June 24, 2006

Strakon Lights Up

Denunciations, fat and salty
or, Slavery is really tasteless

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From behind their skeletally thin mask of compassion, the Khmer Rouge Diet Commissars are once again grimacing their contempt of us and of our liberty. I refer, of course, to those fanatic, frenetic, frizzy-haired busybody ectomorphs at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. According to the New York Times, the CSPI has now sued KFC over that estimable restaurant chain's use of something called "partially hydrogenated oils," which, in turn, are said to contain something called "trans fats." The NYT reporter, Marian Burros, asserts that some unnamed "scientists consider [trans fats] the most unhealthful of all fats." ("KFC Is Sued Over the Use of Trans Fats in Its Cooking," June 14)

Burros says that those demonic oils are "a key ingredient of [KFC's] fried chicken." Now, no one, surely, who savors KFC's version of bird would want anyone to start messing with a "key ingredient" of it. Yet the totalitarians — there: I've used that word again — at the CSPI are seeking "to have the District of Columbia Superior Court either ban use of the oils in KFC's cooking or force the company to post signs telling customers that its food contains trans fat and can cause heart disease." Burros goes on to note that "any decision against KFC would be binding only in Washington, where the science group has its headquarters. But the group hopes such a ruling would cause the chain to make changes nationwide."

According to Burros, the Food Stalinists have succeeded with this kind of extortion before: "McDonald's agreed to pay $8.5 million last year after a California lawyer brought a suit that accused the company of reneging on a promise to reduce trans-fat levels." KFC, though, is defying the gangsters of anorexia, at least for the moment.

With heaps of relish I now pass along from Burros what is perhaps the most golden nugget for anyone who is sensible of the epistemological debility of government, government-poisoned science, and the characteristic tool of both, coercion:

Trans fats became a part of fast-food meals in the 1980's, after consumer groups demanded that the chains stop frying in beef tallow and palm oils because those products are highly saturated. The hazards of trans fats were not widely realized until years later.

Now they are considered more harmful than saturated fat.

I like to laugh, and I'd like to laugh at that astonishing revelation, but the matter is really too grim. If I were inclined to give the CSPIers any advice, I'd advise them to post their own damn warning signs on their own damn property; keep their own delicate febrile systems out in the rabbit patch, far away from KFC; and leave the rest of us the hell alone with our private judgments about where and what to eat. And I would not smile when I said it.

It's one thing to churn out anti-food propaganda with your own money (though I'm pretty sure all these Naderish groups get taxpayer money). Doing that on your own dime doesn't violate anyone's liberty. It just sends another dollop of information circulating throughout the "economy of mind" of a free society, and that dollop may or may not find "customers." But marketing their product in free competition with the products of KFC isn't nearly good enough for these twitchy little friends of leviathan. No, they deliberately appeal to state coercion and the fear of state coercion. The moment they do that, they turn themselves into would-be tyrants.

And the moment someone eschews persuasion and picks up a gun to force his way into the lives of peaceful people, he turns himself into someone whose arguments and evidence we cannot hear. Persuasion and coercion are incompatible.

But as usual, there is even worse news. The political scientists at the AMA are trying to get leviathan to regulate salt, and now finally we can all feel the asylum walls closing in.

The AP's Lindsey Tanner reports, "The American Medical Association voted [June 13] to urge the government to require high-salt foods to be labeled and also vowed to push the food industry to drastically cut the amount of salt in restaurant and processed foods. The goal would be 50 percent less salt within a decade." ("AMA Wants Warning Labels on High-Salt Food," June 13, 2006)

According to Tanner, "The measure also calls for the AMA to ask the Food and Drug Administration to revoke salt's status as a food that is 'generally recognized as safe,' known as 'GRAS' in the industry. GRAS food includes such staples as sugar and pepper." Anyone familiar with the political clout of Big Sugar will recline unsurprised upon learning that those sweet white crystals continue to enjoy the government's imprimatur. (The blessings of sugar and pepper aside, it's no news to me that these herbivorous pests would require us all to eat GRAS.)

"The AMA," Tanner goes on, "has considerable clout in Washington, and an FDA spokesman said the group's stance on salt could lead the agency to consider holding hearings on the issue." And just to show you that our friends from the Nervous Hospital for the Very, Very Dyspeptic haven't let the docs get ahead of them, I supply this from Tanner's account: "The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer group, last year asked the FDA to revoke salt's status as a safe food. The group's executive director, Michael Jacobson, said the AMA action 'adds very productively to the debate.'" That's right, debate. But you can't debate with a gun, and it's pretty foolish to debate someone who is petitioning gunmen for support.

In turning to the gunmen, the AMA, like the CSPI itself, has curtailed debate with reasonable people. Persuasion and coercion are incompatible.

Another point remains to be made. The purported motive for the docs' totalitarian ambitions, Tanner indicates, is this: "The AMA report said there is overwhelming evidence that eating an excessive amount of salt is a risk factor for high blood pressure and may be an independent risk factor for other cardiovascular problems.

"More than 30 percent of U.S. adults have high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease is the nation's leading cause of death." (With respect to the latter assertion, I have to point out that, well, something's always got to be.)

I haven't been able to find a Web version of the AMA story I originally saw in print, but in that account the writer made some claim that salt-provoked disease "costs" the American health-care industry some stupendous fortune every year. In such contexts whenever you see a mention of costs, with no mention of profits, you know you're confronting socialist premises, and you're probably reading about a socialist or creeping-socialist entity. In covering the economic prospects of KFC, no reporter ever concentrates on the costs which that chain entails in the course of feeding the people, without mentioning the profits it has earned at the same time. In fact, most business writers focus on profits, period, without specifying a firm's costs. That's because in a free economy if a company is making profits it is usually irrelevant and uninteresting to dwell on its specific costs.

As I once wrote, "No one would ever say ... that the heartbreak of flaky scalps costs the dandruff-shampoo industry so many gazillion dollars a year. The heartbreak of flaky scalps costs the owners of the scalps; the folks at Head & Shoulders profit from it; and it's no one else's business. That's because the dandruff-shampoo industry is entirely privately owned and operates in a substantially free market...." ("Two ... (clack) ... two ... (clack) ... two wars in one!", March 2, 2002)

But under socialism costs are the main thing, because socialism is profitless, and socialism gets the money it needs for its undertakings by robbing the taxpayers. Ineluctably the disease of socialism eats away at the minds of those taxpayers, so that soon enough you'll hear many of them start to say, "Well, if we're forced to pay for the results of Bad Behavior X, then we ought to be able to force folks to stop engaging in Bad Behavior X."

"We" will do that forcing, of course, through the agency of Them, the state. And They will be happy to do it, satisfied that, once again, one totalitarian imposition has succeeded in engendering another.

What a spectacular repast is laid when the people beg their rulers to gorge on power. Behold the delectable stew of Democracy!

Afterword. Since the time I finished this column a few days ago, the sleepless witch-doctors of CSPI have announced a "campaign" against a new target: Starbuck's, which they accuse of offering too many drinks high in calories and fat. One might hope that this offense to the yuppie lifestyle would prove a bridge too far, finally, for CSPI, were it not for the fact that the yuppies' obsession with respectability, officially defined, puts them at such high risk for Liquefied-Spine Syndrome. And, sure enough, the same CBS News story revealing CSPI's target acquisition also revealed that Starbucks is "researching alternatives to high-fat products." So it shall be squealed; so it shall be done!

June 24, 2006

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