Banning trans fats: Let's make choices, not new laws
Published: Monday, October 9, 2006
We ignored it when New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed banning the city's eateries from serving anything containing more than trace amounts of so-called trans fats — or partially hydrogenated oil.
The stuff is in all kinds of snack foods, vegetable shortening and anything fried in hydrogenated oil — which often is exactly what tasty things like french fries and doughnuts are fried in.
Health officials say there is no safe level of trans fat, which increases the level of bad cholesterol. The hydrogenated oil has been linked to heart disease, obesity and diabetes. It certainly sounds like something sensible people would limit in their diets. And there are alternatives.
Still, Bloomberg's proposal seemed a bit over-reaching — the nanny state on steroids, so to speak. We stayed quiet however — and not just because our mouths were full. This was New York's problem.
But now ... now ... a New Jersey state senator — who apparently thinks the Legislature has done such a bang-up job tackling issues like tax reform and corruption that it now has time to regulate menus — wants to ban trans fats in the Garden State.
State Sen. Ellen Karcher, a Monmouth County Democrat and generally a sensible legislator, says the time is right to ban trans fats in New Jersey. The restaurant industry — hit recently with a smoking ban and a proposal to ban the sale of foie gras — is understandably outraged. New Jersey could become a food-police state.
Yes, this newspaper has some nanny-state leanings. We supported the smoking ban — because indoor tobacco smoke can harm everyone, not just the smoker. And yes, we've supported helmets for young people on bicycles — but children need nannies!
A ban on restaurants using trans fats, however, sounds like government run amok. Are there really people who don't know that french fries and doughnuts aren't exactly tofu and sprouts? If you don't want to eat trans fats, they aren't that hard to avoid. Fried food — pretty much no matter what it is fried in — isn't the healthiest thing you can eat. Avoid it and candy bars and other junk food if you want to avoid trans fats.
Karcher, a vegetarian, means well, of course. But she made her choice about diet. The rest of us can make our own choices, too.
You know, these people always say that things like these are a matter of choice. I’d like to know how many people actually choose to eat trans fat. I think the reality of the situation is that there are no choices. Have you ever tried to find food that did not contain trans fats? It is almost impossible, and at the very least can be frustrating. It often becomes a matter of having to eat unprocessed fruits and vegetables in order to avoid trans fats.
Part of it is also a matter of ignorance. I’m not dumb or uneducated, but I only learned about the dangers of trans fat recently. Therefore I spent decades eating the stuff. Even today it is difficult to avoid. Go to Wendy’s, for example. Get a bowl of Chili and some crackers. The crackers contain trans fat. You might say that they don’t contain much, but trans fats can add up over the course of a day or a week if you eat them from various sources.
The article says, if you don’t want to eat trans fats, they aren’t hard to avoid. Wrong. Sometimes a can of food will indicate 0 grams trans fat, whereas if you read the ingredient list, partially hydrogenated oil is one of the ingredients. Furthermore, they are hard to avoid. If you’re not a flaming health nut or vegan (like I am); if you try to eat in the mainstream of the American diet, or even on the fringes, then trans fats are probably impossible to avoid unless someone steps in and bans them. Good for Ellen Karcher. Let’s hope she can push through the bill to ban trans fats in New Jersey. Let’s stop protecting Big Business and start protecting the people for a change.
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