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The other day I heard a news story on the radio about some doctor in New York endeavoring to pressure major food companies into lowering the sodium content in their products. If his persuasions fail, he then plans to seek legislation which would force their hands. This is just one more example in a series of efforts by various groups around the country to forcibly dictate to others what they can and can’t eat. In recent years foie gras, trans fats, the opening of fast food restaurants, vending machine snacks, the sale of live lobsters and crabs, peanut butter, and others have all been banned or attempted to be banned in certain jurisdictions. The plausible excuse in all these instances is alleged animal cruelty or health concerns.
The first problem with these contentions is that many of them are debatable. Space does not allow me to engage in a detailed discussion of the merits of each argument. However, permit me to briefly point out that the link between salt and hypertension is not as strong as once thought, curtailing fast food restaurants doesn’t address the true causes of obesity, and the geese and ducks used to make foie gras are in no way treated inhumanely. But that’s not the point. The validity of these assertions is not the crux of the matter.
The heart of the matter is this: regardless of whether a particular food is healthy or not, or “moral” or not, it still doesn’t give people the right to enforce their beliefs on others. The real problem is an issue that goes well beyond food and resides in the dysfunctional side of human nature. The core issue is mans’ inherent, narcissistic need to control his fellow man. In other words, people thinking they are so right, that they have the right to impose their values and beliefs onto others.
Since time immemorial mankind has striven to indoctrinate his brethren. Most of the wars on the history of this planet have involved a conflict of ideologies, with at least one of the parties determined to convert the other to their way of thinking. Countless millions of people have died, many in terrible ways, because they weren’t of the same religious, political, economic, or social persuasion of the sanctimonious faction.
Religious persecution offers the most poignant example of this dark human dynamic. Innumerable individuals have lost their lives over the ages merely because they harbor different views about God.
The Holocaust is the quintessential devil incarnate but sadly that’s only one in a long line of examples. In one day in 782 Charlemagne killed 4,500 Saxons in his ongoing struggle to convert them to Christianity. In 1562, 1200 Huguenots (French protestants), were killed in response to an edict ordering their extermination. Thousands more were slain at the Massacre of St. Bartholomew in 1575. This is not to mention the “ethnic cleansing campaigns” of the Romans, the various Crusades, the Yugoslav Wars, and many other historical examples.
Some may simplistically argue that pogroms and prohibiting trans fats are not the same thing. Obviously the overt behaviors are radically different. But the underlying motivation is the same: our incessant need to control others. Seeking legislation to restrict others’ diets and killing religious dissenters are merely different points on the same continuum. People differ on how far they will go to dominate others, but that need to dominate is nevertheless the underlying common denominator. Charlemagne and the anti-salt doctor both hold their convictions to be virtuous and thus, their actions to be justified. The only difference between the two is one uses a sword and the other uses politics. Jihad, interdicting gay marriage, foreign aid with moral strings attached, forbidding the teaching of evolution, the decimation of the American Indian for territorial expansion, the spread of communism, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and banning my beloved foie gras, are all manifestations of people forcing their values on others.
This is not about outlawing murder or rape; actions that directly harm others. This is about efforts to impede others from governing themselves, loving who they want to love, praying to who they want to pray to, and eating what they want to eat. This is about attempts to prevent others from living their own life as they see fit; to follow their own values and beliefs. If one wishes to consume fatty, salty snacks and take a possible risk on their cardiovascular health, it’s their body and their choice. And most importantly, that choice does not prevent others from making their own choices.
But people can’t seem to live and let live. There’s always the crusaders ready to ram their beliefs down others throats. Everybody has the right to eat or not eat whatever they choose. But you don’t have the right to impose your dietary standards on others. The last time I checked, this country was founded upon the principle of interpersonal freedom; where people of diverse backgrounds are allowed to live life according to their own values, free of the control of others or the government. Apparently many find that even harder to digest than salt.