Junk food is deliberated engineered to generate addiction: Michael Moss's new book is making that argument pretty persuasively.
Addiction to junk foods generates a host of serious health and social problems.
The costs of those health and social problems is borne by governments through heightened demand for various government-funded services.
Does that mean it's it time for governments to ban junk food?
Toronto Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente riffs on that topic today:
Of course from a Canadian perspective there might be more justification for such a ban. After all, medical costs here are funded by the government, not by individuals or their privately purchased insurance. Which means of course that taxpayers fund medical costs collectively. And medical costs are a tremendous drain on tax revenues.
I know every time I go to the hospital, I'm struck by the very high percentage of people there seeking medical services who are obese. Cancer, diabetes, heart problems, hip and knee replacement surgeries . . . it's endless. Medical services are just one manifestation. Grossly obese persons often lose mobility, are unable to work because of health issues, require welfare and subsidized housing and transportation . . . and more mental health care services. There is a significant correlation between obesity and marriage breakdown, with all the social costs for court systems and the emotional costs for children and the superadded requirement for mental health counselling.
But still, a ban on junk foods sounds harsh. Why can't I choose to eat potato chips if I like 'em? If I choose 'em?
It helps to remember that junk foods are not meant to foster freedom. They're inspired by a desire for unlimited profits: "free" enterprise run rampant. Junk foods are deliberately engineered to overcome free will, if we presume that free will means rational decision making. If we assume free will is making decisions in our own best interests.
So if governments banned junk foods, would that ban really interfere with genuine freedom of choice? Or is it meaningless to talk about freedom of choice in the context of addiction, which effectively high jacks free will anyhow?
The purpose of free choice has to be the pursuit of happiness, not obesity. And very few if any people who experience obesity are happy about achieving that condition, with all of the related consequences.
The Canadian constitution commits us to a different set of political ideals: not "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" but "peace, order and good government". Would we have a more peaceful and orderly society with a ban on junk foods? Would we have better government if we could redirect some of the resources now expended on the high medical costs which are the consequences of obesity, triggered by addictive consumption of junk foods, to other and more socially beneficial purposes?
However, it's pretty clear that governments haven't been very successful in banning other substances which produce addiction and interfere with free will. In the Prohibition era, alcohol was blatantly bootlegged. Non-prescription drugs are now generating enormous underworld profits and related crime. Here in Canada governments have imposed huge taxes on alcohol and tobacco to offset some of the social costs generated by their excessive usage and to discourage excessive usage by pricing them out of reach.
So how's that working? I dunno. I don't have the answers.
If potato chips and other addiction-engineered junk foods were highly taxed, with the taxes directed towards associated social and medical costs, would those taxes discourage excessive consumption of junk food even without an outright ban? If people could buy a quart of fresh raspberries for much less than the cost of a large bag of potato chips, would they buy the raspberries? How high would the price of those potato chips have to be to create this effect: $50 a bag?
No answers here. Just a bunch more questions.
Because the fact would remain: the raspberries weren't "engineered" to hit on our biological pleasure centres associated with the consumption of sugar, fat and salt. The potato chips were. And I'm betting that many people of very modest means would continue to buy the potato chips . . . just like many people continue to find a way to get oxycodone. Or beer. Even rubbing alcohol.
At this point, however, I'm pretty sure that I will never eat another potato chip without reminding myself: this is a substance deliberately designed to overcome my free will. My self control. My ability to choose. One of the essential qualities which makes me a human being. I hope I'll pause and consider that the potato chip exacts a very high price for me personally, in loss of human dignity. Especially when I can't stop eating 'em.
Maybe next time, when I remind myself of all this, that potato chip will stop tasting so irresistible!! Maybe instead of reflecting upon "brand extension" of plain potato chips to cheddar chips and BBQ chips and salt'n vinegar chips and all the other myriad flavours ("Which one can I try next?"), I'll be thinking of a different kind of brand extension.
I'm exposing myself to addiction.
Which means this is a "lost of freedom" chip. Yeah. this potato chip would be exactly what "loss of human dignity" tastes like!
Michael Moss himself, in this New York Times interview, seems to agree that government regulation of the food industry is the only method of combatting manufacture of addictive foods: thanks, DDORN, for pointing this article out to me: