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John Klima
Posted on Thursday, March 11, 2004 - 06:36 am:   

Congress has passed a bill under the Bush administration of which I actually approve. They want to ban supersized lawsuits that blame the food industry for people's expanding waistlines and health woes, saying such cases could bankrupt fast-food chains and restaurants.

While I like to believe that a democracy should entail freedom and I want the government to leave me alone, I also don't want some fat bastard (hey, I weigh 285, no light-weight here!) suing McDonald's because they have no self control.

True, some people actually have medical conditions that lead to their obesity. Most of us, eat too damn much. It's not McDonald's fault that you eat there three times a day, or five times a week. Sure, they could make their food less fattening, but you can gain weight on Atkins if you eat too much.

From the Speaker of the House:

"We as Americans need to realize that suing your way to better health is not the answer. Trial lawyers need to stop encouraging consumers to blame others for the consequences of their actions just so they can profit from frivolous lawsuits against restaurants."

Now if we could somehow stop frivolous lawsuits altogether. I hate that car commercials always have to tell me that the person doing Starsky & Hutch whip arounds is a professional driver on a closed course so that some dumb ass that tries to do this on a school playground can't sue them. I hate that the travel mug I have at home warns me of hot contents...when I have to fill it myself. I think at that point I've realized that I've put hot contents in it, right?

I don't normally agree with Republicans (sorry Dad!), but:

House Republicans said fast-food franchises and mom-and-pop restaurants should not take the blame for the public's poor eating choice and lack of exercise. "Americans are eating themselves to death and looking for someone to blame," said Rep. David Dreier, R-Calif.

Why are we surprised? That's the American way. Blame someone else for your troubles instead of standing up and taking responsibility for our own actions. We're never in the wrong. It's like all these parents I see, their kid is perfect (mine were the same) and they can't believe that their kid would have sex, do drugs, cheat on an exam, etc. etc. etc..

What wculd the impact of these 'fattened' lawsuits be?

Republicans said that exposing the food industry to suits similar to those used against the tobacco industry could wreck the economy and make it more expensive to eat out. The industry employs almost 12 million people and is the nation's second largest employer behind the government.

Sure, the Republicans don't want to piss off one of the largest money making industries in the country. Don't want those donations to stop, do we? Anything to help win over people's opinions in an election year, I suppose.

I have to say, however, I see this point, too:

"Only with this Republican leadership would an effort to promote personal responsibility begin with allowing companies to be irresponsible without accountability," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.

That should go hand in hand with this bill that was passed. Food producers should look at this as a second chance. We gave you a reprieve, now look at what you're doing. Is there anything you can do to help? Can you make your portions smaller? Can you use healthier food (less fattening mayo for example--no mayo?)? Rep. DeLauro is correct. This is a misguided way to get at the problem at hand. We do need to make people personally responsible for their decisions (how un-American!) but we also need to not give these companies a free pass to keep making food that is not good for us. My favorite example is the KitKat Big Kat candy bar:

Big Kat

This candy bar, which is one serving, had 50% of your daily fat intact. Half. That's crazy. Of course, chocolate is extremely fattening, but how many people eat one of these things and then make sure the rest of their food that day takes into effect the fat they just ate? How many people sit down and eat a couple of these in one sitting? I know I have eaten entire bags of Dorito's in one sitting, and I don't even want to think about what that did for me.

Like I said at the top, I'm a big guy, but I can go to a restaurant with my wife, order one appetizer and one entree (only one total, not one each) and have enough food to be full.

Every morning, including today, I walk past dozens of delis on the way to work. I smell coffee, toast, oatmeal, bacon, etc. and think about stopping in to grab something. Many days I did. I eat breakfast before I leave home. I was eating an additional meal. Is that Dunkin' Donuts fault?

No, it's mine. I need to learn self control. I need to learn to listen to my body and not stuff it more full when it's not hungry. I'm not a goldfish, I'm not a horse. I don't have to just keep eating and eating and eating. I love to cook. I probably enjoy it more than anything else I do. And I feel that I cook very healthfully; meaning that I always get my five recommended courses of fruit and vegetables every day. My problem is that I run to Duane Reade (which is on every frickin' corner of the city) and buy Dorito's, or beef jerkey, or Milk Duds, or pretzels, or a soda, or whatever. I need to choose to not have these things. At least not all the time.

Similar legislation in the Senate is sponsored by Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. "I recognize that obesity is a serious problem in America, but suing the people who produce and sell food is not going to solve this problem," he said. "Americans need to take greater care in what--and how much--they eat."

Let's say this bill didn't pass (and this bill doesn't really solve anything, it just protects the food manufacturers) and someone sued McDonald's and won thousands or millions of dollars. What part of the settlement be that this person be banned for life from McDonald's? I mean, it would make sense. You sued the place because they made you fat, now you can't eat there, which really is the solution, not giving you lots of money. I suspect the person who won such a case would run out and celebrate by having a gigantic Whopper. And start making plans for his next lawsuit.
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John Klima
Posted on Thursday, March 11, 2004 - 06:59 am:   

And before anyone jumps all over me, I think this is the LEAST important thing my government could choose to actually do something about. There are so many other things that are more important than this.

The raping of the environment, the bullying of the world, attacking countries without provocation, protecting citizens' first amendment rights, rising gas costs, citizens' right to privacy, etc. etc. etc.

JK
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Dave G.
Posted on Thursday, March 11, 2004 - 10:23 am:   

I think this is an extremely important issue.

Just yesterday, a major newspaper reported that obesity was the #2 most serious preventable cause of death in this country (400,000 deaths). It finished second to tobacco (411,000), but will surely overtake tobacco in a year or two. And that's not even taking into account, I'm sure, high blood pressure, diabetes, and the thousand-and-one other diseases and medical conditions that indirectly arise from obesity.

Americans are eating ourselves to death.

Anyone who has ever travelled abroad and compared restaurant portions here to those from other countries can see that we habitually overeat. Sure, some people have hormonal or other medical problems that affect their ability to burn off food, but the vast majority of us just eat too much and the wrong things, to boot.

I saw a photo spread in a national magazine recently in which families from different countries posed with the food they ate in a week. The one glaring difference between the American family and those from Europe, Africa and Asia is that almost everything the American family ate was pre-packaged, no doubt loaded with preservatives, fat, sugar, etc.

[Conflict of interest alert: I own a small number of McDonald's shares] It's the American way to overdo, and it's also the American way to blame others for our problems, especially when there is money to be made. Hence, these shameless, opportunistic suits against fast-food manufacturers. Is there anyone in America who can honestly say they didn't know "fast food" was unhealthy? But McD's makes a convenient whipping boy, and a rich one, too! Witness this new film "Supersize Me" in which a guy eats three meals a day at McDonald's and -- gasp! -- begins to systematically wreck his health. Who knew? Ummm, well, all of us, actually.

I think this is public health crisis #1. I wouldn't let fast food companies off the hook. Public pressure in the form of boycotts and letter-writing campaigns should urge healthier menu options (not Mickey D's chicken Cobb salads with the same fat as a quarter pounder, either). Perhaps most urgently of all, school districts should TEACH good nutrition and stop vending soft drinks, chips, pizza and burgers in their cafeterias. Kids must learn how to eat at a young age, and schools have the primary responsibility to offer wholesome choices. Kids who eat crap in school will eat crap for life. Parents should form groups to encourage the consumption of whole foods and not pre-packaged fat-laden insta-meals.

Seriously. Just take a walk around your town or city this week and note how many people you see aren't at least 50 or so pounds overweight. Here in DC that number would be shockingly small.

There need to be major grass-roots societal changes here to encourage new ways of eating. There will be some economic dislocation (similar to what cities with smoking bans are experiencing in an effort to ween people off the toxic effects of tobacco), but must be prepared to endure this if we are going to save our increasingly sedentary, convenience-conscious children from lifetimes of bad health.


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John Klima
Posted on Thursday, March 11, 2004 - 10:58 am:   

Parents should be home and make dinners for their children that are sensible and nutitional. Yes, I know you're all busy, but I would think your children's health is worth it. If you have to cut something else out of your schedule to make time for it, there are probably lots of things available. I bring a lunch with me every day and my wife and I cook a dinner almost every night of the week.

Having restaurants be more mindful of their menus is a good thing, but I think food manufacturers need to rethink how food is made in America. The 'extra' stuff that gets put into food so that we can buy in bulk is not good for us.

You know, we'll be the generation that took away cookies. :-)

JK
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Dave G.
Posted on Thursday, March 11, 2004 - 11:22 am:   

Just one last observation. In the AM, as I make the rounds to grab my yogurt for breakfast, I notice one thing: each and every coffee shop, bodega, bookstore, etc. is chock full of cookies, donuts, cakes, danish, brownies, etc. On the other hand, fresh fruit, yogurt, etc. is always running out. Vendors sell the baked goods because the mark-up is so high and our fat-engorged populace is trained to eat them. There's less profit in fruit, so folks have to walk an extra couple of blocks to get it. It's no wonder we're a fat country.

I don't believe it's the restaurant dessert we eat once or twice a month that's to blame. It's the dozens of bad choices we make every day without thinking about it.

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