Food Bans Really Are a Bad Idea (But Not Because They Are Tyrannical)

Mayor Bloomberg has done it again. He's managed to stir up emotions by trying to legislate the way New Yorkers eat and live. 

While his intentions seem to be pure, regarding the recent soda ban, this method of trying to get citizens to eat better is doomed to failure (but not for many of the reasons stated here on PolicyMic and elsewhere). 

Food bans are ineffective because they don't address any of the root causes of obesity. There are no simple solutions to the problems of obesity and diet-related illness in this country. Many pundits would have us believe that cutting excess fat, sugar and salt from our diets, or eating less, or subsidizing commodity crops less, or banning junk food, or locating super markets in food deserts, or locally grown food, or ... You get the point. 

There is no silver bullet that will solve this problem. The free market can't do it, nor can the government or even personal responsibility. All of these have been tried in various forms and all have failed. 

What will do it is a combination of all of the things that I just mentioned. Such a combination would create a cultural shift in how we, as Americans, view food. 

All of the solutions listed previously address some single issue that affects diet-related health. Several of them touch on issues of personal choice, a favorite of the free market lobby. Others touch on industrial food and the excesses and deceptions found in that arena. Yet others touch on education and reaching poor people who have few options. 

Yet none of them address more than just a few of the relevant issues; issues such as the effects of poverty, lack of education, government regulation, and the built environment. All of these have an effect on the obesity rate and all of them must be addressed if we are to get this problem under control. 

Soda (and other food) bans are a bad idea not because they are tyrannical. They are a bad idea because they only address one very narrow cause of obesity and diet related health problems. It's time we realize that such measures are incapable of bringing health to our communities. They might raise some awareness, but we need more than awareness. 

We need better choices. And the only way to get better choices is through a holistic approach to food - it's production, distribution, regulation, and consumption. Maybe with such a viewpoint we will be able to finally get control of our waistlines.

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Nate Abrams

I'm a systems guy, which means that I look at almost everything in terms of interconnections, feedback loops, architecture and scale. In other words, I look for the big picture and the deeply buried reasons for why things are the way they are.

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