War on Food Wrong?

Fried FoodLast week, we took note of an article in the progressive policy journal Breakthrough that challenged the prevailing anti-food orthodoxy in the debate over obesity. It’s worth reading the whole thing if you want a well-argued takedown of the Bloomberg/Brownell/CSPI approach to the obesity issue from an unexpected source.

We’ve made similar arguments here at CCF. The article retells the history of how the “public health” establishment moved obesity from a personal matter to a national “epidemic,” and how a fundamental misunderstanding of another issue led policymakers down the wrong path. But it’s good to see openness and willingness amongst the elite to critique the reflexive anti-choice positions that some of their partners in upper-class moralism — think New York Times columnist Mark Bittman — have staked out.

The article has garnered the attention of the chattering classes. Left-leaning columnist Marc Ambinder of The Week notes:

Liberal activists should read it. It’s uncomfortable because it suggests that our beliefs do not comport with the science, and our preferred solutions are tied to a conception of the good life, rather than a realistic appraisal of how life is actually lived.

Meghan McArdle of The Daily Beast takes a related but subtly different approach. Against those like Michael Tomasky who say that freedom to choose should not exist or those who claim that we have somehow “evolved” a need to be controlled, McArdle argues:

But though overweight people are choosing what to eat in the face of genetic differences in hunger and metabolism, that doesn’t mean we can say that they are not making a choice—that  in some sense, they would really like the rest of us to take away their pasta and keep them on a diet of cabbage and carrots.  Nor that they are victims of a broken food distribution system, or advertising mind control. 

But don’t expect the anti-food view to die quickly. At the conservative National Review, policy writer Reihan Salam posits that the author “neglects the idea that carbohydrates [sugar and starch] might actually have addictive properties.”

Researchers from Cambridge may have found “no conclusive evidence of a human withdrawal syndrome for foods” and that “criteria for substance dependence translate poorly to food-related behaviors,” but don’t expect evidence that the activist crusade is misguided to stop it. No matter what Americans of all political persuasions — from Democratic judges from Manhattan to former Republican national nominees from Alaska — may think.

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