Fat chance: food cops are closing in

Jonah Goldberg

7/24/2002 12:00:00 AM - Jonah Goldberg
According to the United States government, Harrison Ford, George Clooney, Tom Cruise and Bruce Willis are very fat, but not quite obese. Alas, Sammy Sosa, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger are obese. Meanwhile, Michael Jordan and Brad Pitt are merely pudgy. This is what you get when you apply the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's "Body Mass Index" to the vital stats of our leading sex symbols. Sadly, according to these criteria, I am heavy enough to bend light. The good news, for some, is that the BMI doesn't take into account muscle mass, which is heavier than fat. The bad news, for me, is that since I have the upper-body strength of a 12-year-old girl, this doesn't really help. In fact, I'm exhausted just pushing down the keys to type this column. Now, while I do make light of fatness, there's no disputing that real obesity has risen dramatically in the last decade or so, especially among children. But so has fake fatness. In 1998, the government changed the formula for how fatness is measured and, all of the sudden, another 30 million Americans woke up fat when they had gone to bed skinny. More recently, a coalition of trial lawyers, public health experts and plain-old liberal spoilsports have decided to do to nummy food what they did to cigarettes. There's even a new bill scheduled to be introduced in the Senate this week called the Improved Nutrition and Physical Activity Act. The legislation looks positive, in that it funds further study on what causes obesity, but there's every indication that it will only egg-on the war on eggs (and bacon and sausage). John Banzhaf, a leading anti-smoking zealot, recently predicted that obesity lawsuits will be the wave of the future. "Smoking in the '70s was seen as an individual problem," he told CNSNews.com. "All that changed when people saw the impact on non-smokers like second-hand smoke." There's only one problem: Even if you agree with what the government has done with cigarettes, burgers aren't cigarettes. Food is addictive because you will die without it, and second-hand smoke only exists around barbecues. But don't tell any of this to the food cops. The Center for Science in the Public Interest, the folks who put the guilt in Chinese food, popcorn and pizza, want the government to put everybody on a diet. And they're not the only ones. The latest anti-fat efforts from include everything from new so-called "Twinkie taxes" on snacks, to advertising bans for fatty (i.e. tasty) foods and mandatory nutrition guides on restaurant menus (i.e. "Bacon Cheeseburger: 7,012 calories, 79 grams of fat," or the more straightforward warning, "Don't enjoy dinner ever again"). All of this smells fishy to me. Consider the hypocrisy of liberals who normally champion personal liberty over everything. How can you believe that sexual freedom is enshrined in the Bill of Rights, but that dietary freedom can be infringed upon by a well-meaning government? If pro-choice feminists can declare "keep your rosaries off my ovaries!" I can chant "keep your laws off my bear claws!" Fat cops say that overeating is different because, like with smoking cigarettes, it costs society money in healthcare costs. That's true, but that's a backdoor argument for allowing the government to meddle in every nook and cranny of your private life. "The socialist society," wrote the late Robert Nozick, "would have to forbid capitalist acts between consenting adults." Well, the "healthy society," which is dismayingly similar to the socialist society, when you think about it, would forbid unhealthy acts between consenting adults, in this case between me and my short-order cook. And then there's pesky issue of science. As Science reporter Gary Taubes recently revealed in the New York Times magazine, nutritionists and scientists are beginning to think that the sharp rise in obesity might be pinned on "healthy" food. After all, children's consumption of burgers and pizza didn't rise suddenly. But the consumption of "fat free" juices, cereals and snacks did. There's substantial evidence that these simple carbohydrates -something evolution didn't equip us to eat regularly -are being turned into fat, while meat -which God intended us to eat -is no big deal. Unfortunately, the food police are too invested in the government-promoted "food pyramid," which prioritizes pasta, rice and bread over fried chicken and lamb chops (mmmm … lamb chops), to admit that the problem with Big Macs might not be the beef so much as the buns. I won't pretend to have mastered the science when the scientists themselves haven't. But before we even think about allowing the government to take away my buffalo wings, we'd better hope it knows what it's talking about.