Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Let Them Eat Cake

Are you really free if you’re too fat to walk to the donut store?

Well, that’s the upshot of the debate currently raging through the legislative halls of New Jersey and New York City. Both the Garden State and the Big Apple are attempting to reinforce their healthy nicknames by eradicating trans fats from restaurant kitchens and grocery stores.

For those of us unaware of the horrors of the trans fat, it’s the unseen ingredient that puts the tasty in a Tastykake. But, according the NationalCancer Institute, trans fats “increase blood cholesterol levels and the risk or heart disease.” Basically, trans fats turn a liquid saturated oil into a solid fat. The synthetic creation allows ingredients to fry at a higher temperature, which apparently improves the frying outcome. Trans fats also give baked good a longer shelf life.

Concerned lawmakers have taken trans fat evils literally to heart, and
called for their total elimination. While butter-churning milkmaids everywhere eagerly await a windfall, restauranteurs are crying out for civil liberties. You can take away their trans fats, but you can’t take away their FREEEEDOM!!

The whole lard-laden melee reanimates one of the greatest political debates
of all time: is a person more free when they choose to be fat or when
they’re forced to be healthy?

Isiah Berlin most eloquently introduced this debate in his famous 1958 essay
“Two Concepts on Liberty.” Berlin’s claim asserts that the goals of men often conflict with one another. A momentary decision to eat a fatty donut, for example, is at loggerheads with my goal of shedding my
Halloween-candy-supplied love handles.

With the trans fat fiasco, Berlin's two liberties are challenged. Are you freer if you have the choice to cook with and eat your trans fats (this is Berlin’s concept of negative liberty)? Or does freedom arrive when you’re a healthy, self-actualized citizen -- (Berlin’s concept of positive liberty)? If you believe that freedom comes with the ability to make ones own individual choice -- say, you're right to commit suicide via baked goods, you're a fan of negative freedom. If you'd rather have government goad you into doing what's best for the whole of society -- say, require seat belts and airbags in cars while you're force fed baby carrots, then you're a positive liberty kinda citizen.

The essential question is whether government should force you into being free. Are we as Americans proud to be disgusting, gut-busted individuals, or would we rather become a squeaky-clean, health obsessed collective?

Americans often have trouble wrestling with these two concepts of freedom. As disciples of philosopher John Locke, we grab hold of our negative liberties like a security blanket and huddle in a fetal position. We relish in our freedoms to purchase a Glock with cop-killer bullets or ride around without a motorcycle helmet -- even if we understand that these options might not lead to the best possible future for ourselves or our community. We enjoy doing almost anything our selfish hearts desire – unless it inconveniences our equally selfish neighbor.

But there are those Americans in search of a more slender electorate – one without automatic weapons or brain-damaged quarterbacks. They see fellow citizens as often unable to control the destructive animals inside of them. And government serves as a check on their masochistic designs.

Both visions sveltely embody the nation’s historic ideals.

While some local eateries, including South Jersey staple Ponzio’s Diner, portend the end of their saccharine existence, other venues, including Monks and Standard Tap, have voluntarily opted for non-trans fat alternatives.

Though the ubiquity of trans fats is unknown to those without culinary acumen, it doesn’t take Craig LaBan to understand that Krispy Kreme isn’t the healthy option. Erasing trans fats entirely seems to toss the Baby Ruth bar out with the bathwater.

Confectionaries carry with them unfriendly consequences. Part of their delectability lies in their forbidden ingredients. Like sneaking your high school boyfriend into you bedroom, trans fats feel even more exciting because you know you’re breaking the
rules. In the morning, there’s lots of guilt – and your tummy might start to
grow. But you knew the possible consequences when you committed the crime.

Yes, the public needs more information on the dangers of trans fats, like teenagers need the fear of God and pregnancy. And restaurants, like Planned Parenthood, should happily offer nutritional information to their patrons.

But lawmakers must trust that we know donuts and French fries are the devil’s foods. Please, let us indulge without legal recompense.


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