George Washington wants you to be fat

Just in time for the Fourth of July, that celebration of all things free, the Center for Consumer Freedom has announced that overeating is all-American. The so-called "food cops," including animal-rights group PETA and the Center for Science in the Public Interest, want to take away your right to eat a 1,300-calorie burrito from Chipotle.

The CCF is a non-profit 501(c)3 funded by the restaurant industry, notably fast-food chains and other super-sized corporations. In addition to extolling the virtues of overeating, the Center's Independence Day press release also urges patriotic Americans to drink much more alcohol, saying that our Founding Fathers regularly indulged in French ("Freedom") Fries, ice cream, beer and fatty meats.

Among the many delightful tidbits in the press release, we learn that:

  • Thomas Jefferson served French fries at the White House and is credited with introducing vanilla ice cream to the United States.
  • It's no accident that a brand of ice cream was named after James Madison's wife Dolly, who was known for serving the treat to her guests.
  • People often ate more than 5,000 calories a day, washing their beef and pork-heavy diets down with plenty of wine, beer, and spirits.
  • During the Revolutionary War, George Washington made sure his troops received a quart of beer each day.
  • Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence while downing pints at the Indian Queen Tavern
The simple problem with this idea is that two hundred years ago, American life was substantially different. People at that time had active lives, if you can believe it. No SUVs to get you to work and back; no desk to sit at all day while you surfed the nonexistent Internet; and the vast majority of Americans had manual-labor jobs of the type we try to ignore today; whether working the farm or building the cities, most people live a life that easily burned 5,000 calories in a 12- to 18-hour workday.

Even if today's Americans were an active bunch, even if we all rode our bicycles 25 miles each way to work, one could quite easily make the argument that eating enough industrially grown meat to fill us up would be highly dangerous above and beyond the calories and saturated fats.

The drive to efficiency and uniformity has created breeds of animals that race from birth to death in just a fraction of a natural lifespan, aided and abetted by hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, fossil fuels, radiation and feed comprised of ground-up dead animals.

But the Center for Consumer Freedom is definitely not about facts and the reality as it is on the ground. Raising the cry of "junk science" and calling the opposition "dietary Puritans," "the militia of menu-meddlers," and even "a growing cabal of activists, trial lawyers, and bureaucrats," the CCF wants to turn our growing health crisis into a partisan issue.

As Paul Krugman wrote in Sunday's Times:
The debate over obesity, it turns out, is a lot like the debate over global warming. In both cases, major companies protect their profits not only by lobbying against policies they don't like, but also by financing advocacy groups devoted to debunking research whose conclusions they don't like.
Once again, by feeding knee-jerk reactionary outrage, the Republicans and the corporations that fund them put profits above people. Sadly, it's become their version of the American Way.

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