Kafer: Restaurants’ sugary drinks don’t need regulation
It’s hard to pinpoint the moment when the “I’m okay, you’re okay” philosophy of the seventies morphed into the “I’m okay, you’re not” thinking of the present day. Back in the seventies, everyone smoked cigarettes, wore ugly polyester, ate Twinkies, and told cringe-worthy jokes. Nobody was in a position to judge. Now our betters know better how best to behave. Through virtue signaling, shaming, de-platforming, censoring, and outright coercion they intend to make others change their unacceptable views and ways.
Take the Healthy Kid Meal Ordinance before the Aurora City Council which would foist new regulations on how restaurants advertise children’s meals, for example. The ordinance would require restaurants to make water or milk the default beverage for kid’s meals. Kids could still order any drink but restaurants could not list such drinks with the meal package. Restaurants that fail to comply will be fined or have their license suspended.
Fortunately, the sponsor delayed the final vote until June which gives the council time to reflect on some data. Colorado is one of the leanest states in the union, ranked 49th in “obesity and overweight prevalence” on the November 2020 WalletHub survey. Given Colorado’s slimmer waistline why is this ordinance necessary? A “let’s do something” bill might be more appropriate in West Virginia or Mississippi. Even there, however, it would have a marginal impact. An occasional cola or lemonade with a kiddy meal isn’t going to make a difference in the life of an active kid who eats healthily at home or the life of a kid who spends each day staring at a screen eating potato chips.
Proponents claim that the bill is necessary because certain minorities have higher obesity rates and Aurora has a higher percentage of Latino and Black residents. To help residents and their children achieve a preferred body mass index, politicians must therefore limit residents’ menu choices because they can’t be trusted to make the right choice. Frankly, this looks a little like a group of officials “helping” minorities be better. That’s insulting.
Advocates of this ordinance must not think much of their restaurant owners either. After a year of business-killing COVID restrictions, restaurants don’t exactly have money lying around to cover new mandates. They’re just trying to stay afloat. Even if the cost was negligible, the ordinance sets a precedent that politicians should dictate how restaurants write menus. A 10-year-old picking a lemonade to accompany the chicken strips is something government should actively discourage through regulation. Really? Are there no limits to power?
It wouldn’t be so worrisome if it weren’t part of an ever-growing pattern of paternalistic overreach. A 19th Century visitor to the United States, Alexis de Tocqueville, foresaw the well-meaning, soft despotism of 21st-century democracies where government extends its arms over the entire society: “it covers the surface of society with a network of small, complicated, minute, and uniform rules, which the most original minds and the most vigorous souls cannot break through to go beyond the crowd; it does not break wills, but it softens them, bends them and directs them; it rarely forces action, but it constantly opposes your acting; it does not destroy, it prevents birth; it does not tyrannize, it hinders, it represses, it enervates, it extinguishes, it stupifies, and finally it reduces each nation to being nothing more than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.”
If passed, this ordinance will be one more way our betters nudge us into compliance.
Krista L. Kafer is a weekly Denver Post columnist. Follow her on Twitter: @kristakafer.