“Nudging” is a term used by the Center For Consumer Freedom to describe the regulatory practice of guiding peoples’ food choices in a slightly more subtle way than outright bans. It includes such actions as taxing food items deemed undesirable by various food cops, like the proposed tax on sugared drinks. The man who will probably be confirmed to head the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), Cass Sunstein, is a big fan of this authoritarian approach:
The Sunstein brand of nudge paternalism isn’t as new to public policy as it might seem. Take food, for instance. Local governments and interest groups lobbying Richmond have been trying to nudge us toward “better” dietary choices for years. “Better,” of course, is in the taste buds of the beholder.
SODA TAXES. Restaurant zoning ordinances. Body-Mass Index monitoring. Mandatory ingredient labels. (And some ingredient-“free” labels, too.) All of these seemingly benign interferences are designed to influence our choices without technically taking them away.
Proponents of these measures promise all sorts of public-health miracles to sell them, including slimmer children or lower rates of chronic disease. But the interventions we’ve seen enacted have fallen far short of expectations. For example, after three years of issuing Body Mass Index report cards to parents of Arkansas schoolchildren — an experiment proposed for Virginia’s kids in 2006 — officials reported that the program “did not put a dent” in obesity rates.
One major result of these failed interventions has been the politicization of meal time:
But aside from its apparent ineffectiveness, there’s a larger problem with Sunstein’s “nudge” approach: Government simply shouldn’t be deciding ahead of time which choices are best for us. Especially when it comes to food.
Despite years of trying, researchers have yet to pinpoint a diet that can make everyone healthy. Consider the salt-reduction scheme proposed in New York City. While some studies show that a low-sodium diet can decrease the risk of heart disease for some individuals, experts warn that others can actually boost their blood pressure by lowering their salt intake.
In other words, one size will not fit all. But that hasn’t deterred groups like the Center for Science in the Public Interest from pushing the Food and Drug Administration toward sodium limits that will affect every Virginian. At least those of us who eat.
The more emotionally charged our public food fights become, the more difficult it is to be impartial about which food choices are “best” for everyone. Whether it’s cutting greenhouse gas emissions, returning to our agricultural roots, or merely sticking it to “Big Food,” meal planning is more of a political exercise than ever before.
The food science is not settled. Individual body chemistry varies, leading to different individual reactions to any chemical. Anyone pushing the one-size-must-fit-all idea is really proclaiming his right to control your life. Nudging is simply lip service to the concept of individual freedom.
Thanks to Center For Consumer Freedom