Should Fat Be Illegal?

Healthcare, Money, Politics, Safety, Taxes

There’s a growing effort in America to ban fatty foods, and it’s not just a fringe movement.  Mainstream groups like the American Medical Association have come out in support of banning certain kinds of fats, and some cities have already outlawed them.  But how far will this crusade against fat go?

Trans fat

By far the most controversial type of fat is trans fat.  Trans fat is created by injecting hydrogen into fat, which turns it from a liquid into a solid, increasing its shelf life and preserving its taste.

Trans fat created this way is not something found in nature — it’s the result of a scientific process that was patented in the early 1900’s, and thus has only been a part of the human diet for around 100 years.

In a nutshell, trans fat is very bad for you because it increases the risk of heart disease by raising your “bad” cholesterol and lowering your “good” cholesterol.   It also has links to cancer, obesity, diabetes and other afflictions.

The fight against trans fat

In the United States it became mandatory for food makers to list trans fat quantities on nutrition labels in 2003 (although if the amount of trans fat is .5 grams or less, disclosure is not required). However at the local level, regulation has been harsher. For example, in New York City, Philadelphia, Albany County (NY), King County (WA), and the entire state of California, trans fats have been banned in restaurants. Abroad, Denmark and Switzerland have heavily regulated trans fats at the national level.

School cafeterias

School cafeterias are shaping up to be a major battleground in the war against fat, and may be the one first places subject to federal trans fat bans. In fact, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has been campaigning to ban trans fat from every school cafeteria in America.

But the fight over controlling school lunches doesn’t end with trans fat. In a brilliant PR coup for School Lunchistas, ABC recently premiered “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution,” a show in which a celebrity chef invades a school and tells the cafeteria staff  exactly how bad their food is.

Perhaps chef Jamie Oliver was a little too harsh, because the School Nutrition Association publicly came to the defense of the battered lunch ladies.

Michelle Obama has also gotten in on the school lunch action, securing commitments from school lunch suppliers to reduce fat, sugar, and salt.  Of course, the real teeth of federal fat regulation comes from the fact that many school lunch programs are federally funded and are subject to federal nutrition regulations.

Beyond school cafeterias

School cafeterias make an easy target for fat prohibitionists because, well, who wants to argue in favor of clogging little kids’ arteries? Plus, kids don’t really have rights and freedoms anyway.  But there are others who want to ban fats, and “bad” foods in general, for everyone.

For example, in 2003 two teenagers tried to sue McDonald’s for making them fat, although the suit was thrown out.   And in 2008, the Los Angeles City Counsel banned construction of new fast food restaurants in low-income areas.   And even more recently, talk of a “fat tax” has cropped up, which would discourage buying “bad” foods by making them more expensive.

The real battle: public opinion

Regardless of particular battles over school lunches, fast food or fat taxes, the real war here is over public opinion.

Lawsuits against food sellers probably won’t go anywhere, so if fat is going to be outlawed, it’s going to be through regulation, which requires winning public opinion.  The fate of trans fat, which will probably be banned in all schools soon enough, and then for everyone else eventually, is a lesson in what happens once a particular food has been vilified in the public’s mind, rightly or wrongly.

Those wanting to ban other types of foods, like fast foods, have a long way to go before the American public is prepared to give up Big Macs, but opinions can change over time, especially with the help of media like Supersize Me and Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution.

So get ready to be bombarded with more propaganda from both sides, because there’s a war being waged over the fate of fat, in your mind.