Eat Your Vegetables — If You Want To

This morning’s question at Politico Arena is:

The New York Times reports that despite two decades of public health initiatives Americans still aren’t eating enough vegetables. Healthy eating is a priority of First Lady Michelle Obama. Should those of us with less than Olympic-calibre physiques heed the first lady’s dietary advice? Does this smack of Big Brother – or more precisely Big Sister – wading into personal decisions? Could voluntary preferences on food issues morph into government mandates?

Of all the “Washington elites” they surveyed, I was almost the only one to express skepticism about the First Lady’s and the New York Times’s expectations for the rest of us:

I was struck by that New York Times article on Saturday. The headline is “Told to Eat Its Vegetables, America Orders Fries.” We Americans are just a constant trial to our elites. We cling not only to our religion and our guns but to our French fries. The government has TOLD us to eat vegetables, and yet we persist in eating tasty food. Soon we may be sent to our rooms without supper.

And then the reporter wrote, in this news story, “Despite two decades of public health initiatives, stricter government dietary guidelines, record growth of farmers’ markets and the ease of products like salad in a bag, Americans still aren’t eating enough vegetables.” America to the New York Times reporting staff: We’ll decide the proper tradeoff between taste, price, nutrition and so on. “Enough vegetables” is a subjective decision, not a fact.

More fundamentally, Why is it any of the federal government’s business how fit we are? We don’t need a national nanny.

The federal government has an important role in our society. Its primary function is national security, and it hasn’t been doing a very good job. It should focus on that.

Americans know that first they say you “should,” and the next thing you know they want to make it mandatory. Already people are talking about taxing junk food. And they’re filing suit against fast-food companies.

We teach our kids to take responsibility for themselves and to Mind Your Own Business – the government should take that advice.

A lot of this is old-fashioned American Puritanism – the idea that anything you enjoy is bad for you– so they tell us don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t eat, recycle, practice safe sex, ride that bicycle.

A subversive page editor at the New York Times inserted a pull quote (in the print edition) reading “Besides, the taste, trouble and cost, what’s the problem?” Exactly. We Americans are sorry for being such a disappointment to the first lady and the New York Times. But not that sorry.