Live free and die early?

I cannot more highly commend this post by nutritionist Kristin Wartman, which I encountered at Grist, though a tag at its bottom says a version ran at

It should not surprise that my admiration is fueled by how she expresses thoughts I've had and previously shared. But she does it better, beginning with her headline, "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of fatness." Exactly.

Wartman points out that food has traditionally been a demarcation of class, since richer people could afford better food. Though higher-quality food still costs more, the value of quality related to food has lost its luster, at least for a considerable number of right-leaning commentators. ("Get away from my french fries, Mrs. Obama. First politician that comes up to me with a carrot stick, I've got a place for it. And it's not in my tummy." is my favorite example, courtesy of Glenn Beck.) This is Wartman's headline, precisely.

Vast swaths of Americans consider it their inalienable right to eat crap, get fat, and suffer the effects. Live free and die early.

On the question of rights, I don't argue. I do have the right to degrade my health and quality of life, even if it does burden the economy through the health care system. But just because I have the right to do all sorts of stupid things not in my own best interest doesn't mean I should exercise them.

The circumstance is very much akin to the Bush-era phenomenon when blue-collar workers voted not once but twice to benefit well-monied interests who didn't need the help — while defeating their own economic interests! Aptly, Wartman compares it to Stockholm Syndrome.

Rights are important and I hold mine dear. But who exercises rights that aren't good for them? And better yet, why?

One answer that Wartman offers, and that I wholly concur with, is the influence of marketers. Billions and billions spent every year to influence us to act against our interest. Again, these companies do have the right to promote their interests, as long as we let them. 

I'd argue that in matters of public interest, there is not only a commonly held right but a responsibility to curb pernicious influences. There is ample precedent for this: Traffic lights, for example, infringe on individual rights of when to go and when to stop, but few would argue they are not in the common interest.

Laws that prevent spewing industrial effluent into public waterways are only slightly less controversial. People generally approve of them, but support does wane the farther one goes right on the political spectrum. It's not a question of if, but of how far the curbs should extebnd.

I'd settle, happily, for that standard in the food culture wars. But the other side has drawn a very taut line in which rights are the only rights worth fighting for.

Anyway, go read Wartman's piece. As I say, she says it well. 

Author and wellness innovator Michael Prager helps smart companies
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