Do Americans Want Government In Their Food?

L.A. Farmer's Market | Photo: jazzlog/Flickr/Creative Commons License

It's a safe assumption to make that the American public generally don't like new laws. Along with a healthy mistrust towards legislators -- look no further than local farmers's reaction to the new Choose California Act -- is a general sense that with each new law our freedoms are, somehow, being infringed upon. And that feeling seems to be even more extreme when it comes to the government getting all up in the business of what we eat.

New York's soda ban has been met with raucous debate and claims that it's further proof we're moving to a "Nanny State." Attempts to limit what food stamps can be used on at the grocery store have been heavily criticized. And to bring this debate a little more local, last June when I asked readers if L.A. should follow New York's suit by bringing about a large soda ban in the city, the answer was overwhelmingly "No!" with 91.48% of the vote.

The response indicates a clear message to the government: Stay out of our stomachs!

Except, well, maybe that's not the case at all.

According to NPR's The Salt blog, Americans are actually pretty alright with the government stepping in and "forcing" them to each healthier by instituting anti-junk food policies. Says a study from Harvard's School of Public Health:

The 1,817 people polled were surprisingly positive about these new public health laws. They backed efforts to get kids exercising more, with 88 percent saying public school kids should be required to have 45 minutes of physical activity each day. Making fresh fruits and vegetables more affordable, and requiring restaurants to post calorie counts, also won a big majority of votes. Three-quarters of people said food manufacturers and chain restaurants should be told to cut the salt content of their foods. And 76 percent of those surveyed said banning the use of food stamps to buy soda and other sugary beverages was good policy.

So, where's the disconnect? Why do the findings show a public willing to allow the government to lead them while the overwhelming sentiment is the opposite?

It certainly could be the methodology when it comes to creating the poll. Instead of asking a more direct "Do you want this policy to affect you?" those asking the questions went with a more broad "Should these policies be enacted?" That latter tone turns the mindset of the answerer, ever so slightly, from someone in the ballot box ready to vote on a proposition that's going to affect them directly, to that of an citizen anthropologist looking at problems from a wide angle lens. In other words, it's not unreasonable to think the respondents are rolling these questions around in their heads like this: "Should the nation be curbing childhood obesity and adult onset diabetes by sticking their legislative fingers into the mess? Of course. As a nation we have a huge problem. But I personally am doing just fine."

Or it could be that simply the tide of popular opinion is changing. It could be that the public is seeing the damage caused by unchecked consumption of sugars and salts and have, frankly, had enough. Perhaps this finding is proof that, as a people, we're ready to finally ask the government to step in and keep us from harming ourselves.

But personally, I'll believe that when food-regulating ballot propositions begin being passed at a more consistent rate.

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About the Author

Rick Paulas has written plenty of things, some of them serious, many of them not, scattered over the vast expanses of the Internet. He lives in Los Angeles and is a White Sox fan.
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