When my boys were little, we used to tell them not to eat their broccoli, peas or sweet potatoes, or whatever disgusting thing lurked on their dinner plate. Tell kids not to do something and they want to do it. It was a neat trick when my kids were little, before they figured out my game. Now, local and federal governments are playing games when it comes to food choices.
There is a long list of topics on which the government sets rules, mandates and guidelines, and most are likely done with good intentions. Some simply go too far. Take some of the recent guidelines and mandates for what we eat, for example. Perhaps there are those in society who cannot make proper food choices. Maybe they cannot add calories, maybe they do not understand nutritional labels (I sometimes struggle on this one) or maybe they just don’t have the willpower to say no (guilty again, love candy corn). But for the government to mandate what citizens should eat in a one-size-fits-all program seems ridiculous.
The new USDA school lunch guidelines, championed by First Lady Michelle Obama to fight childhood obesity, mandate nutrition that does not meet the needs of significant sections of students it affects. Not all kids are the same. (I’m hearing a big “duh” out there, but clearly the government thinks they are.) On the surface, it’s a good idea: revise school lunch standards to “align with the latest nutrition science and the real world circumstances of America’s schools.” But the guidelines base food servings on your age or grade in school, not how active you are or what your risk for obesity might be. The spectrum of nutritional needs that exists among students at any given school is too broad to mandate such specific guidelines.
In a more general move, New York City has taken aim at soda sizes. The “soda ban” in New York proposes to ban the sale of “full sugar” sodas larger than 16 oz. at city-regulated establishments. Apparently you could still get a 32 oz. soda, you just have to order it in two cups, or get refills. But the goal of the proposal isn’t to take away choices, according to Mayor Michael Bloomberg; it is “forcing you to understand” what you’re drinking. So, if it’s about education, then why not list the calorie count of each and let the consumer choose?
As I went through the drive through at McDonald’s recently—fully intent on ordering a large soda, albeit the diet variety—I noticed a change on their menu. They had listed the calorie counts of each menu item, and while I was not planning on ordering one of the new pumpkin shakes, the calorie count on it would have made me change my mind. And that’s the point, isn’t it? Equip consumers with the knowledge they need to make good choices. Some in agriculture don’t always agree with McDonald’s policies, but the company has chosen to implement this change ahead of the federal requirement in the new health care law for restaurants to do so.
It was a good marketing move for McDonald’s, but this federal requirement about food makes sense to me. I like being credited with the ability to think for myself, to make choices for me and my family. My kids are able, too, and more often than not make the right choice when they know what they’re eating.
Don’t issue unrealistic mandates, or guidelines; give me tools to motivate me to do better with my choices.