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The Beef Angle

Reader Asks If Food Is The New Tobacco

Our society needs to relearn: with great freedom comes great responsibility

There are three things I really enjoy doing when it comes to food: cooking, eating and writing about it.

I suppose they all stem from the same basic root, namely that I love to eat. Sometimes, my love of food gets me into trouble.

On one hand, knowing I love food means I have to stay focused and disciplined to maintain a healthy body composition (a continual work in progress, in my case). On the other, it means that occasionally when I write about food, my passion leads me to positions contrary to others with their own food passions.

Such was the case this week following a column I wrote in our sister publication, Feedstuffs. Writing about my own experience with the concept of weight loss and personal responsibility, I boldly shared my firm belief that we, not business or government, are solely responsible for our own health and wellbeing.

Because I believe a government that has the power to give you anything you want also has the power to take everything you have, I refuse to ascribe my own personal responsibilities to others. Not all of my readers around the social media ecosystem felt the same.

One reader in particular took offense to my assertions that you and I have the power and duty to mind what we eat and how we expend that energy to maintain a healthy balance.

“Your unwillingness to link massive mktg $$$ to kids w/unhealthy behaviors (smoking or junk food) is irresponsible and selfish,” wrote Rob from Vermont via Twitter. Rob also noted that my column on responsibility was the “same old Big Ag BS,” and that it was time for industry to take some responsibility.

It is my opinion that industry does have a role to play, but that it is perfectly acceptable for McDonald’s to market Happy Meals to children, or for cereal companies to have funny mascots on Saturday morning cartoons (do kids still watch cartoons on Saturday mornings, by the way?). Businesses are in business to make a profit, and while there is a certain amount of “social responsibility” inherent in most corporate cultures these days, food marketers are not running warm and fuzzy non-profits for the “common good.”

In other words: If sugar sells, sell it.

My responsibility as an adult is to understand the consequences of my consumption and either govern myself responsibly or live with those consequences. When I have children of my own, it will likewise be my responsibility to teach those children that same type of discipline.

The problem in our society, of course, is that we have allowed our culture to ignore the basic necessity of responsibility for our own actions, and that we will either own our actions or live with the consequences.

Where Rob from Vermont and I really part company is on his rhetorical metaphor of choice in the debate over personal responsibility. While Rob not only chooses to absolve all consumers from any accountability for their own actions, he also believes food marketers and advertisers should be punished and/or regulated for having the temerity to produce and market products consumers clearly demand.

His comparison? Tobacco.

“Do you think cigarette companies should have been left alone, just like what you advocate for Big Food companies?” he Tweeted. “Tobacco is a plant, is manipulated to enhance addictive qualities, and was heavily marketed to kids. Junk Food is the new tobacco.”

I don’t know about you, but the fact that otherwise intelligent, well-reasoned people can make the mental leap that food is somehow comparable to cigarettes frightens me.

Here’s where I get the comparison: food is addictive, and when that addiction is left untreated, the health consequences can be especially problematic.

Here’s where the comparison ends: smoking cigarettes is inherently bad for you from the first puff. Eating one Twinkie isn’t going to kill you. Furthermore, most people don’t eat a pack or more of Twinkies a day, while I know some people who smoke two or three packs of cigarettes daily.

The issues with Rob’s comparison are so numerous that the line of rhetoric is fallacy because it is a straw-man argument designed purely to play on the emotions of those who refuse to examine the argument for what it is: baseless scare-mongering.

What we need in modern western society is a return to the basic premise that we are born with certain unalienable God-given rights, and that each of those rights is coupled with an unalienable God-given responsibility. You have the right to bear arms in this country, and the responsibility not to shoot your neighbor. You enjoy the right to free speech, but you have the responsibility not to yell “Fire!”in a crowded theater when there isn’t actually a fire.

It’s time for more of us to suck it up, not just suck it in.

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