Progressives tend to talk about supporting choice — until someone wants to make a choice that they disapprove of. That tendency was on display this week with the Obama administration’s decision to ban the trans fats that go into making products such as margarine.
Each side of the decision sees an entirely different question. To the nannies of the coercive state, the question is whether trans fats are good for people. To those of us who believe in personal freedom, the question is whether politicians and bureaucrats have the moral or legal right to make that decision for individuals and companies.
When I was growing up, we ate margarine and fried everything with Crisco shortening. Back then, those products were loaded with the artificial fats that are now considered unhealthy. Some still are. At the time, we were told they were more healthy than natural fats such as butter and lard. I was so accustomed to the taste of margarine that when I finally tried butter, I didn’t like it, simply because it was different from what I was used to.
After I grew up, I learned to appreciate and prefer the taste of butter, but I heard the health nannies declaring that butter and such natural fats were bad for me. I made the decision that I preferred the taste, so it was worth the risk to me. Eventually, I also started reading information that persuaded me that fat wasn’t the enemy that made me overweight and possibly unhealthy. The real enemy was sugar. But the drumbeat from the medical establishment against fat continued.
Under government pressure, companies reduced the amount of fat in products. Some products were even made fat-free. I remember a period during which I was buying those products and assuming they were healthful for me. After all, they were complying with government pressure to get fat out of the diet. I understand now that the extra sugar and other ingredients added to give the food taste — without fat — were the real problem.
Now the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has decided that artificial trans fats are bad — because they increase “bad” cholesterol and decrease “good” cholesterol — so they’re going to be phased out entirely. On a pragmatic level, I’d like to know why they’re right this time when they’ve been wrong so many other times about fats over the last few decades. But on an even more fundamental level, I’d like to know why they had the right to make that decision for me.
Governments have a long history of trying to ban margarine and other artificial fats that might compete with the dairy industry. Because of pressure from farm groups, margarine was illegal in many places. In other places, it was illegal for manufacturers to make margarine yellow to make it more palatable to people accustomed to eating butter. Companies were required to sell it in its natural white color (and simply include packets of yellow dye for customers to use themselves). In some places, manufacturers were even required to dye the margarine pink. That’s right, pink.
Governments have a long history of being manipulated about science in order to serve different interest groups. Some interest groups just want to make a profit (and block their competition). Other interest groups want to substitute their own judgment for your judgment. It’s hard to always know which is which. What’s worse, though, is that the force of government is being used to make decisions for you.
I can’t tell you whether trans fats are terrible for you or not. What I read makes me suspect they’re not as healthful as butter and other natural fats, but that’s my evaluation of the information I’ve read. It might not be yours. Or maybe you don’t care. It’s not my business to impose my conclusions on you. It’s also not the business of the health nannies at the FDA.
For years, we were told that salt was bad for us and governments forced companies to reduce salt. Many foods didn’t taste as good as a result. Eventually, we found out that the attacks on salt weren’t based on science. Oooops.
I think the real enemy in our diets is far too much sugar. I know that I eat far too much of it and that it’s responsible for weight gain and other potential health issues. By the same logic that the FDA is using to ban trans fats, it could just as easily ban sugar in quantities necessary to make sweets taste the way we want them to taste.
This isn’t really about health. This is about your right to decide for yourself. It’s about your right to consider the information about health — or ignore it if you prefer — and decide your own priorities.
Despite what the progressives of the establishment say, they don’t favor choice. They want to force you to make the choices they approve of. That’s immoral, regardless of what choices you make with your food freedom.