Thursday, February 22 , 2018, 5:27 am | Fair 36º


Harris Sherline: The Food Police Are On the Prowl

Obesity is not the fault of the food processing or restaurant industries

Here we go again, with the Food and Drug Administration and a host of other organizations, medical practitioners, researchers and trial lawyers telling us how and what we should eat. And now, buried somewhere in President Barack Obama’s health-care plan, it appears there is the potential of the federal government establishing standards for our well-being, such as diet and exercise, including punitive measures to force people to be healthy.

Harris Sherline
Harris Sherline

I know obesity is reported to be epidemic, but I say, “Keep your cotton-pickin’ hands off my food, out of my refrigerator and the restaurants I like. What I eat is none of your business.”

But, “they” say, “The grocery chains, the food processors and the fast-food industry are making us fat. So fat, in fact, that high blood pressure, artery disease, heart trouble, diabetes and a host of other ailments that are all caused or made worse by obesity are running rampant throughout our society.” And, “they” argue, “that drives up the cost of health care, which forces those who are healthy to subsidize those who are not.”

I don’t believe that widespread obesity in our society is caused by the food processing or restaurant industries. We eat too much in general — and a lot of fattening foods in particular. But that’s nothing new. People have been doing that for generations. There was even a time in some societies when being fat was fashionable. It was considered a sign of success and affluence, and well-to-do citizens were fat because they could afford it and wanted to flaunt their social status.

The cause of obesity in some people is genetic. In others, it’s just the result of eating too much or too many fattening foods. So, are we now going to be told how to live in order to change that? The Food Police apparently want to tell us what we should eat, presumably for our own good or to reduce the cost of health care for the greater good of society.

People eat the way they do for a variety of reasons: cultural, psychological, social, religious — or because they just love to eat. Whatever the reason, one thing seems clear: No one, not the researchers or the do-gooders who want to tell everyone else what and how to eat, and not even the all-seeing, benevolent government types, have any real understanding of the effects of diet on our health, and their conclusions keep changing.

For example, when I was growing up (in the 1930s and ‘40s), butter and milk products were thought to be among the healthiest foods one could eat. People used to slather butter on everything; many still do, piling it up on bread, drenching corn on the cob with it, putting it on steaks, grits, oatmeal or pancakes, using it on the griddle or in frying pans, for cooking veggies, etc. Today, it is pretty well agreed that all that butter, or lard, is not good for us, although many people still cook and eat that way.

Times change and customs with it. So, what are we to make of the current obsession of Americans with so-called health foods, organically grown veggies, vitamins and supplements, and a host of other health products? The media are constantly reporting on research that one condition or another is the result of our dietary or lifestyle choices, but the conclusions change constantly. Meanwhile, the drug industry deluges us with commercials about its products, which are touted to cure everything that ails us, including being overweight and a multitude of conditions we never knew existed.

We are told that drinking too much wine is bad for us, but the French and Italians drink buckets of the stuff, starting at a very early age. It’s good for the heart, it’s bad for the heart, it’s fattening, it’s good for digestion, etc.

Trans fats are another dietary issue that has been headlined by the media, and Steven Milloy noted on his Junk Science Web site: The trans fat scare is a great new rationale for food manufacturers to introduce new and, perhaps, more expensive products that they market as “good for you.” Food companies learned long ago that there’s more profit in reformulating and marketing new and “healthier” products rather than trying to fight the bad science wielded by the well-funded, well-entrenched and essentially unaccountable public health bureaucracy.

Thirty years ago, the diet police scared us away from animal fat-based butter and began singing the praises of what they said was a healthier alternative: trans fat-based margarine. Now, the diet police have done an about-face and want to scare us away from those same trans fats — all while omitting mention that their butter scare was bogus from the get-go.

In the final analysis, for most of us there is a direct correlation between what and how much we put into our mouths and our girth. Eat too much or the wrong kind of foods and just about anyone will put on more weight than they need or should have, especially if they don’t exercise enough. But that isn’t the fault of the restaurants where we eat — fast food, gourmet, ethnic or otherwise — or the food processing industry.

We have choices, including pushing ourselves away from the table, and if we make bad ones, that’s our own fault.

— Harris R. Sherline is a retired CPA and former chairman and CEO of Santa Ynez Valley Hospital who has lived in Santa Barbara County for more than 30 years. He stays active writing opinion columns and his blog,

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