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Stay Out of My Cone
August 5, 2003
by Tresa McBee

Perhaps what galls the most is the assumption of stupidity. The supposition that if not for those who know infinitely more, who monitor and proclaim and badger and nag, we'd sink into the abyss of this risk we call life.

Thanks, but I'll take my chances.

Consider the oh-my-gosh-it-can't-be-true announcement last week from the Center for Science in the Public Interest -- a full-time nannycrat nonprofit known for its crusade against movie popcorn and other fun foods -- that ice cream is loaded with calories and saturated fat. It's not that CSPI thought ice cream was a health food, a press release stated, but the true nutritional numbers are shocking, truly shocking, and consumers are likewise bound to be surprised by the delights coming out of places like Baskin-Robbins, Ben and Jerry's and Haagen-Dazs.

"This is something eaten by people strolling around a mall," said CSPI nutritionist Jayne Hurley in a news conference reported by Reuters. Her example included Ben & Jerry's Chunky Monkey ice cream in its chocolate-dipped waffle cone. "They have no idea they have just eaten 820 calories and one and a half days worth of saturated fat."

Holy, moly. The great unsuspecting masses duped again! I mean, who could possibly guess that a concoction like, for instance, Cold Stone Creamery's Mud Pie Mojo with its coffee ice cream, roasted almonds, fudge, Oreos, peanut butter and whipped topping, is really, really, super high in calories and best reserved for special occasions, hormonally driven cravings or I-don't-give-a-damn bad days? Not the mall people who are left to wallow in unsuspecting ice cream land.

Newsflash for Ms. Hurley and her bossy comrades: Most of those strolling mall people don't care. They're blissful in their ignorance and are perfectly happy to remain there. And if they do care, they're clued into the unhealthy aspects of the fat-and-sugar laden ice cream they've chosen to consume and would prefer to enjoy. Without a grating peep from anyone.

But that won't do. Legislation will.

Using the empowering language of "informed choice," CSPI explains true choice isn't possible without requiring chain restaurants to list calorie counts on menu boards -- which several busybody state legislatures with too much time have proposed in legislation.

Information is good. Choice is great. But this isn't about either. It's about an approach that treats people as incapable of educating themselves and pushing people toward the "correct" choice. It's about bothersome regulation rather than market forces driven by consumer preference. When CSPI says menu labeling would encourage restaurants to compete based on nutrition and not just "decadence and price," it reveals its bad-must-be-punished ideology. No matter that uninformed indulgence in moderation is often preferred.

Yes, too-large people are everywhere. Lots of us eat too much and move too little. We live where abundance abounds. Excess is inevitable when so much exists on demand and activity no longer determines who eats. Sometimes that's deadly, sometimes it's life-threatening. It's definitely lazy and absolutely unhealthy. It's also a choice.

What's interesting to note is that weight concerns aren't new. A recent Wall Street Journal article reports that while Americans are getting bigger, "ideal" weights are sinking. When Metropolitan Life Insurance, which devised the first widely accepted ideal-weight charts, published its findings in the early 1940s, the numbers were so far below average that millions were instantly considered overweight. And when the body mass index -- a numerical formula only that doesn't consider such variables as genetics, muscle ratio or exercise -- was adopted in 1998 as the official U.S. government's basis for healthy weights, 25 million became fat or obese overnight. Add changing aesthetics, and "ideal" appears more malleable than one might think.

None of which matters to the meddlers determined to steer us on the correct path.

"No one disputes that the obesity epidemic has many causes," declared CSPI Executive Director Michael F. Jacobson. "But certainly the sheer size and caloric density of these 'indulgences' has something to do with the size of Americans' pants."

Thanks, but I'll continue my indulgences, chocolate-filled caloric content notwithstanding. And my pant size is my business.

So go away.

Tresa McBee writes for the Northwest Arkansas Times and can be reached at tresam@nwarktimes.com.

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