Until recently, a hallmark of American life was that it was free from the reticent impotence of European welfarism. America, often derided for its ruggedness and the petulance of its economic model, is a nation with values including independence and discipline, and that sups its youth on meat, potatoes and small firearms. It should come as no shock, then, to learn that Americans are roughnecks who brought the world blue jeans, rock ‘n’ roll and Tennessee whiskey.
So you can imagine my surprise – and indignation – when I read of the New York City Board of Health’s recent ruling that bans trans-fats in the city’s 20,000-odd restaurants. In Chicago, where foie gras is banned, there is talk of a similar proposal.
This measure, created by the charmingly Orwellian “Department of Health and Mental Hygiene,” ironically fails to take into account the fact that it is based on a premise that belies most known standards of mental health and sanity – the notion that adults are incapable of making basic decisions for themselves.
Of course, New York City’s health police plan to enforce the ban with measures such as kitchen inspections. A white-coated “expert” class, in which leftist commentators instill so much power, is now charged with the role of combing kitchens in search of sworn public enemies – a tub of Crisco, a stick of margarine and the occasional bottle of hydrogenated oil.
Though this same “expert” class knows nothing about running a restaurant – they are health officials, not restaurateurs, mind you – it assures restaurant owners switching from trans-fats will affect neither cost nor taste.
But restaurant owners – who actually prepare and serve food – recognize the opposite to be true. This is why many restaurant owners did not voluntarily forego trans-fats a year ago, despite the unsuccessful “education” (read: propaganda) campaign the city waged against the additives.
Reacting to criticism of the measure, Lynn D. Robinson, a member of the Board of Heath, denies that the duration and cost-effectiveness of trans-fats should be given as much weight as alleged health-effects of trans-fats. “But human life is much more important than shelf life,” she so emotively harps.
What Lynn D. Robinson fails to take into account, however, is that an integral component of the human life she so purportedly values is the ability to be free not only in what one thinks and says but also in what one eats.
On his deathbed, Socrates is reported as having said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Consider this position in a different context – the tasteless life is not much worth living either. A life without recourse from tofu and tawny grain is paltry in comparison to a life of epicurean delicacies such as fried chicken and whipped frosting.
Furthermore, the ability to weigh the costs and benefits of one’s decisions and make value judgments for one’s self is integral to life. Individuals ought to be free to decide if they’d rather incur short-term pleasures or long-term benefits. If an individual values a cigarette or a Twinkie over the prospect of fruitful golden years, so be it. After all, he isn’t “hurting” anyone but himself.
So what’s the solution? Let individuals eat themselves silly or starve and purge themselves if they so choose. If this is how they pursue happiness, then people have little right to say, “You can’t do that.” There is only one caveat that goes along with that – the consumers of that fried chicken and whipped frosting have to pay for it themselves.
One solution might be to absolve taxpayers and consumers of the burden of non-payers’ health care costs – there’s economic incentive to take care of yourself if you’re the one footing the bill. There’s disincentive to eating right and exercise if that gastric bypass is on someone else’s tab, even if only in part.
So, instead of telling me more things I can’t do – the government’s particular penchant these days – a proper, more sensible response would be to curtail Medicare and mandates such as the mandatory triage required of emergency rooms, which require every patient to be seen. These are measures that practically beg for abuse and thus necessitate regulatory measures in the first place.
If this fiasco teaches anything, it is that the warnings of economist F.A. Hayek ring true to this day. As poignantly explained in his epic The Road To Serfdom, a little economic coercion, even for such an innocuous or well-intentioned reason as public health, requires people to give up a whole lot more freedom than they would have liked. Or, in the contentious case of trans-fats, tomorrow’s healthful utopia may be today’s war against cake.
Victoria Bekiempis is a sophomore majoring in history and French.