April 23, 2010
Desalinizing AmericaBy J. Robert Smith
Public health groups want Uncle Sam to start separating us from salt for our own good -- along with saturated fat and sugar. Uncle Sam is listening -- and doing. Call it the blanding of America. Or call it another blow by the nanny state for freedom -- freedom from our undisciplined appetites. Freedom from personal responsibility. Freedom from choice. Why, even freedom from freedom.
Look, freedom from freedom works for zoo animals, doesn't it? The zoo is the new model for human society. We need only open our bourgeois eyes to see. At any zoo, Americans will find tigers and lions and bears that are housed, fed, and tended to medically.
Our benevolent Maximum Leader, Barack Obama, has his dreams -- dreams grander than his father's, one dare say. He wants to turn the United States into one big, happy zoo. The president and his sharp left-wing policy wonks are working overtime to get the "housed, fed, and medical care" thing down pat.
But Mr. Obama hasn't quite figured out how he can actually feed us and keep all that salty bad stuff from our mouths. Yet by using big government -- through the auspices of the Food and Drug Administration -- to make what passes our lips less bad is a nice interim step. (Can sorely-needed punitive junk food taxes be far behind?) And though baby steps on the road to serfdom isn't typically the Obama Way, when it comes to salt, baby steps appear to be just dandy.
But naysayers and tea partiers (thinly disguised right-wing militiamen and women or their shills) might counter -- with boring predictability -- that government has no place regulating what we eat or drink other than to make sure that our food and drink are uncontaminated by arsenic and rat droppings. Goes the argument, if middle- and lowbrow Americans want to eat gobs of Fritos, that's their choice. Americans can mind their own kids' diets, too, say conservative troglodytes. And if consumers' food choices lead to bad health, then they can pick up their own medical tabs. Such heartlessness.
But what do overweight, artery-clogged adults really know about their diets -- or anything else, for that matter? Parents managing their kids' diets? Don't make our svelte president howl with laughter between drags on his coffin nail (might trigger an awful coughing fit).
In fact, fat kids are a threat, of sorts, to our national security. Perhaps not on the level of al-Qaeda, but darned close. The Pentagon's politicized generals say so, so it must be so. It goes like this: Just like sea levels rising due to global warming, military recruitment centers will one day -- very soon -- be swamped with patriotic fat kids looking to serve their country. Military budgets being tight, Jenny Craig isn't in the cards for enlistees. And the brass doesn't want to make pound-dropping basic training too rigorous.
So the Pentagon -- doubtless with White House prodding -- is rah-rahing FDA food inspectors' and minders' plans to relentlessly pursue profit-lusting execs at Frito-Lay and Slim Jims, among many other bottom-feeders who are poisoning us and "the children" with foul salty foods. Expect the overworked but saintly Congressman Henry Waxman to crank up another one of his media-friendly witch hunts (I mean committee investigations) into the whole sordid world of snack and processed food manufacturing. A word of warning to Kraft Food execs: If you guys have a corporate jet, ditch it now.
And if Henry Waxman is hot on the trail of snack food capitalist exploiters, can the otherwise-media-shy Senator Chuck Schumer be far behind? With Waxman and Schumer leading the fight, count on mainstream media institutions "60 Minutes" and "20-20" to weigh in with brilliant exposés on the cynics and manipulators who are enticing us all with slick advertising to eat one too many Little Debbie Snack 'n Cakes (lest we forget the sinister hidden salt in processed sweet treats).
For most of us Americans, who can't resist the snap and crunch of a briny Vlasic pickle or a gooey slice of DiGiorno pepperoni pizza, two words: Take heart. Uncle Sam's current assault on salt is only the opening salvo in a much longer war to eradicate sodium-laced edibles.
Won't Uncle Sam eventually do to salty food what he's doing to one of President Obama's favorite treats, cigarettes? How about plain packaging for all snack and processed foods? How about skull-and-crossbones warning labels? Shouldn't grocers be required by law to put every bag of Cheetos Cheese Puffs and Rold Gold Pretzels, every Marie Callender potpie and Swanson's Macaroni and Cheese entrée, behind counters? Before store clerks hand over the Oh Boy! Oberto Beef Jerky, shouldn't proof of age be required?
And like the cigarette wars, let's cue the trial attorneys, shall we? These vigilantes for wronged and aggrieved Americans need to begin to rustle up -- or gin up -- citizens who have suffered prolonged exposure to Spam (a salt lick if there ever were one). Besides, putting more trial attorneys to work will buff up employment numbers, won't it? A little more stimulus never hurt anyone.
Knuckle-dragging conservatives might counter that tobacco is a different animal from, say, Top Ramen Instant Noodles. It's certainly right and defensible to keep tobacco out of the hands of minors. Penalties for lax or crooked grocers and c-store operators who dole out Marlboros or Camels to the underaged deserve the law's comeuppance.
Yet dense conservatives fail to make critical connections. If cigarettes cause cancer, and salty processed food contributes to obesity and hypertension, and both could kill consumers, then why shouldn't the latter be regulated something like tobacco?
Certainly, at this point, our nation's food angels are too clever -- or scared -- to stand between hungry football or hockey fans and their Doritos. The key is to nudge food regulations along, tightening the noose slowly enough so as not to ruffle slow-witted consumers. Then one fine day, after months -- perhaps years -- of gradually taking the salt out of processed foods, consumers won't even fuss that their Lays Potato Chips taste like cardboard. Palates adjust, don't they? Snackers may not even care that their old favorite treats have been swept from store shelves.
Though statistically, we Americans are living longer than ever before, we know that our lifespans are bound to tailspin at some point if we don't forsake our long-running infatuation with everything salty -- and everything sweet, everything fatty, and everything not tofu and bean sprouts.
But cheer up, Americans. Restricting or banning naughty foods is for our own good. Uncle Sam knows best. And there's still booze, and if advocates have their way, legalized pot is in the offing in trendsetting California. Dean Wormer (National Lampoon's Animal House) may have been right that fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life. But for Uncle Sam, drunk and stoned may soon be okay.