McDonald’s: arch enemy or golden arches?

As the recent NSA scandal shows, the government is slowly but surely taking away our freedom and privacy in the name of safety and security. And it’s doing the same thing in the name of health and longevity.

On the health front, the government wages misguided “wars” against fat, red meat, salt, cholesterol, and tobacco. But government bureaucrats base their attacks on a false or incomplete understanding of human health. And you can’t win a war if you are fighting the wrong enemy.

Unfortunately, even when they do  find the right enemy, they still get it wrong.

Take Mayor Bloomberg’s recent attacks against sugary soft drinks, for example. Of course, these soft drinks are dreadful for your health.

But trying to force us to change our behavior by pouring tax dollars into bureaucratically “managed” campaigns just doesn’t work. You simply cannot legislate healthy behavior.

Of course, real scientific studies show that excess consumption of sucrose (table sugar) is a health hazard. But let’s let the scientific facts speak for themselves.

You can’t coerce people into cutting out sugar. As I have often written, humans need and crave natural sugars and essential fatty acids for energy. And for the vast majority of human history, it was very difficult to find enough sugar or fat from natural plant and animal food sources.

But over time, farmers and food companies made sugar and fat much easier to find. Then, unfortunately, they started using these ingredients solely to make foods taste good. They had little or no regard for nutritional content or health consequences. Next, came fast foods and processed foods that cater to the tastes of the masses. These mainstream tastes now drive the economy and the food industry.

But even in this “fast food nation,” we are making progress. There is a growing trend even among many mainstream consumers to eat healthy, locally grown organic foods. As our grandparents did.

But many more Americans are busy commuting, working, paying bills, etc. How do they pick up healthy, farm fresh food twice a week? For most Americans, buying food straight off the farm is still a fantasy.

For these busy Americans who want to eat well, businesses like McDonalds now offer healthier options. In fact, the cover story in the current issue of The Atlantic poses the question: “Could embracing McDonald’s make us all healthier?”

The government cannot change human taste buds or behavior. Nor should it try. But fast food restaurants could make their meals with fewer unhealthy constituents. And if things continue to progress as we’ve seen over the last 10 years, McDonald’s could very well start giving us organic options one day soon.

And let’s not forget about the idea of balance. We have brought many “unhealthy” food items–once relegated to the carnival midway–into our daily lives. We can have an occasional treat without making it our daily fare.

On balance, I see no justification to abolish or prohibit any food or behavior. If, that is, we remember to exercise moderation.

(There’s that word again.)