Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Have it your way: More hysteria from the media and government about fast food and its cause-and-effect relationship with childhood obesity. This is one of Radley Balko's bete-noirs, along with his fight to defend doctors who prescribe legal medicine, yet are targeted by the DEA, et al. because that medicine just so happens to be big league pain opiates. Radley's libertarian bona fides are certainly beyond reproach and I find his postings very informative and amusing.

The article in question, decrying how close fast food restaurants are to schools in the cities (and are therefore inherently dangerous), misses the point, which Radley also notes, stating how it's not that Fast Food doesn't offer healthy alternatives to bacon-wrapped, deep-fried meat sticks with mayo dipping sauce (yummy!), but that no one, well, at least not kids, chooses them.

I'd like to join in Radley's chorus, but also keep going. First of all, one must determine whether fast food is being consumed on a daily basis as opposed to occasionally, before one can even get to the issue of whether fast food is a problem with which we must even address.

I eat at hamburger joints on occasion. Probably less than once a week - not because of any higher virtue, but b/c I work in a major city that has a lot more options, even for the workaday $5-8 lunch alternative; and fast food is something I can get anywhere. However, when I go to eat fast food, I'm going not for the friggin' salads, I can assure you that. Meaning, I target fast food as an option when I want some greasy hamburgs, overly-large fries, and a soda to wash it all down. Stated another way, to me, fast food is an escape - an escape from the daily grind of trying to choose healthy or at least, non-deadly, alternatives for daily consumption.

It's the difference between having a glass of wine or two with dinner, and going to the bar for six pints and then rounds of Jagermeister with your new best friends with whom you've just decided to pool your money together to finally make that reunion movie with the cast from "The Facts of Life" (Do you think they're available??). The point is, you know going into the place that you're about to make some unhealthy decisions. The difference between some occasional and mostly harmless fun, and an appearance on The Smoking Gun is of frequency and degree.

If the "Gubbinment" takes away all my unhealthy choices - that can only possibly affect my life (I'll make the distinction on smoking only this once because one can argue that smoking can affect people second-hand [not that it's true, but that you can argue it]), just because others can't seem to control themselves, then there is no stopping the merry-go-round of government intervention into my life.

Fast food is one of this country's most successful exports - it may not say much about our culture, but it says a hell of a lot about our ability to tap into a universal human desire - much like our exportation of sports and entertainment. Complain all you want, but people are getting that which they desire. The only way to change the outcome is to change the desire, not the supply. One look at the "War on Drugs" should tell you all you need to know about "supply-side" prohibition.

Unfortunately (or not, depending on your viewpoint), changing preferences is much harder than simply outlawing that which we desire. My guess is that if we wanted to stop or at least greatly reduce fast food consumption by those who are most at risk, a good starting point would be diminishing the poverty gap, strengthening families, and increasing knowledge about diet and activity.

On second thought, just put a 50% tax on Big Macs and hold a press conference announcing: "Mission Accomplished."

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