Russell Taylor: Down with the fat fanatics

I see the ban-happy brigade are working themselves into one of their customary frenzies over the amount of fat in our food. Apparently there’s too much of it and Something Must Be Done. Some retailers, including Morrisons, Subway and Nestlé, have shrunk beneath the experts’ flaring nostrils and signed a pledge to change their recipes. This means that the Kit Kat – arguably Nestlé’s finest product – will be ruined in the name of public health. 75 years of yumminess sacrificed just so today’s decision-makers can show how clever and caring they are. That’s what passes for progress, nowadays.

But this is nowhere near enough for the indignant guardians of our wellbeing. They have decided that food manufacturers cannot be trusted to take action voluntarily. According to the ironically named Tam Fry of the National Obesity Forum, “The much vaunted voluntary responsibility deal will never succeed until the government takes a grip and makes everyone sign up to it.” Make people sign up to a voluntary deal? Mr. Fry would have made a good Spanish inquisitor.

The experts and lobbyists are demanding action, a few corporations have bowed to pressure, and the remainder can probably look forward to government kicking them into line. And that’ll be that until the next time the health obsessives feel the need to up the stakes. Notice anyone missing from this conversation? That’s right: you and me. Apparently, the last people who should be given a say in what enters their bodies are the people themselves. The experts can be trusted to exercise discretion, but the rest of us are apparently guileless rubes, who would be chewing glass and necking turds if it were not for their divine guidance.

A Sainsbury’s poll of 2,000 customers discovered that 84% don’t know how much saturated fat is a healthy amount. But so what? Just because the experts know more about this than we do, doesn’t mean they have a right to decide what’s best for us. Their area of work encourages them to believe that minimising health risks is all-important, but most of us don’t share their obsessions. We might choose to eat fatty foods because we enjoy them, and consider an expanding waistline and an increased chance of ill-health to be a worthwhile trade-off. Doctors, dieticians and health campaigners know nothing of our personal preferences, so are incapable of taking them into account. We are able to learn about the dangers of unhealthy eating and act on that knowledge as we see fit, but they will never know what we consider important, so they should stop second-guessing us.

I can understand why the experts and the regulators are loathe to give us a say, because it would put them out of business and rob them of their precious self-importance. And I can understand why the media cheers them on, because pretending that we are incapable of representing our own interests is what journalists are all about. It’s harder to explain why so many members of the public are supportive of illiberal measures to legislate away our right to make up our own minds. There are plenty of people out there – who read the Guardian, find Marcus Brigstocke funny, and can watch Question Time without throwing a shoe at the telly – who agree that the government should force a healthier diet on the nation by clamping down on the amount of unhealthy/tasty stuff that goes into our food.

I doubt these people count themselves among those in need of guidance and protection. Their solidarity with the experts and regulators is not a cry for help; it’s a declaration of their superiority over the burger-chomping masses. If the result of health legislation was that Whole Foods was put out of business, smoothies were banned and coffee shops were outlawed, they’d go garrity. But as long as it’s food eaten by their social inferiors that falls foul of the legislators, they’re fine with it. They might not be experts themselves, but they seem to think that aping their patronising opinions makes them members of the anointed elite that decides what’s best for the rest of us.

The same people are no doubt keen supporters of the smoking ban: the health lobby’s greatest victory to date. This is an unjust and unnecessary law that shows what happens when the fanatics get their way. If the owners of pubs wish to allow the legal act of smoking on their private property, they should be free to do so; and if customers don’t like it, they can visit establishments where smoking is not allowed – which will exist in abundance, if there is sufficient demand for them. The market would ensure that smokers and anti-smokers are catered for, but this is not enough for the health zealots, because they are not interested in compromise. They think their position is not only right for themselves, but for everyone. They ascribe any deviation from their opinion to ignorance or insufficient concern, which only strengthens their self-image as wise and wonderful saviours, as opposed to dogmatic bullies.

It should be okay that we have different preferences – and it would be if we lived in a country with more individual choice and less centralised decision-making. A more free society is one where our choices needn’t impact upon others. It is when provision and expenditure are collectivised that our actions are felt elsewhere. One of the arguments in favour of making us live more healthily is that it alleviates the burden on the NHS, which is paid for by all of us (well, those of us who pay taxes, anyway). But that cuts both ways. The fact that the NHS requires us to live more healthily or have a healthy lifestyle forced on us by the state is a good argument for getting rid of it. If the system doesn’t allow people to live as they see fit, change the system, not the people.

Adults have a duty to teach children the pitfalls of bad choices and the benefits of good ones, so they can acquire a sense of discernment. But what’s the point if the moment they become adults, their freedom to govern their own affairs is snatched away? A civilised, prosperous society is one comprised of self-sufficient individuals, who take responsibility for their actions. What chance have we of creating such a place if we’re treated like children by people who want to play parent to us?

Some might consider this kind of nannying as no big deal, but I don’t accept that, because its significance goes way beyond what we put in our mouths. It’s at the heart of everything that’s wrong with Western culture: too many people elbowing their way past our right to self-determination and telling us how we should live. It’s immoral, its corrosive and it should be resisted.

Never once have I thought: I am too stupid and ignorant to make a sound decision, so I would like someone else it make on my behalf, without any consultation from me whatsoever. I can imagine thinking this if I found myself at the controls of a commercial airliner, or hovering over a heart bypass patient with a scalpel in my hand; but most of the time, I’m happy to take responsibility for my own decisions, safe in the knowledge that foolish choices provide their own self-correcting feedback. Once you’d trodden on one plug, you are unlikely to make a habit of it.

18 comments on “Russell Taylor: Down with the fat fanatics

  1. Maneno
    October 30, 2013 at 11:13 am #

    Excellent – more on the motivations of nannying and how to neutralise them please

  2. dr
    October 30, 2013 at 11:16 am #

    Mr Taylor,
    With all due respect, I think that you have missed the point. I’ll have to be brief as I am short of time, and I’ll not be able to develop my arguments as thoroughly as I would like.
    I believe that there are several factors at work here.
    The first is this idea that eating fat makes you fat. Scientifically, this has been shown to be a complete nonsense. Likewise, the idea that there is a “healthy” level of saturated fat intake, again, scientifically, is complete nonsense.
    Secondly, high fat foods tend to be lower profit margin foods than low fat foods. (Low fat foods tend to be high in sugar). So there is an incentive on the food companies to reduce fat content to boost profit margins. Having government encouragement to do this is only beneficial.
    Thirdly, vegetables and grains tend to be very low in fat. This means that Eco-crusaders who want to “deal with” the “problem” of human over-population, see vegetarianism as a way of reducing the amount of food that humans need to grow, and consequently, the amount of land required for food production (Because you aren’t growing food to feed to animals, then eating the animals, you are eating the food directly). Criticising fat, either by claiming it to be unhealthy, or by taxing it, is encouraging people to eat a more vegetarian diet. Thereby promoting a “solution” to over-population.
    My view is that this issue of “fat” will be next AGW style scam, whereby the hard-left try to change people’s diets as part of a plan to “manage” human population. As you can see, I think that this issue runs far deeper than the details that you have stated in your article.

  3. Russell Taylor
    October 30, 2013 at 12:07 pm #

    Thanks for the feedback. I didn’t really have time to go into it, but yes, I know about the research that says fat is not the health risk it’s made out to be. However, my point was/is that nannying is unjustified irrespective of whether a personal lifestyle choice is good for you or not.

    The danger of arguing on facts alone is that it doesn’t address the arguments behind them. Take global warming, for instance. Sceptics get caught up on the evidence, when they should really be attacking the policies that flow from. By focusing on the evidence alone, they are tacitly endorsing warmist policies, which means they’ll be stuck if the evidence turns out to be true.

  4. Kathleen Dervin
    October 30, 2013 at 12:32 pm #

    “Just because the experts know more about this than we do, doesn’t mean they have a right to decide what’s best for us.”

    Russell, you’re cutting them way too much slack in according them title “experts.” Maybe a better description is loud-mouthed idiots with an agenda.

  5. Rocco
    October 30, 2013 at 12:52 pm #

    Oh, surprise surprise! You don’t want the government – who WERE elected! – to tell us all what to eat! WHY DO YOU LIBERTARIANS HATE FAT PEOPLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!7!!!!!!!!!7!!!!????????????

    I Haven’t read your disgusting article – and I dint INTEND TO! , but it makes me sick. People are DYING RIGHT NOW!!!!!!!7!!!7!!!!

    • Russell Taylor
      October 30, 2013 at 12:54 pm #

      Have a burger and calm down, Rocco

      • Rocco
        October 30, 2013 at 1:14 pm #

        You STUPID LIBRARIANS would love that wouldn’t You?

    • dr
      October 30, 2013 at 1:20 pm #

      Rocco, Is this you spending some time getting in touch with your statist side?

      • Rocco
        October 30, 2013 at 1:26 pm #

        No, man. My Caps Lock is playing up A BIT.

  6. Henshaw
    October 30, 2013 at 1:30 pm #

    Here’s a recent article in the LA Times asking to end the war on saturated fat.

  7. concretebunker
    October 30, 2013 at 6:01 pm #

    The problem is you cant have a ‘free’ NHS and a free choice of food.
    Who pays for the crane and sledgehammer wielding firemen who arrive to demolish your house to put you on the fat [ooh sorry meant bariatric] ambulance to take you to hospital?
    You’ll have to forgo the burger and eat lentils!

    • dr
      October 30, 2013 at 6:52 pm #

      With all due respect, since when has the NHS been “free”?
      Maybe it is if you are long term unemployed, but some people in the U.k. pay taxes.

      • Baron
        October 30, 2013 at 9:22 pm #

        But, dr, concretebunker’s right, Welfare, of which the NHS is a large part, is the problem. People know that the free-at-the-point-of-delivery service will step in, help if they get into trouble, spend unlimited resources to get them going again. If they had only themselves, their insurance (think of the premium for one with an unhealthy diet though), or their families to rely on, their behaviour would change dramatically.

        Over 100 years ago, one could buy hard drugs over the counter, everyone was much poorer, life much harder, but drug abuse minuscule compared to today. Why? No NHS, no Welfare.

  8. David
    October 30, 2013 at 6:57 pm #

    Rocco does a good turn – a dead ringer for the only type of people he must think could object to such sound reasoning.

    The problem is what do you do?

    There is no doubt that we now have an overabundance of food meeting an instinct honed over billions of years, to consume.
    Putting blame aside – for sometimes children know not what they do – how should we stop people bloating?

    Is education responsible, or just more brainwashing?
    Is advising companies that profit via the sugar rush is unnecessary these days- or – whoah – is that interference with ‘freedom?’

    I guess you could just pretend like smoking, there is no real problem, it was good for my grandad who lived to be 100, and besides doctors think they are so smart don’t they telling us what a waste of life is someone dying of a sticky tar covered lung?

    Loud mouthed idiots with an agenda – apparently those are all the people with real concern about the detrimental and largely unforeseen consequences of us all being able now to eat like George the Fourth – not those again having a hissy fit because someone has the cheek to say, maybe we could do something?

    Nah lets not. Stuff em.

    • Rocco
      October 30, 2013 at 7:06 pm #

      WHY DO YOU LIBRARIANS HATE FAT PEOPLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!8!!!!!!!!!!!7!!7!!!!!!77777!!!!zzzzzz!!!!!!!!!!?

  9. The Austrian Way
    October 30, 2013 at 10:22 pm #

    Rocco – put the can of Stella down, finish your doner kebab and take yourself to bed. You’ve had plenty enough fun for one night… Marcus Prigstock tells me.

  10. Masked Rabbit
    October 30, 2013 at 11:13 pm #

    You are right, we must resist. How? The powers that be are using the full wieght of law and the machines of state to impose their will.

  11. Simon Roberts
    October 31, 2013 at 5:05 pm #

    At the risk of seeming a cynical old Hector, let’s have a quick look at the National Obesity Forum’s website:

    Hmm…a prominent reference to low calorie sweeteners on the front page. I’m sure this must be part of their campaign for the good of us all. What kind, caring people.

    But wait! What’s this? The latest funding details I could find (2009 – shows funding from Pharmaceutical companies who manufacture….low calorie sweeteners!

    It’s just a disgraceful scam, but people fall for this cap and the bastard politicians will no doubt listen and Do Something.

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