Friday Ephemera
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New, Leftwing Physics Discovered

Another classic sentence from the you-know-what, care of concerned reporter Peter Walker:

Health experts blame passive overeating for global pandemic, warning in the Lancet that governments must tackle obesity now. 

One more time.

Health experts blame passive overeating

Much as I hate to question the wisdom of “health experts,” let alone the even greater wisdom of Guardian contributors, I am tempted to ask how exactly passive overeating works. Is it, as the term implies, like passive smoking? Is such a thing physically possible? Mr Walker seems to believe so, as does Lancet contributor Professor Boyd Swinburn:

Swinburn’s paper comes up with a clear primary culprit: a powerful global food industry “which is producing more processed, affordable, and effectively-marketed food than ever before.”

Yes, those utter bastards are making available cheap and tasty food. And – and - you can actually go out and buy it. Will the madness never end?

He said an “increased supply of cheap, palatable, energy-dense foods,” coupled with better distribution and marketing, had led to “passive overconsumption.”

Again, the mind reels at the implied physics of it. Passivity alone has yet to make that extra slice of blackberry cheesecake merge with my good self. So far as I’m aware, tasty cheesecake molecules can’t be absorbed by osmosis or accidental inhalation in sufficient concentrations to add to my mass. Maybe it’s based on some kind of quantum spooky action – someone in Derbyshire scarfs a doughnut and – somehow, miraculously - my cells metabolise it.

Nevertheless – clearly - something must be done:

The journal begins with a strongly-worded editorial arguing that voluntary food industry codes are ineffective and ministers must intervene more directly.

In case there’s any doubt as to what direct intervention means, Professor Swinburn has already made his ambitions clear:  

“They [the government] have to look to how other epidemics, like road injuries and tobacco, have been handled and almost always it has been through taxes and regulation.”

According to our crusading professor, the issue of obesity should not be left to the individual, who is at best a victim and simply can’t be trusted. Family attractions should be “junk food-free zones” and the advertising of such food is, he says, “unethical.” Foodstuffs of which the professor disapproves should be taxed heavily. Making food more expensive is, we’re told, “a benefit.” Provided, that is, raising the cost of popular foods “does not cause disadvantage to poorer people.”

Yes, of course. Consumers must once again be saved from themselves.

Update, via the comments:

Setting aside the surreal wording and overt authoritarianism, there’s something vaguely unpleasant about a group of richer people – say, left-leaning doctors, columnists and academics - demanding constraints and punitive taxes on proletarian food. Taxes and constraints that would leave themselves largely unaffected. Again, behold the overlording. It seems Professor Swinburn believes the population is too stupid to live unsupervised by the state and by extension people much like himself. Our food choices must therefore be taxed or denied and we must be prodded firmly by our betters: “Soft policies such as education programmes… [are] not going to cut the mustard anymore.”

It’s true of course that some modern processed foods are very calorific and so a belly full of cheeseburgers or whatever can entail a lot more calories, sugars, fats, etc., than some other meal of comparable mass. Perhaps this is what Professor Swinburn means by “passive” overeating, though the Guardian doesn’t bother to unpack the phrasing or question its implications. And like so many of his peers, the professor shows no regard for individual responsibility, which he casually dismisses. Instead, he blames “market economies” and “a tough environment,” to which, he implies, our minds are subordinate. Unlike his.

It’s also true that it’s easier to overindulge today than, say, 50 years ago. But a thing being easier doesn’t make it fate. I’d imagine it’s quite hard to become seriously obese without at some point noticing this fact, which brings us back to the issue of choice and individual responsibility. I could in theory eat chips, cheeseburgers and other fattening food every day, several times a day, while shunning any kind of exertion - and I could in theory do this for months, even years, with all of the obvious consequences. But, like many others, I choose not to. And if I did choose to do so, I wouldn’t presume that everyone else who buys chips and cheeseburgers should be punished for my benefit.

Yet here we have more so-called experts invoking obesity “pandemics” and thrilling to the prospect of direct intervention – a euphemism for punishing the consumption – any consumption – of “unhealthy foods.” But there are surprisingly few “unhealthy foods,” i.e., common foodstuffs that are hazardous in even small or moderate quantities. There are only unhealthy diets, especially if coupled with sedentary lifestyles. Of course diets and idleness are hard to tax and outlaw, and so popular foodstuffs will be targeted instead. One way or another, the public will be corrected by their betters.