By Ashleigh VanHouten
“What about my individual freedom?” the masses shout out of mouths full of Big Macs. “This is America, and we have the personal freedom to make whatever choices we want, whether or not they’re good for us.”
Ok, let me give you my opinion straight out of the gate: if you really feel like your civil liberties are being threatened because you can’t buy a 32oz tub of soda at the movies, I want to smack you directly in the mouth.
Denmark taxes foods with higher levels of saturated fats, as well as ice cream and sugary drinks; Hungary taxes items with high sugar, salt and caffeine content; Finland and France both have similar taxes. The reasonable inhabitants of those countries with junk food bans haven’t really put up much of a stink, mostly because in Europe people don’t enjoy drinking buckets of corn syrup—and because if you wanted to, you still could. New York’s soda ban attempt was not created to stop us from drinking what we want, it was to make us stop and think about the choices we are making for our health. But Americans are not, by and large, reasonable, “think first” people. We are people who will fight to the death (literally) to ensure that we can kill ourselves with food. Or guns. Or war. Or whatever we absolutely have to kill ourselves with to prove how free and superior we are to other nations. You know, those weak, pathetic nations who are living their lives peacefully, with accessible, affordable healthcare and reasonable body fat percentages.
Let’s remember, we live in a world that simultaneously rewards and vilifies excess. There’s a Heart Attack Grill in Las Vegas that gives free burgers to people who weigh more than 300 pounds; there’s The Biggest Loser which parades crying, near-naked obese people on TV to teach us about the evils of food and the need for transformation; there’s impossibly skinny, perfect celebrities and Olympic athletes shilling soda for million dollar endorsements—and the rest of us are stuck in the middle of it all, wondering how we, collectively, let ourselves get so low. No wonder we are, in increasing numbers, saying, “Fuck it, I’ll have seconds.”
Our inexplicable terror over losing the right to purchase a trough of high fructose corn syrup is, in my opinion, simply one troubling part of a much larger issue: that we are the ultimate control freaks. We refuse to give up control of anything, even when it’s obvious that we are no longer controlling it ourselves – even when it’s obvious that someone else can do a better job of the task than we can. Perhaps because we, as a nation, have ruled global consumerism for so long through domination and control, we think giving up any of it will ruin us. What we refuse to see is that we’re ruining ourselves, and our stubbornness is one of the major causes. Our inability to compromise, to admit our faults, will be our undoing.
“What about my individual freedom?” the masses shout around mouths full of Big Macs. ” This is America, and we have the personal freedom to make whatever choices we want, whether or not they’re good for us.” And it’s true – despite a flagging economy, laughable politics, and a dying population, people still flock to America because of its grubby promise of unlimited freedom. But at what cost? Can we not find moderation, that sweet spot between personal freedom and social responsibility that allows us to make choices that simultaneously look out for number one and help the greater good –or at least avoid hurting it further? Have we looked in the mirror so long, become so obsessed with selfishness, that we can’t see the obvious personal benefits of caring for our own health and the health of our countrymen? I know, fellow American, that you do not like to be told what to do—so how about this: make the decision for yourself. Wake up tomorrow morning and make better food choices because deep down, you know you should; resolve to be healthy and happy, and eventually, you’ll even believe it was your idea.
Sure, we should all be concerned about a government that tries to place rules on what we put in our mouths. It’s troubling that as a nation, it’s seen as increasingly necessary that Big Brother tells us how to live our lives–and sure, today it’s soda, tomorrow it’s birthday cake, and the next thing you know we’re all eating Soylent Green at our government mandated nutrition breaks. I’ll admit that our “this is a free country” mantra is part of what makes it great; the (perception) of unlimited choices and freedom is a siren song that calls people from all over the world to America. But you know what? We have proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we cannot responsibly take care of ourselves. Most—not some, most—of our people are fat and dangerously sedentary. Many—not a few, many—of us will suffer and die from preventable diseases we gave ourselves through gluttony and sloth. “It’s a free country” doesn’t hold up as an excuse when those precious few of us who are not killing ourselves with fried dough and Big Gulps have to care for, pay for, and do for the majority of a failing nation.
Despite the glaring, obvious facts, we’re all in denial about how unhealthy, sick, and unfit we’ve become, because it’s scary to think about. So instead of putting our heads down, accepting that we’re in a bad spot and trying to make it better, we do what we do best: fight belligerently. On the bright side, as long as we’re yelling, we can’t be eating.