Big Brother meets even bigger citizen

Tuesday’s Citizen says Big Nutritionist will soon put out a revised Canada Food Guide. Pardon me while I grocery shop without waiting for it. By what tortured logic did we reach the point that we expect our government to have an opinion on what we eat? Let alone a sensible one? Especially since they now admit the old food pyramid made us look like pyramids. Something about those 12 servings of grain a day. Say, waiter, I’ll have an entire wheat field. Oh, and don’t forget five to 10 fruits and veggies. How many carrot sandwiches can a man swallow? And how many insults?

For after hyping five to 12 grains, five to 10 fruits and veggies, two to four milk products and two to three “meat and alternatives,” the old guide went on: “Taste and enjoyment can also come from other foods and beverages that are not part of the four food groups.” Such as what? Chocolate? I think it’s a vegetable but if not surely it’s a fruit. Beer? Definitely a grain. Trans-fats artificially dyed purple? What are you even talking about, in that patronizing tone, like I wouldn’t notice something was tasty and enjoyable (both at once!!!) unless some bureaucrat kindly mentioned it? Here I was chugging all this mocha and never even knew why. Is this “taste and enjoyment” I’m tasting and enjoying? No wonder I’m eating and liking it. Gosh. What next?

Next, actually, is a revision of the food guide because the experts in white coats suddenly discovered that six plates of pasta and three pork chops a day was a lot or some weird thing. Though an Ottawa doctor who specializes in mind-boggling obesity already wrote in the Canadian Medical Association Journal that if we follow the revised guide we still won’t be able to squeeze through his clinic door because we’ll be cramming down at least 1,700 calories (as Dave Barry says, units of how good food tastes) a day and more, probably 3,200 before we even get to dessert. He also told the Citizen the new guide leaves out the oils and sugars many of us gobble incessantly. Say, are those the “other foods?”

Now nothing except money attracts more cranks than health. Some people think 1,000 calories a day is about right and others recommend an all-bacon diet. There’s even a cult in Asia that thinks lettuce is evil. And within my lifetime eggs were white ovals of death for several years, though they’re fine now. So if you want to join the brawl you can go take a survey on the Health Canada website about vital issues like what the cover of the new guide should look like (I picked the one that looked like a great sheet knit at the four corners and let down to the earth, saying “eat,” though they may miss the sarcasm; governments often do). But the annoying truth is there’s nothing to add to Aristotle’s prescription of moderation. Except self-discipline. You need a balanced diet with lots of colours on the plate (if you are too fat your food is too beige; I don’t need to see it to know). And you need my MELE plan, provided here free of charge, complete with easy-to-remember acronym for More Exercise Less Eating, which is even easier to remember because you already know it, don’t you? This is not social science.

To be fair, the government’s food guide page links to a guide to exercising that shows a happy woman in a pink track suit doing aerobics with a dog. After all, if we don’t know to eat our veggies without state guidance, we probably also don’t know this “exercise” we keep hearing about involves moving our arms and legs vigorously unless they tell us with cheerful graphics suitable for children. So by all means visit this site and get their “downloadable point of choice posters (the most effective option as indicated by research)” saying climbing stairs is more exercise than taking the elevator. But I ask you: Would you let the gun registry buy your groceries for you?

I’m not sure many people do eat what the government says. I hope not. It may be just coincidence that just when government became most actively concerned about our health we became great waddling blobs of lard. But it certainly doesn’t inspire confidence that if you followed their earlier advice you’d have to climb Mount Everest before breakfast every day or end up looking like it. And more fundamentally, according to what political philosophy is it the proper business of government to glower at our salads? Are we not men? Never mind shower-adjusters; we are now ruled by portion-adjusters.

I don’t think the state’s self-interest is the key here. Sure, a government that pays our medical bills likes us lean and fit, but it’s equally happy if we keel over suddenly without submitting hospital bills or collecting CPP payments. I say it’s social engineering, and I say to heck with it. What sort of people are we that we cannot so much as eat broccoli without the guidance of government experts? It isn’t just counter-productive in the short run, it’s demeaning. The state, I say, has no place in the shopping carts of the nation.

Let us not render unto Caesar that which is Caesar salad’s.

[First published in the Ottawa Citizen]

ColumnsJohn Robson