Ignorance, arrogance, and bluster

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I will eventually get tired of skewering the skippies over at the "Center for Consumer Freedom," but not just yet. They are the "independent" nonprofit whose funding comes from restaurants and food-products companies.

Their website says they are also funded by thousands of individual consumers, but I don't believe it. I shouldn't say that, not only because it's impolitic, and not only because I have no proof, but because they'll seize on a comment like that, rather than straightforwardly address the very substantive ways in which I contend that they twist facts and truth. My disbelief lies in common sense: Thousands of Americans are donating their money to the people-should-be-able-to-eat-whatever-they-want movement? It that principle in jeopardy? Meanwhile, let's consider the restaurants and food-products people. Does anyone doubt that they would spend their money to advocate for food freedom? They don't need principle to motivate them; their entire future is based on ensuring that nothing ever impedes their sales.

I could go on with all the background bullshit, but let's take a look at their piece of yesterday, March 31, headlined "Waving the white flag on personal responsibility?" which is full of their usual half-baked inanities.

But I want to start with a shout out to my poor addled brothers: I, too, believe in personal responsibility. Even when I was 365 pounds, mired in food addiction, I was completely responsible for what I put in my mouth. Completely.

Personal responsibility is not the only value, though. Someone can be responsible and still need help, from friends, from medicine, from therapy, from community. In my case, I couldn't help myself act differently; I needed help and treatment, of the type that alcoholics have been getting for three-quarters of a century, before I could get better.

How do I know I "needed" treatment? Well, I sure didn't at the start; I was certain that if I tried harder, or even just wished harder, my life would change, even though my trajectory toward early death had been fairly consistent. I was overweight from birth and obese from my early teens into my 30s. I'd lost hundreds of pounds by then, but still weighed 365 in 1991. There was no evidence that conditions would change. 

Then, through a series of events that started with family, friends, and colleagues, I accepted nudges toward therapy, support groups, and a rehab hospital's eating disorders unit. I started heeding what I heard instead of believing my own crap, stuck with the suggestions, and change not only came but has stayed; I'm not cured, but I'm healthy today. I was supported by insurance for the therapy and the rehab, in ways that aren't nearly as available today.

These guys understand none of this — they exhibit supreme arrogance and narrow-mindedness (very similar to how I was before I got treatment, actually). They show this wonderfully, comically here:

As we wrote on Monday, the concept that junk food is “addictive” like hard drugs has serious flaws and troubling implications. For one, Americans already have a name for the concept of wanting food: hunger. Foods people enjoy, like pizza, potato chips, or hamburgers, simply “taste good.” If we weren't “addicted” to food, we'd all starve to death.

No, that's not correct, though I'll concede that shallow thinkers could conclude that from the name "food addiction," a self-defeating term if there ever was one. Of course no one is addicted to all food. Duh! But what was happening for me, and what is still happening for millions of out-of-control eaters, stopped bearing a relation to sustenance in the first few bites.

We're not talking about eating, all or nothing. You understand alcoholism, right? Some people use it normally — They like the taste. Or the effect. They might even overindulge once in a while — but mostly, it's a neutral experience. Others, once exposed to it, unreasonably lose control. They overindulge often, even when they firmly decide beforehand that they won't. They know it's bad for them, but they can't stay away. It's unreasonable and dangerous, making their actions all the more unreasonable to normal drinkers.

That precisely describes what's going on in food addiction. The complication is that everyone needs to eat for survival. The first defense against alcoholism is abstinence; can you imagine if alcoholics' survival was predicated on controlled amounts of their substance three times a day? So it's the same but different.

Further, "food" is a vast category of substances, far more complicated than "alcohol." Yes, there's beer and wine and gin and vermouth, but that sort of variety doesn't compare to the range that includes green beans, tomato aspic, sourdough bread, and hot fudge sundaes.  Some people can eat anything, and others can be severely affected by "normal" foods. Think peanuts. Can it be so hard to understand that eating that seems OK to you might be bad for others?

These guys wrap their argument in conservative garb, to make this an issue about freedom, and it is a vile perversion. First, I want them to consider that I had no personal freedom whatsoever while I was in unwitting bondage to some substances and to volume. I was imprisoned by fat and shame, with no apparent way out. So I don't want to hear about their love for freedom, so narrowly focused as it is, expressed in this piece as "the belief that individuals should have ultimate say in what they eat."

For decades, that's precisely what the tobacco manufacturers said: This is an issue of personal freedom. People should be able to smoke if they want.

There was truth in that, but it left out, for example, the personal right of other people not to breath second-hand smoke. Or the personal right of non-smokers not to have to pay health-care costs inflated by smoking-increased incidence of lung cancer and other smoking-related illnesses.

And then we found out, after decades of stonewalling, that manufacturers knew their products were instruments of early death, but not only did they fight scientists, public health advocates, and anyone else who said so, they were secretly manipulating their product to ensure that people would get and stay hooked.

Yes, people have the right to do whatever they want, but they also have the right to know when forces are manipulating them and lying about it. If people had known that Big Tobacco was lying to them about their conspiracy, might they have acted differently? The people who fought so hard to hide their nefariousness sure must have thought so!

According to David Kessler's book, "The End of Overeating," food-product manufacturers are doing the same thing. They know that sugary, fatty foods are a weakness for many people, so they're working to put those substances into as many foods as possible. Sugar in salad dressing, sugar in peanut butter, sugar in marinades, sugar in baked beans, sugar in chicken, sugar in bread, sugar in fries...

The "consumer freedom" marchers actually take on the food/smoking comparison, calling it "ludicrous to the point of discrediting those who advance such a comparison." Do you see how they did that? I've just made that quite-reasonable comparison, but they don't even have to respond — I'm ludicrous, end of story.

Meanwhile, let's take their ludicrous final paragraph ...

Why don’t we try a Plan B? Instead of listening to public health activists who think that more and more government control is the way to go, let’s tell them to take a hike. Some exercise would certainly be good for their health. And maybe we can shrink America’s waistlines without inflating the size of government.

  • They don't suggest a plan B, they just say we ought to try one. And that, of course, is after fighting any change tooth and nail, so that change hasn't really been tried at all.
  • "Let's tell them to take a hike." That's a plan? School-yard bluster with a side of school-yard humor? (Hike. Get it? If those pointy heads would just get some exercise...)
  • "And maybe we can shrink America's waistline..." Again, just how are you saying you might be able to do that? Still, no suggestions, for the fattest nation on earth, a condition that has implications from national spirit to national security.

This wailing over the size of government is just a smokescreen. Have you heard anyone propose government regulations on what people can eat? No. What they're referring to — apparently, because they don't say — is measures like taxes on sugary sodas, which would tend to reduce purchases of same, just as taxes on cigarettes reduced their sales, a result that was good for everyone except the manufacturers. (When you're looking for real motives, start with who stands to gain or suffer most.)  Sugary sodas are bad for individual health — added calories that contribute nothing nutritionally — and for public health: They contribute glaringly to obesity, which leads to higher health-care costs across the board. Yes, just like tobacco addiction did.

Not only is it a smokescreen, it is disingenuous, which is to say dishonest. Do food-industry advocates mind that corn growth is subsidized by the government, that the difference between profit and loss of every bushel grown in America is its government payout? That kind of "big government" is not only OK, it's worth fighting for, apparently.

It's a tough call, whether to let these people moulder among their peeps or to bring them into the light. Today, I reached for the light.


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