Palin hasn't taken on Roth directly, but according to Judith Warner of the Times, she did show up with armloads of cookies to protest a supposed Pennsylvania "school cookie ban" (never mind that the district wasn't trying to ban the treats, and the school she visited was private anyway). Glenn Beck, meanwhile, claims the government's health initiatives show the Obamas believe "you're incapable of making decisions. . . . Left to your own devices, you're going to eat too much, you're going to be a big fat fatty." Unlike Beck, I'm generally a fan of Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" initiative, with its emphasis on exercise and improving access to healthy food. But I'm not keen on the idea of turning cookies into contraband.
Warner says that in order to get people eating healthier, we'll have to make them think it was their idea. She quotes one David Kessler, author of The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite, who argues that smoking is on the decline largely because of social stigma. Writes Warner,
Because of the unique emotional power of food, it's hard, if not impossible, to similarly stigmatize unhealthful eating. But it's not inconceivable, Kessler says, that social norms could change: that huge portions, or eating processed foods loaded with sugar, salt and fat, for example, could come to be seen as socially unacceptable.
That's a process Roth — who compared eating junk food to rape and once threw away all the ice cream toppings at her child's YMCA — would likely endorse. But it's not a very rational one. People were eating and enjoying cookies long before America's obesity rate started rising, and demonizing a tasty treat doesn't seem like a good way to win over people's hearts and minds. After all, talk about "bad" foods has been around as long as dieting — and neither has effectively lowered America's average BMI.
Does arguing against the demonization of sweets mean joining forces with Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin? Not entirely — I'd like to see America help its citizens get healthier by subsidizing walkable cities and grocery stores in urban areas, as well as closing the gap between rich and poor with increased social services and a more progressive tax policy, all of which Beck would probably decry as Big Government socialism. And if we're going to tell people what to eat at all — a dubious proposition, as Warner points out — we should be preaching not abstinence, but moderation. Which isn't something either Palin or Beck is known for.
Junking Junk Food [NYT]
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