August 2 2013

The Greatest Food in Human History, Part Two: McDonalds and Bloomberg

Lindsey Dodge

A recent article in the New York Post by Kyle Smith went viral. Titled “The Greatest Food in Human History,” the twist is that he is talking about the McDonald’s McDouble cheeseburger, a food typically understood to be unhealthy. Why this is important for moms is simple: not only is it important to remember that in a multi-class economy, places like McDonald’s provide a much-needed expenses break for those with fewer resources, but also that science exists to be questioned, so absolutists should be viewed askance.

As Smith puts it, “For the average poor person, it isn’t a great option to take a trip to the farmers market to puzzle over esoteric lefty-foodie codes. … Produce may seem cheap to environmentally aware blond moms who spend $300 on their highlights every month, but if your object is to fill your belly, it is hugely expensive per calorie.”

Now it’s clear from this assertion that Smith’s tone is combative and sardonic (who can find highlights for cheaper nowadays?), but his point is well-taken. The problem is not that some people are wealthy enough to afford kale and organic quinoa; the problem is that we shouldn’t restrict choices for those who need 390 calories, half a daily serving of protein, 7 percent of daily fiber and 20 percent of calcium for under $2 (that’s the McDouble, by the way).

As to high-calorie meals in general, this week an appeals court rejected Major Bloomberg’s oft-written about proposed soda ban. The move was criticized for unscientific loopholes (delis and restaurants wouldn’t have been allowed to sell Colas but 7-Eleven could sell its signature Big Gulp.)

The four-judge Appellate Division panel unanimously ruled that “the Board of Health failed to act within the bounds of its lawfully delegated authority.”

Part of what makes these health debates controversial is that Americans are increasingly bearing the costs of each other’s health decisions.  Politicians justify government meddling in the food arena based on the idea of minimizing obesity-related healthcare costs.  Yet this misdiagnoses in the name of political expediency: the real problem there again is not McDonalds, or an over-consumption of it, but rather that without increasingly socialized health care costs, it wouldn’t be a public concern. And a little common sense would show that not everyone needs the same thing, in health care, in education and in most realms of public policy.

Especially since often these government efforts don’t event work.  For example, , according to a study by researchers at RTI International, Duke University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, any potential health benefits to taxing sugary beverages are off-set by consumers’ substitution of other unhealthy foods. The government will not fix this problem, and it’s actively making it worse.

So instead of trying to “nudge” people toward better health,  let’s consider whether we shouldn’t reform health care so we have a system where people’s personal choices were their own business, and their own responsibility.  It would certainly cool tempers, not to mention save everyone (including our children) an unfathomable amount of money.  

[Full disclosure: This author has been known to both shop at farmers markets and purchase mini-McFlurry’s from McDonald’s. No animals were harmed in the writing of this article.]

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