First, They Came For the Salt…

According to the Wall Street Journal, the Obama Administration wants to do for potato chips what the Bush Administration did for the incandescent light bulb:

Packaged food and restaurant meals may face federal limits on sodium, following a report Tuesday from the Institute of Medicine that said high-salt diets are putting Americans at risk of high blood pressure and heart disease.

The institute, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences whose findings have significant influence on health policy decisions, said the Food and Drug Administration should set mandatory national standards for sodium content.

But changing the formula of well-loved food products is a risk for manufacturers: Consumers could be put-off by a low-salt version that doesn’t taste the same as the original. The White House and the institute are encouraging the industry to cut sodium collectively, so no one maker is at a competitive disadvantage.

It’s good to know, I suppose, that the President has enough time in-between golfing outings, to worry about this sort of thing.  By the way, how’s that whole quitting smoking thing going?

But at another, it’s deeply disturbing, although increasingly typical, that the government feels the need to protect me from myself much of the time.  This isn’t fluoride in the water, or even iodine in the salt, both of which are tasteless ways of improving a product already out there.  I couldn’t add fluoride or iodine myself, even if I wanted to.  This is about making it illegal for me to buy Lay’s potato chips as they are currently made.  Because I can’t be trusted with them.

A friend of mine wanted to claim that it was Lay’s that couldn’t be trusted, but this is nonsense on stilts.  Otherwise, there wouldn’t be a need to go after the whole industry, “so no one maker is at a competitive disadvantage.”  Why would they be at a disadvantage?  They could make – and do make – low-salt snacks.  I suppose there’s a market segment there, and they make some money at it.  But people, given a choice, and they are given a choice, prefer higher-salt snacks.  So they must be protected from themselves.

Now, what’s the harm with wanting people to be healthier?  Nothing, I suppose, except that the history of the Food Pyramid, and now the inverted Food Pyramid, and what tomorrow will probably be the Food Hourglass, show that the government really has only the vaguest idea of what diet makes us healthier as individuals, and probably worse than none at all about what will make us healthier as a whole population, where one man’s salt is another man’s poison.

But look at the difference between the logic here, and the logic that was used to pass “health” “care” , excuse me, “insurance” “reform.”  In that case, we were (not) told, the government would have to make treatment decisions based on things like quality of life-adjusted years left to an individual.  No point in giving that care to someone who wouldn’t suffer as much, and certainly no point in extending one’s suffering, even if the alternative was feeling nothing at all.

In this case, we’re told, quality of life, i.e, the ability to eat tasty food, is at odds with merely living longer.  You’ll learn to enjoy eating food the way you’re told, but even if you don’t, at least you’ll be around to eat more of it.

What do they have in common?  It’s that you need someone – older and wiser – telling you what to do.  You’ll depend on them.

It may be a small thing, less salty potato chips, but it won’t end there.  They’ll be after Coke not merely to offer Diet Coke, which I prefer, but to alter Coke Classic’s formula altogether.  Only they’ll have to get Pepsi to go along so Coke isn’t at a competitive disadvantage.  They’ll start regulating the sugar content in sugary foods.  The fat content in those chips will have to come down, too, since that’s the real villain here.  Battalions of regulators will have to be hired to descend on restaurants to test their menus’ contents.

It’s not that healthier choices will be available where none were before.  It’s that the food that people prefer will simply disappear from shelves, like the corn chips on Super Bowl Sunday, in the picture.

Your life will be marginally poorer, but odds are, you won’t be any healthier for it.

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