Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Freedom of food.

Over the past few years there has been a worrying amount of talk about prohibiting certain kinds of food. I find this troubling because of what it inherently implies. If the state can prohibit us from eating certain foods, or drinking too much soda, where does this new role of government end?

Nationally we could save millions in health care costs if we restricted our citizens diets more carefully. Obesity levels would plummet; so what's the problem? Fundamentally of course, the problem is freedom, and how utterly crushing such a law would be to the basic principles of individualism.

Even putting that aside however, there are many practical reasons this is bad policy.  A bureaucrat in some Ottawa office cannot possibly know what's best for you or I to eat. Too many individuals have dietary restrictions, or additional requirements. An office worker eating McDonalds every day is likely to become obese, but a construction worker eating the same McDonalds meal will likely need the additional calories to stay energetic throughout his work day.

Then of course, we must consider the fact that no human being is perfect, and while we may think of Ottawa bureaucrats as faceless robots, they are actually reveal people, and just as prone to mistakes as anyone else. It's not difficult to imagine them banning a substance or food based on the hysteria of the day or incorrect evidence, even if that food is later proven to be nowhere near as unhealthy as was initial claimed. You might observe that this exact sort of "ban the unhealthy products" attitude is why marijuana is still prohibited today.

This brings me to my next point; bans don't work, they never have Prohibition did not end alcohol consumption, its more recent cousin has not stopped marijuana use, and the UK's handgun ban hasn't prevented any murders. If we banned potato chips tomorrow there would be a functioning black market for procuring them before Thursday. If people demand a product, someone will supply it, it's really that simple. Because while bureaucrats may introduce their regulations with the best of intentions, if no one ate the stuff,  no one would be advocating for it to be banned.

The market will always get what it demands, and right now, it sometimes demands fatty, sugary foodstuffs. If we want to fight obesity, our best bet is to create healthier foods that accurately mimic the tastes of the unhealthy junk, while being less expensive. The market will shift to the new products as fast as it can, thicker profit margins are a great incentive for change after all.

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