By MARSHA MERCER
Before “don’t touch my junk” became the rallying cry for the anti-big government crowd, there was “don’t touch my junk food.”
A TV spot during the fall midterm campaigns featured a harried Everymom complaining as she wheeled her grocery cart:
“Feeding a family is difficult enough in today’s economy. Now some politicians want the government telling me how I should do it. They want to put new taxes on groceries I buy, like soft drinks, juices, even flavored waters – trying to control what we eat and drink with taxes.”
Then came the kicker: “The government is just getting too involved in our personal lives!” she declared.
The ad by Americans Against Food Taxes, a coalition of food and grocery industry groups, struck a chord with those who believe Americans have a God-given right to buy junk food at the cheapest possible prices, no matter the cost in obesity-related diseases and health care.
Voters in Washington state repealed a tax on soda, candy and bottled water Nov. 2 after the American Beverage Industry reportedly lavished more than $16 million on such ads.
The vote reflected a deep, if misguided, strain of resentment over “the nanny state.” The most recent episode is protests over intrusive pat-downs by the Transportation Security Administration. No matter that those who are howling the loudest about airport security measures also would be the most critical of President Obama if, heaven forbid, an act of terrorism occurred in the skies.
Perhaps no politician mines the vein of Big Brother discontent more effectively than Sarah Palin, who recently poked fun at the “nanny state run amok.”
Palin visited a Christian school in Pennsylvania and brought with her dozens of cookies. What prompted the glory of sugar was a news report that the Pennsylvania State Board of Education had decided to ban cookies at school parties. It hadn’t, but Palin rarely lets facts get in the way of a good media moment.
“I heard that there’s a debate going on in Pennsylvania over whether public schools were going to ban sweets,” she said. “I wanted these kids to bring home the idea to their parents for discussion. `Who should be deciding what I eat? Should it be government or should it be parents?’ It should be parents.”
Palin not only was mocking the Board of Education, she was also mocking Michelle Obama, who champions healthy eating and physical fitness for kids. Palin seems to be positioning herself for a presidential run as the un-Obama. When a grade schooler asked Palin her favorite animal, she shot back, “To eat?”
Palin’s “nanny state run amok” phrase does open the possibility of a good nanny state, one that could hum along helpfully, only occasionally running off track, but Palin doesn’t deal in nuance. “Nanny state run amok” was just another Palinism.
Perhaps those who believe in the power of government to encourage good behavior should claim nanny state as a positive phrase, not a put-down. It need not always be a pejorative, a clash of us (citizens, parents, fast food junkies) versus them (big, bad, meddling government).
That conflict played out even in San Francisco, the first major city to ban toys and other give-away items for children in fast food meals that exceed 600 calories or fail to include vegetables. The city’s board of supervisors overrode a veto by Mayor Gavin Newsom who had said parents, not the state, should decide what kids eat.
When Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell proposed recently to add a new state tax on soft drinks as a step in curbing the state’s obesity problem, critics lambasted – what else? -- the nanny state and food police.
People never like to be told what to do, of course, but paying a higher tax on certain items may be the nudge we need to make healthier decisions. We’ve gotten that nudge from the government about alcohol and cigarettes. After all, the forces urging us to choose fat and sugar are powerful.
Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity reported this month that the fast food industry spent $4.2 billion in 2009 alone on media ads. The average pre-schooler saw 2.8 TV ads for fast food every day last year. Children 6 to 11 saw 3.5 ads, and teens 4.7 ads. Every day last year.
“Young people must consume less of the calorie-dense, nutrition-poor foods served at fast food restaurants,” the center concludes in “Fast Food F.A.C.T.S.”
“Parents and schools can do more to teach children how to make healthy choices,” the report says.
It’s such a mild, sensible idea that even politicians should agree. But don’t hold your breath.
© 2010 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.