Freedom. It’s what this country is built on. Sweat, love, and freedom. At least that’s what we tell our children.
Mississippi lawmakers claim to be protecting their freedom with the recent passage of legislation known as the “Anti-Bloomberg” bill. On the same day that a judge in New York City struck down Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s signature proposal to ban the sale of super-sized sugary beverages, legislators in Mississippi passed (50 to 1) Senate Bill 2687. If signed by Gov. Phil Bryant, Senate Bill 2687 would prevent Mississippi counties, districts, and towns from banning food based on its nutritional information. That’s right, Mississippi legislatures passed a ban banning future bans.
Senator Tony Smith, the bill’s author and a restaurant owner, speaks passionately about why he thinks the proposal is so important. “If the market demands that I serve more healthy food, I’ll do that to meet the market demand. But… why should I risk my capital, my hard work, my efforts that I’ve put in to build a restaurant on the thinking of what a government official thinks?”
The “market” in Mississippi is in a great position to, well, sit back and sip on their new freedom.
I’ve already written about my support for Mayor Bloomberg’s original proposal. Legislators like Senator Smith imply that government regulations are an infringement on individual rights and freedom. However, the role of government as Big Brother is really nothing new. How about this announcement from the Food Administration in 1918: “All hotels, restaurants, dining cars, steamships, boarding houses, and other public eating places, including clubs, which use three barrels of flour a month, must hereafter serve victory pies, pastry, cookies, griddle cakes, waffles… that contain a third of wheat substitutes… in order to cooperate to the fullest extent with the Food Administration in wheat saving.” Or how about The United States Department of Agriculture urging people to have chickens? “Uncle Sam Expects You to Keep Hens and Raise Chickens… in Time of Peace a Profitable Recreation; In Time of War a Patriotic Duty.”
With a similar tone and intention, the National Wartime Nutrition Program followed the rule that food is a weapon. Don’t waste it. Buy wisely. Cook carefully. Eat it all.
We are facing a crisis of freedom in the United States. Attempts at ensuring freedom are really only ensuring one thing: that it is now more difficult to talk about Mississippi’s growing health concerns. According to a recent report by Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Mississippi has the nation’s highest rate of obesity; nearly 35 percent of the state’s adult population was obese in 2011.
There is a tension here between “nutritional value” and “health risk.” When does the one become the other? Mayor Bloomberg’s point was that perhaps super-size sweetened beverages do pose an inherent health risk.
In trying to avoid that risk, you don’t lose your freedom when someone encourages you to make a certain decision. Perhaps we are rightly sensitive to initiatives that treat us like children, but nationally food subsidies are already doing this. Subsidies make it much easier for us to purchase products containing commodities like corn and soybeans, not broccoli, blueberries, or carrots. All I know is that bigger cups resulting in bigger guts doesn’t make me feel any more free.
Gena Akers can be contacted at