Governments, get your eyes off my fries

Pam
Pam Frampton
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Homer: “I’ll have the smiley face breakfast special. Uh, but could you add a bacon nose? Plus bacon hair, bacon moustache, five o’clock shadow made of bacon bits and a bacon body.”

Waitress: “How about I just shove a pig down your throat?”

(Homer looks excited)

Waitress: “I was kidding.”

— Excerpt from “The Simpsons” episode, “We’re on the Road to D’ohwhere”

There was plenty of chatter and even some lament earlier this month when KFC ended its limited time offer on the Double Down.

That’s the sodium-laced, fat-laden chicken sandwich featuring chicken as the “bun” and bacon and cheese as the filling.

Mmm! Fat and grease and salt — wickedly delicious and nearly a full day’s worth of sodium, to boot.

OK, so I didn’t actually eat one.

The Double Downs were only offered in Canada from Oct. 18 to Nov. 14, which only added to the enticement. KFC reports that it sold more than a million of the fat-o’licious sandwiches, calling it “the most successful menu item in KFC Canada history.”

Now, to be fair, even KFC acknowledges the Double Down would not be a wise choice as everyday fare.

“Double Down is definitely a big, indulgent, occasional eat,” it acknowledged in an oddly worded news release Nov. 15 that used the word “eat” as a noun.

Still, the fast-food chain seems intent on teasing Double Down fans with the promise of a comeback.

“As of today,” the news release said, “Canada is officially a Double Down free zone, but the company reports its legend lives on as fans continue to celebrate Double Down online through videos, blogs, Facebook posts, tweets and more.”

OK, so I figure anyone who’s tweeting about a burger after it’s taken off the market should maybe get out a bit more, but you can’t blame the company for stoking a desire for Double Downs if it was such a phenomenal money-maker.

Now, there are some who would say such an unhealthy food choice shouldn’t be allowed on the market; that fast food is bad for you, period, and should be banned or made more nutritious through legislation.

San Francisco recently voted in a measure that would see kids’ toys banned from fast-food meals that do not meet certain nutritional guidelines, as of December 2011.

“Our effort is really to work with the restaurants and the fast-food industry to create healthier choices,” the measure’s chief sponsor, Eric Mar, said in a recent Associated Press story by reporter Trevor Hunnicutt.

“What our kids are eating is making them sick, and a lot of it is fast food.”

In the Yukon recently, a provincial politician tried to get energy drinks banned for kids under 18.

“We don’t know enough about how this chemical concoction in energy drinks is affecting our youth,” MLA Darius Elias told The Whitehorse Star.

Other jurisdictions have banned trans fats and raw milk.

In the United States, delicacies like wild beluga caviar have been banned in an attempt to save a threatened species.

But it’s one thing to ban the consumption of a food to try to save a dwindling resource and quite another to implement a food ban to try to legislate healthy eating.

Does the government have a role to play in what we eat? Certainly. Creating healthy eating guidelines, like Canada’s Food Guide, is a sensible idea.

Is a hospital cafeteria the best place to sell calorie-rich honey crullers and Boston cream doughnuts in a province with an astounding rate of obesity?

Probably not, but surely we all have to take some measure of personal responsibility.

As Rituparna Basu writes in the Nov. 3rd A&T Register, the student newspaper at North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University: “Our government should not be making these choices for us under the ostensible goal of doing what is in our ‘best’ interest. We should be able to decide that for ourselves.”

In San Francisco, even the city council was divided on whether the government has a right to determine how fast-food meals are marketed.

According to Mayor Gavin Newsom in the AP story, “Parents, not politicians, should decide what their children eat, especially when it comes to spending their own money.”

In the Yukon, the health minister grappled with the same dilemma.

“My concern is: do we draw that line at what may generally be termed ‘harmful products?’” Glenn Hart told the Whitehorse Star.

“Where is that line? Do we stop at energy drinks? Do we deal with chocolate? Are we dealing with potato chips? French fries? All of these things have negative impacts when consumed in excess.”

Now, I’m not about to create a YouTube requiem for the Double Down. In fact, I suspect the Double Down will be back at KFC before you know it, if the chain can find a way to recapture the magic.

But I will defend your right to chow down on a Double Down if you so choose, even knowing that it isn’t the healthiest of options.

Let’s face it: fast-food outlets don’t force us to go through the drive-thru and sit there salivating as someone shovels grease-soaked, salt-encrusted fries into a paper bag.

Those are choices we make.

And governments have to trust that most of us will make the right choices most of the time and teach our kids to do the same.

Governments are wise to encourage healthy choices and to try to get food manufacturers to voluntarily improve the nutritional quality of their products by say, limiting sodium.

But it is unacceptably paternalistic when they unilaterally decide what it is we shouldn’t eat.

Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s story editor. Email pframpton@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: Associated Press, North Carolina Agricultural Technical State University

Geographic location: Canada, San Francisco, Yukon United States Boston Whitehorse

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