2011-10-03

Illegal to be Fat

The Issue
My news feed is all a-flutter this morning with news of Denmark's levying "the world's first fat tax."

As with any such event, a person's perspective on the issue depends largely on whether or not that person happens to be a government insider. The AFP reports that the tax is designed "as a health issue to limit the population's intake of fatty foods."

I assume the reporter was attempting to be "objective" in his/her providing "the industry's perspective." The article quotes a spokeswoman from a foodstuffs manufacturer who expressed doubt as to the efficacy of the initiative and called it "just a tax." 

The Lie
The big lie in this news item is the idea that there are two sides to the issue: "the government" and "industry." News agencies are always keen to phrase issues this way. For any regulatory issue (they would have us believe), there are those who wish to have free reign to reap large profits, and there are those in the government who wish to protect us from those exploitative behaviors.

It is easy and tempting to conceive of such a world, one in which one side always has good intentions and the other side always has bad intentions. I suppose this is the modern framework for "Left vs. Right." The average leftist would be compelled to believe that regulators always have good intentions and corporations, always bad ones; the average rightist I guess is supposed to believe the opposite.

Hence we are always pit against each other with regard to who we think is inherently evil to the bone.

The Idiocy
Let us entertain the Denmark government's actions for a moment. Let us assume that their motives were good ones. 
  • Does anyone actually believe that "making fat illegal" will cause people to stop being fat?
  • Does anyone actually believe that saturated fats are the only type of macronutrients that cause ill health?
  • Does anyone actually believe that "industry" "wants us to be fat," and therefore fills our plates with hideously unhealthy foods against our will, just to take advantage of us?
  • Does anyone actually support this tax?
  • In a world where people are starving to death, does anyone actually think it's a good idea to make food more expensive?!?

But perhaps one of the worst aspects of this tax is that it is not in any way grounded on real health science. Not only are saturated fats consumed in normal amounts not correlated with adverse events (i.e. they produce no conclusively demonstrated ill effects), they are actually a somewhat important part of the human diet. Granted, you shouldn't over-do it because high fat intake is certainly bad. But normal fat intake is healthy. That's why they call it "normal."

Of course, a "fat tax" doesn't know whether the fat you're eating is normal or excessive. The fat tax simply taxes first - and doesn't even ask questions later. All saturated fats are subject to the tax, regardless of whether your intake of them is healthy.

I am having a real problem with this. Idiocy indeed.

The Crossfire
I submit the following as an indisputable fact: Everyone's dietary needs are a little different. Some people require a very high carbohydrate diet, others require a more moderate carbohydrate intake. 

Consider this article by Dr. Uffe Ravnskov, in which he indicates that a diet slightly lower in carbohydrates and slightly higher in saturated fats actually produces clinical health benefits among type 2 diabetics. So, while the "majority" of people may at some point begin to feel that a ban or tax on saturated fats is "good for society," they are leaving out whole swaths of the population. 

Let's call a spade a spade here: it's bigotry. Any time a government or a population decides to tax one group for the benefit of another, we are dealing with institutionalized prejudice. If a person spends $300 per month on food, and a person's diet is such that they require more fatty foods, that person will either be forced to take home less food for $300, or will have to spend more than $300 for the same amount of food. 

By singling out the diabetic population in such a way, the state is engaging in an unconscionable bigotry that must be stopped yesterday.

Conclusion
There is no good reason to impose a fat tax. It is at best misguided, on average ineffective, and at worst downright wicked. I don't even see this as an issue of "personal liberty." It is an issue of basic survival and equal treatment under the law. The foods a person requires should not be subject to the democratic process. Which foods I choose to ingest are not "up to a vote." You have no right to force me to eat your diet. I'm diabetic: I have other needs.