February 4, 2008

Mississippi: The Nanny State

I’d like it if I lost some weight. A lot of Americans are like that; people who concern themselves with national health issues are right to note that Americans are, on average, overweight and that this causes a greater strain on our health care system and other resources. And it’s no secret that restaurants often serve high-fat, high-calorie foods, in large portions, so they are more part of the problem, not part of the solution. But I’d really resent a law like this, one that is intended to prohibit restaurants from serving “obese” people. How, exactly are restaurants supposed to enforce this law? How fat is “too fat”? What about people who are diabetic (many of whom are also overweight) and need to eat periodically in order to avoid serious health problems like blackouts and seizures? Are restaurants to have scales, yardsticks, BMI computers, and blood sugar testing equipment at the ready?

What’s next, nutrition inspectors at the grocery store checkout? A national junk food ban, complete with a black market charging three bucks each for smuggled Canadian Twinkies? Armed federal agents busting into Outback Steakhouse to cut the prime ribs in half and confiscate all the baked potatoes with sour cream? “Sir, put down the Chalupa and walk away from the table, or I’ll have to taze you.” It’ll be like the 1930’s all over again, except with speakeasies featuring Doritos and mixed nuts instead of martinis and whiskey, and small-scale deep-fryers to make donuts at home, instead distilling gin in the bathtub. And it ends with a nationally-mandated diet of nothing but soybeans. Mark my words.

Somewhere along the way to 2008, a substantial portion of Americans have forgotten the essentially American ethic of “mind your own business” in favor of (highly debatably) well-intentioned attempts to monitor and control the things people do on a day to day basis. The government wants to read my e-mail – ostensibly to make sure I’m not telling Osama where the nuclear weapons are stored, as if I knew that in the first place. Unless there is some reason to believe I am actually doing that, it’s none of the government’s business who I e-mail, how often, or what I write them. Do-gooders from church groups want to take photographs of me and my car parked in front of adult bookstores, apparently to use humiliation to protect me from the evils of pornography. But it’s none of their damn business if I patronize such a business. And now, a bunch of damn fool food Nazis in a state legislature would turn every restaurant in Mississippi into the French fry police, as if it were any of the state’s concern whether or not I pick celery sticks or onion rings as my side dish. People eat this stuff because they want to, and when they want to, they’re going to.

I don’t know if the sponsors of this bill are Democrats or Republicans. I don’t care. They don’t understand that it’s not the government’s job to make these kinds of decisions. At some point, aren’t people going to have to take a minimal amount of responsibility for themselves? If I eat too much, or I eat the wrong things, that’s my choice and the weight I gain from using that choice unwisely is my own damn fault. But that someone else disapproves of my choice doesn’t make that choice a crime. The government has no business trying to tell me not to make those kinds of choices. Freedom means letting people make bad choices. That means the governments lets go of control of some things that it technically may have the power to control, because that’s what it is to be a free society. No level of government has any business making restaurants have to decide who should be served what kind of food. We as individuals need to lose the weight on our own; the government can’t lose it for us.

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