Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Counting Calories

One part of the recently passed health care bill that's getting a lot of attention is the requirement that chain restaurants prominently list their food's calorie content. This article quotes a representative of the ueber-conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute decrying the requirement as nanny state-ism run amok. People should take responsibility for themselves, he says.

I am not totally without sympathy for that argument. I take a very dim view, for example, of McDonald's-made-me-fat lawsuits.

But that attitude fails to recognize the monumental influence, power and sophistication of modern marketing. McDonald's advertising budget is bigger than the GDP of many small nations. What chance does the individual consumer have against that?

Personal freedom means making your own decisions. That requires information. But if all the information you have is spin and lies from food companies, can you really exercise free choice? You think you are making a personal choice, but actually you are being manipulated by giant corporations seeking to sell you crap.

When cutting edge advertising was putting a Burma Shave sign on every roadside barn in America, you could make the libertarian argument that everyone should be responsible for themselves. But that ad did not seek to manipulate, to twist reality, as modern advertising does. It just says "Burma Shave."America's eating habits, which are largely shaped by marketing and advertising, are catastrophic. The only way to improve them is to even the playing field by countering all the misinformation, and the only entity that can do that is government.

So, I support listing calories on menus. Doing so increases, not decreases, freedom by providing diners with the information they need to decide what they want to eat -- not what Big Food wants them to eat.

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