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Apr 12, 2007

Comments

Matt

I agree that we deserve to have a choice in what we eat. I strongly oppose the regulations on wine and beer (I even once spoke with a vintner in Oregon who hates Maryland because it is impossible to have his wine distributed to the right places). However, with something like hydrogenated oils, I think the government is doing something right.

Other than for extended shelf life, trans fats offer nothing to food. Some may say Oreos do not taste the same anymore, and that may be true, but a restaurant should not be using hydrogenated oils to begin with. The main restaurants affected by the ban will fast food chains and well, chains in general. Applebee's, TGI Friday's, and probably even Panera will have to work on new items, but in the end it should only help the consumer have access to fresher food. Food should be fresh (of course I am biased as I am a huge supporter of small farmers) and for once, fast food restaurants will have to work to preserve food in other ways.

Sure we may deserve the choice of food (see foie gras, see raw milk), but consumers, if they wanted to, could not even get hydrogenated oils/trans fats on their own. You can't buy the oil at a supermarket and there is virtually no reason to use it in your home. In the same respect, it has no right to be in our bodies. There is no question about trans fats being unhealthy beyond belief (I'm pretty sure it surpasses lard). I think the regulation is valid and a move in the right direction. You can still eat your french fries and burger- I worked in restaurants where we fried the fries in pure peanut oil and it tastes 10 times better than McDonald's fries. These regulations will not really change people's eating habits (unfortunately). If the government ever tells us we cannot eat french fries or hamburgers, then we revolt.

Jason

I see your point, but what's to prevent the government from taking this a step further and banning lard because it's bad for you? I just believe that we should solve this health problem through education and then let the power of the consumer force restaurants and food producers to change.

Jon F.

I think you overestimate the power that the government has over those things. Industry is still THE major player in how things are regulated, and I can't imagine the foods we really need or enjoy will come to be banned. While I agree with you that this ban is unnecessary, considering how much publicity there is out there about trans fats and in general because it's going to take a lot more than that to stop Americans getting obese, I don't buy the whole 'slippery slope' argument. That sounds like some wishy-washy conservative argument against government.

Anyway, as long as I can still get my foie gras fix...

Katie

Jason, I totally agree with your argument. I don't appreciate it when the government decides to treat taxpaying adults like children. It's insulting and these types of bans insinuate that people are not capable of making intelligent choices.

Jason

Jon F., I didn't want to bring up the Foie Gras argument because I'm on the fence about that one. That's not only an argument about consumer choice but it's also a humanitarian one. I love foie gras, but I always feel a little guilty about eating it. If you can't imagine that the foods we enjoy will become banned though, consider what is happening in NY and Michigan with Foie Gras.

JA

I agree with Jason that banning transfats or other "unhealthy" items makes sense in public schools, where kids are a captive audience. But I disagree that foods should be banned. There are already many delicacies such as the cheeses Jason mentioned that are banned in this country including, but not limited to cheeses. Leave it up to a freer market than government regulation.

Jon F.

re: Foie gras

Read the chapter on foie gras in Jeffrey Steingarten's "The Man Who Ate Everything". The treatment of duck and geese raised for foie gras is really not inhumane, and certainly much better than most of the animals we raise for meat. It seems like you should just be a vegetarian if foie gras makes you guilty!

re: banning foods

I wasn't saying banning foods is a good thing, but the trans fat ban is pretty benign: besides, any self-respecting restaurant should fry things in peanut or canola oil. And I don't think government will ban foods all over the place as a result of this.

Jason

I'm with Katie. The government shouldn't treat us like children. It should also let me receive wine shipments from California!

Jonathan Badger

While I agree that rules regarding sale of alcohol are rarely concerned with health but are in fact relics of state legislated "Christian morality", as a microbiologist, I fully support banning raw milk. It really *is* a health risk -- and not just to the drinkers of raw milk themselves. It's easy to scoff at the risk today, just like it's easy to scoff at the risk of not getting vaccinated; these days, with most people being vaccinated and most milk being pasteurized, infectious diseases are a rare thing. But they are rare precisely *because* we as a society have agreed to take precautions against disease. When people choose to ignore these precautions they not only endanger themselves but others as well.

Jason

Thanks for the comment, but vaccinations are totally different than drinking raw milk. You're comparing epidemics like polio and hepatitis to drinking raw milk? I don't see how I'm hurt ing someone else by drinking raw milk. Once again...it's my choice as a consumer if I want to take the risk, just like it's my choice if I want to eat a dozen oysters in a month that doesn't end in "r". The ban on raw milk comes from the old days similar to when alcohol could only be consumed in speakeasies.

Amalah

One word: cigarettes.

Seriously, if the government cares so deeply about our health and the health of everyone, how in the world are cigarettes still legal? Taxes and campaign contributions. "Big Food" has already started yanking trans fats off the shelves, so this is easy, popular and useless legislation. Total waste of time and money.

Because come on: there's no such thing as second-hand trans fats.

Jonathan Badger

Jason, drinking raw milk *is* analogous to forgoing vaccination -- they both not only endanger yourself but others around you. Many bacteria present in milk don't merely cause toxin-based "food poisoning" (which like your example of bad oysters, is only a problem for you and you alone), but can establish an infection which can then be spread on to others.

And some really nasty things can live in milk -- including Coxiella (the agent of Q-fever) and Yersinia (the agent of plague). We don't see these illnesses much here anymore, through a combination of careful sanitation and pasteurization, but in places like rural India they are still around.

Rahul Sinha

I disagree, mainly for the same reason I support cigarette smoking bans; markets don't respond to consumer preferences transparently. Consumers aren't all that rational, don't have good information, and have trouble passing information well to business owners in a statistically sound fashion (a few comments to the manager do not a representative sample make).

If a majority of consumers are willing to eat trans-fats, unless the minority who would prefer to avoid them are willing to make this preference their primary criteria for food selection, every food producer should independently choose to use transfats to appeal to the majority. Niche market players only survive when the minority taste they cater to is the defining quality that minority desires.

If a majority of consumers do wish to avoid trans-fats, they must wish to avoid them more than they wish for cheaper food (as perservation lowers cost), potentially tastier food, and (at least initially) more widely available food with more varieties and choices. If every consumer disprefers transfats, but on day one of this perference is not willing to give up choice, selection, taste and/or price, the upstream manufacturers will have neither incentive or even notice of this downstream preference.

Clearly a presumption of market efficiency is somewhat silly.

Either way, eating trans-fats is not a self-regarding act. The increased medical costs from heart disease impact not only the irresponsible, but in addition anyone who pays for medical insurance or pays taxes. Given the impact of one's decisions on a wider group of people, oughtn't government intervene to prevent that wider discommodity?

Jason

I'm not trying to be a raw food advocate here, but the bacteria you mention are also exist in raw or undercooked meats, fish, and oysters, all of which I eat on a weekly basis. Personally, I'm a big fan of Pasteurization and I'd never give raw milk to my child, although some would say that it's better for him, it's too risky in my opinion. Making it legal for people to purchase raw milk from their local farm isn't going to mean that Pasteurization will go away. It will still be the primary milk source for 99.9% of Americans.

TWeb

If you don't want the government dictating what you can and can't eat, contact your county council and let them know how you feel. This is an extremely urgent matter as it is being voted on next Tuesday (4/24/07) in a closed door session so don't think it is something that can wait. Tell the county council that you are intelligent enough to make your own decisions as to what to eat.

Jason

For those that want to contact the Montgomery County Council, here's the contact info...
http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/csltmpl.asp?url=/content/council/contact.asp

julie

IF a reasonable person could know how much transfat is in the purchased item...then the arguments for "adult choice" hold. However, we generally don't have a clue, do we? I guess we could solve that by requiring ingredients and quantities to be listed. Would that be better? Less onerous for the business than banning transfats outright?

Julie

I am coming out of lurking mode to add a different strain here. The government who brought you NCLB has started regulating what students eat in the cafeteria. Now their regulations are as broad as what you are writing. However, that has translated to stricter rules in VA, and that gets interpreted all the way down to the over-eager school level where I, as a teacher, have a strict list of foods that I am allowed to let into my classroom for students to eat. That means that parents are not allowed to bring in food to their own children if they are not on the list. Cupcakes on birthdays have been thrown away literally, along with fast food, soda, and candy. While I was in support of removing candy and high sugar content foods, I am livid that the only way I can change the foods the students can have for an end of the year party, is if I get on the "Welness Committee" and argue for months about my food preferences for the list. That's ridiculous.

Jason

Uh...speechless. That's crazy!

Shana

Jason:

DC is actually thinking about doing this (requiring large chain restaurants to list nutrition information on their menus, including trans fat and calories). Doesn't apply to local places, just chains. Check out dcmenulabeling.org

Carol

My belief is that this sudden "legal banishment" of things like food and cigarettes -- things that were previously items you either chose to consume or didn't...is more closely tied to the cost of lawsuits than any kind of concern for your (or my) wellbeing. Lawsuits cost the courts (and the states) time, and a lot of money -- money they'd rather spend elsewhere, I'm sure. One way to get rid of the lawsuit potential is to ban the offending food.

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