Saturday, February 14, 2009

A pinch of the stupid

The New York Times reports that New York City is trying to persuade the makers of processed food to reduce salt content in their products by more than 40 percent over the next 10 years. The hope is that such a reduction in salt consumption would likewise reduce the number of strokes and heart attacks. The article, written by a professor of medicine, argues that there is no proven correlation between salt intake and cardiovascular disease. It points out that in some cases, reduced salt intake can actually cause health problems.

For reasons not entirely clear, I recently cut way back on salt. I don't have high blood pressure or any other indications, but I hear enough about the alleged link to health problems and I do eat a crazy amount of salt. For example, I almost always salted things that were already salted. Even potato chips. How nuts is that?

Anyway, the first thing I noticed once I recovered a normal sense of taste was how much salt is in other foods. I'm not even talking about what we normally consider processed foods. For example, we eat hot sauce on just about everything and I found that there was enough sodium in the hot sauce that no additional salt was needed for the rest of the food. We don't eat a lot of processed foods, but yes, when we do I now taste that they contain way too much salt. And I used to add pretty much the daily recommended allowance on top of that.

So I'm thinking it might not be a bad thing to get government involved. I'm not sure that having government dictate recipes is the best solution, though I'm not sure it's not. But I see no harm at all in requiring big loud warning labels that whatever food contains way, way , way more sodium than is wise for anyone to ingest at one sitting.

Still, I'm not sure, so I ask myself what do right wing idiots think about it? This letter to the Times gives a good indication:

I’m not sure I like the idea of the government’s telling me what to eat. No, let me rephrase that: I do not want the government in my kitchen.

If I want to eat salt, that’s my business. Yes, some people have a problem with salt. Some people also have a problem with cholesterol. Some with sugar. That doesn’t mean the government should be sticking its nose in everyone’s pie, sampling the soup and telling us what we can eat.

Too many cooks spoil the broth. The government is one too many for sure.

I often find it useful to test my beliefs against those of right wing morons and find it disconcerting when they coincide. In this case, note the problem with the wingnut's logic. Limiting the amount of salt a corporation can put in processed food is not telling people they can't eat salt. We would still be free to add as much salt as we please. What such regulation would do would let people make their own choices about how much salt they add to their meal.

That's often the case with wingnut "logic." Their self-deluding rhetoric aside, they pretty much always come down against freedom of choice for individuals. For them it's all about freedom of choice for authority whether that authority be corporate, religious or governmental (as long is they are the ones running the government).

So since my inclination to keep the government out of the kitchen failed the right wing smell test, I guess I'm okay with New York City's crusade against excess salt. And think about it. Why do big corporations put so much salt in everything anyway? I suspect it's more than just making food taste better. I think one of the side effects of excess salt is that it causes people to eat more, and it certainly causes people to drink more. Would McDonald's sell less corn syrup water if their customers were free to salt their own foods? I wouldn't be a bit surprised.

Now let's re-examine the good professor's argument in the Times. He seems to be saying that since there is no definitive proof that salt increases the dangers of cardiovascular disease, and that not getting enough salt may even increase it, then it's okay for McDonald's to decide how much salt people should consume. First, his argument sounds a bit too much like all those tobacco industry scientists who for so many years were unable to definitively prove a link between cigarette smoking and cancer. I would feel much better if the Times were to assure me that their guest columnist is not somehow funded by the processed food industry. Secondly, it still comes back to personal choice. Who is going to decide how much salt goes into our food? Is government going to ensure that we can make our own decisions? Or should we trust the corporations?