: “Terrorist. Ayatollah. Food cop. Killjoy. Food fascist. Nutrition Nazi.”

Jacobson got his start in the food-bashing business working for Ralph Nader. And nothing epitomizes the Puritanical, pleasure-free, food-cop philosophy more than a meal with the perennial Presidential candidate. According to a recent report in the Washington Post, Nader went to a restaurant, “looked at the menu and asked, ‘What’s the most innocuous combination of nutrients?‘”

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