December 10, 2006

More fat.

That post on NYC's trans fat ban got a lot of attention yesterday, and I've added a big update to respond to a key question that was raised:
I should add that I do realize that trans fats and the fats that will substitute for them are equally caloric, and presumably equally fattening. Saletan's piece is clear on this point, and I assumed readers would take the linked article as background and assume that I understood it. But I see from the comments that some readers think I didn't. Nevertheless, it's fair to ask why I think people are really alarmed about appearances, not health, when they back a regulation like this, considering that it's rather unlikely to make anyone thinner.

I'm talking about the emotions here, not reason. I think people are buying into the theory that the food industry is nefarious and must be controlled because they see a problem and they want a villain. People support ineffective regulation all the time: they want to see something done. Look at all the people fretting about "high fructose corn syrup," with assertions that it's making everyone fat, even though, if it were banned, other, equally caloric sugars would be substituted. Yet people think there's some special problem with the stuff. They want to blame the food industry.

One thing I didn't think about, however, and wish I'd put in the original post, is that plenty of fat people themselves support regulation like this. It's not just a matter of feeling alarmed about what is happening to other people. Some of this is alarm about one's own body. People cannot control their own weight, so it must be some outside force making them fat. This failure to take personal responsibility is a downward spiral. There will never be enough regulation to make people thin. After every ban, people will wolf down whatever is still legal, and then cry for more help. If you keep an honest tally of how many calories you consume, you'll see it's your own fault if you're fat. It may be a terrible fault to overcome, but it is still your fault. If you think it isn't, it will only become harder to overcome.

Which may be why people are getting so fat. They've been lured into thinking that their bodies are not their own responsibility.
I also want to say that I do accept government regulation of dangerous substances. I only object to bad regulation, and I'm suspicious of this one.

I'm sure there's a big emotional component to my thinking too. Growing up, we almost always made pie crusts and Toll House cookies with Crisco. We tried butter too, but we thought the final product was better made with Crisco. It was lighter and less greasy. I find it hard to believe the mothers of America were serving their kids a toxic chemical all that time.

But I accept the scientific evidence for whatever it is worth. I'm a little concerned that the oil substitutes won't hold up to high heat frying and there will be a lot of food cooked in rancid oil. But if the proof is strong enough, I would be willing to support a ban, it may surprise you to know. And I'd be quite likely to support a labeling requirement.

45 comments:

dearieme said...

"But I accept the scientific evidence for whatever it is worth" - which, for most health scares, lies somewhere between precious little and bugger all.

kettle said...

'"But I accept the scientific evidence for whatever it is worth" - which, for most health scares, lies somewhere between precious little and bugger all.'

You beat me to it.

Anonymous said...

When you two claim that "health scares" are based on little scientific evidence, are you just referring to the over-reaching reporting of early research results by MSM, or do you actually mean to claim that a majority of health-related laws, regulations, and policies are based on little evidence? If the latter, I'd be interested to know what examples you have in mind.

Anonymous said...

Funny that you should mention chocolate chip cookies made with Crisco - I was going to mention the same thing yesterday. Cookies made with Crisco were softer and more chewy than those made with butter. (And butter was far more expensive, too.)

As you say, the truth is that individuals are responsible for their own behavior.No one forces anyone to eat that 1,200 calorie muffin at Starbucks while they consume that 1,000 calorie Mocha. They choose to. If they do it every day, they will gain a lot of weight, given that they are consuming, on average, all their daily caloric needs in that one sitting. Information about the caloric count of food and drink served at Starbucks, for example, is readily available to anyone who asks. Few do. Most don't want to know.

I'm not defending trans-fats, but they are already listed on the labels that most people choose to ignore.This emphasis on trans-fats being evil allows many people to fool themselves into thinking that the fats that replace them are good and more must be better.

Bissage said...

Come on,
Particle Man
and
Person Man
, Triangle Man’s
itching
for a fight.

Palladian said...

The only good thing that could come out of this egregious mommy-state bit of garbage is a return to lard. Crisco is a lard substitute, and lard makes the most delicious pie crusts, cookies, bubble and squeak, potato chips, etc. And it's healthier than butter or Crisco (relatively speaking, of course).

Despite the possible happy return of lard, however, I loathe and despise the New York city council and Nanny Bloomberg for wasting time and resources and further encroaching upon the freedom to make bad choices. This is a New York "Republican" version of social conservatism, using the power of the state to enforce "virtue" and the fragile health and morality of its poor, errant subjects. Protect us from gays and from Crisco, O perfect Masters! Hell, in the 70s the two were practically synonymous!

Anonymous said...

It's funny you mentioned high fructose corn syrup in this update because hydrogenated oils and HFCS are the two things that I avoid at the supermarket.

There's good evidence that HFCS screws up the appetite-suppression cycle that should happen when you consume calories. So if you drink a Coke sweetened with sugar, your body recognizes all those calories and tells you OK, you can stop being hungry now. Drinks sweetened with HFCS don't trip that trigger, and in some studies, people who drank diet sodas actually ate more.

I have a damaged insulin metabolism, and type 2 diabetes is rampant in my family. Since I am already pre-disposed to diabetes, I avoid HFCS since I don't need anything pushing me any closer to it.

Yeah, hydrogenated oils are just as fattening as butter or lard, but butter or lard don't damage your circulatory system the way trans fats do. Statistically you can correlate the rise in consumption of HFCS and hydrogenated oils with the increases in obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Before the widespread use of vegetable oils (other than olive oil) and hydrogenated oils, heart disease was virtually unknown. Yes, yes, correlation does not equal causation, but there is a causal relationship here. In France, where obesity is not a problem, hydrogenated oils have never been allowed.

I share Ann's opinion regarding regulating food substances like this. The impact on society is great and leaving this up to the choice of the consumer doesn't respond to the problem. I don't think food manufacturers are out to get us, but at the same time I think the vast majority of people don't think about this stuff at all. If the food they are eating is messing with their appetite triggers and they don't even realize it, that's a problem that should be addressed.

Joe said...

When they go after caffeine is when I pick up a gun.

Howard said...

The reason for the enactment of this "law" is the law makers themselves need to do "something" visible lest the voters get angry because: they ain't done nothin' about schools, they ain't done nothin' about high taxes, they ain't done nothin' about fixing streets--it took 30 years to repair the West Side H'way, it's their fault the subway fares are so high you have to be middle class to use it, and and and and. "Now you want the subway fares lowered? Jesus, I've used all my political capital getting rid of trans fats for you. I've saved the lives of millions. Don't you think I deserve some credit for that?" In other words banning the fats is a perfect smoke screen for comatose law makers.

Ron said...

People cannot control their own weight, so it must be some outside force making them fat. This failure to take personal responsibility is a downward spiral. There will never be enough regulation to make people thin. After every ban, people will wolf down whatever is still legal, and then cry for more help. If you keep an honest tally of how many calories you consume, you'll see it's your own fault if you're fat. It may be a terrible fault to overcome, but it is still your fault. If you think it isn't, it will only become harder to overcome.

I find this some of the most objectionable writing I have ever seen from you. Ugly, judgmental to a fault, and just, to me, not in character with the writing you have shown on this blog. Why the obcession with fault and blame? A person who cannot control their weight does not necessarily foist blame onto 'the food industry' or restaurants or anyone else. My body is my responsibility which I accept. Cannot you not choose to obcess about your weight, even to the point that it may impinge on your health? Sorry, I don't view it as a 'terrible fault to overcome.' You may disagree with this choice, but it is a choice, consciously made without the need to find villians, or fret about how others will view me or if I'm in a 'downward spiral.'

And I may choose to change my views in the future, if I take a different approach to my health. But if you want me to take responsiblity for the choices I make, than respect the choices I do make, even if they are different than the ones you make, and especially if you think they are wrong.

Elizabeth said...

Careful, Joe. Those shaky hands will make for poor aim.

Anonymous said...

Ron: I can't speak for Ann, but I believe that how much you weigh, what you look like, and what you eat is your business, not mine. If you are happy with all three, I am happy for you.

Based on your own comment, I don't see a criticism of you in Ann's comments. She does talk about those who are fat, blame others for their own personal decisions, and then demand that the government protect them from themselves. That sure does not sound to me like a criticism of someone such as yourself, so I am surprised that you apparently took it so personally.

Just a random thought.

kettle said...

...or do you actually mean to claim that a majority of health-related laws, regulations, and policies are based on little evidence"

I don't dispute the tallies, or the mathematical operations that are subsequently performed on them. But interpreting these numbers is a matter of opinion; and the process by which statistics become legislation is not a scientific one.

(it really cannot be, and I see no reason why it ought to be anyway; I see the use of statistical data to justify public policy measures as mainly a means of obfuscating issues and neatly removing the layman from a public debate to which he is an interested, and rightbearing party.

In any case, using any data set, even a very large one to pick out individual trends is a difficult business, extrapolating future social, economic or healthcare trends, with seeming confidence, is rather silly, and making reliable public policy based on these types of extrapolations is just plain guesswork. Even if hindsight proves the policy maker right, he has no way of knowing how much impact his measures actually had - he only has the history that happened to observe.

I don't object to the use of this kind of statistical data, only its abuse. [too tired to preempt the misinterpretations this post is susceptible to, time for bed])

Anonymous said...

Joe: As you know, there have been many attempts to convince the masses that caffeine is bad for them. Fortunately, the scientific basis for such claims has been found unstable at best, and fraudulent at worst. But give groups like the Center for Science in the Public Interest enough time and trial lawyer money, and caffeine will join the list of dangerous substances, and coffee manufacturers, distributors, applicance manufacturers, and retailers will join the ranks of those bankrupted by questionable class-action laswsuits while their embittered former employees swell the ranks of the unemployed.

Pogo said...

From Charles Fried's Modern Liberty and the Limits of Goverment, W.W. Norton; November, 2006:

"In modern, liberal, welfare-administrative democracies, the impositions on liberty are likely to be gentle, marginal. But we must be vigilant, recognize them for what they are, or we will lose our grip on what liberty is, coming to confuse it with comfort, a generalized decency, or just democracy itself - a confusion that the lovers of the state would be glad to foist upon us.

But liberty is not the same as democracy. As Benjamin Constant understood, the liberty of the moderns -the liberty of individuals from the state- is far different from the liberty of the ancients, the liberty of a self-governing people."
(pp. 165-66)

Ann Althouse said...

Ron, by "terrible fault to overcome," I simply mean that it's very difficult to overcome, not that it's an especially bad fault. But you know, gluttony is traditionally considered a sin. I am only calling for personal responsibility. I'm not saying fat people are bad, just that they should focus on their own responsibility for their condition. I am hypothesizing that the failure to do that is part of the problem. They don't have to solve their problem, but they should see that it is their problem, which ought to be empowering. Chiding me about sounding "ugly" does not move me. I am trying to talk straight, not soothe feelings here.

downtownlad said...

I think this is a great regulation and find it amusing that non New-Yorkers are so worked up about it. If you don't like the law, then don't come here.

Most government regulations do way more harm that good. This one seems very reasonable to me. It will have little cost - maybe pennies per meal. And the benefits will be huge. The benefits are lower cholesterol levels, NOT thinner people. NOBODOY is claiming that this will make people less fat. The idea is that people's HDL (good cholesterol) will be higher and people LDL (bad cholesterol) will be lower. That has been proven in study after study after study.

Because of this law, I'll be eating five pounds less of trans fats every year than I otherwise would have.

While I think a simple disclosure law would have been better, that seems a lot more cumbersome to me, as a restaurant would have to identify the percent of trans fats in each meal.

I doubt New Yorkers will notice a difference.

As for Crisco - yes - those mothers were poisoning their children.

the pooka said...

I accept the scientific evidence for whatever it is worth.

This sort of statement is why I detest lawyers. (On average. Not you, Ann). Scientists understand that "whatever it is worth" is a great deal: hundreds, possibly thousands of individuals -- the vast majority of whom have more than the three-years-and-a-summer-job that passes for graduate education in the legal profession -- have spent tens of thousands of hours and millions of dollars in the simple search for truth on this issue.

Now, that truth isn't always simple, because the universe isn't simple, and so the truth isn't always clear. We don't yet know everything there is to know on every scientific subject. But complexity and indeterminacy are two very different things. Unfortunately, lawyers, journos, and politicos (the latter of whom almost always are or have been one or both of the former) constantly conflate them. Sometimes they do so out of ignorance (lawyers are rotten scientists), but most of the time they do so because it is in their own interest that things appear indeterminate.

In that earlier post, Ann commented:

Lawyers marshall and present facts to make arguments for goals that benefit their clients, not as a way of saying what they think is true. And since lawyers know how and why to do this, they are extremely skeptical of factual assertions anyone else makes.

And therein lies the problem. That innate skepticism leads to the sort of generalized epistemological nihilism -- cf. Steven Milloy, or our first two commenters on this thread -- that one might associate with poststructural European philosophy than with policy discourse. What's worse, it opens the door for politicization of the science, which inevitably leads to rotten public policy.

(At this point, we can cue the ironic, world-weary responders, who will inform me that my quaint faith in objective science is so 1750...).

downtownlad said...

Also - this will be a great case study. Let's see if cholesterol levels for the average New Yorker drop over the next five years. Let's see if rates of heart disease and deaths go down.

Old Dad said...

"O that way madness lies."

Let's see if I've got this right. I now can walk into a convenience store in New York City and buy a delicious corn dog cooked in healthy no trans fat, a six pack, and a pack of cigs.

Anonymous said...

Not for long, Old Dad. Not for long ;-)

reader_iam said...

Quick OT:

Bissage! Too funny. I almost linked to They Might Be Giants lyrics earlier regarding children, singing, and nursery rhymes!

reader_iam said...

(Specifically, for "Why Does The Sun Shine," which they didn't write, I don't believe, but it's the version my son was singing by the time he was two.)

Paul Zrimsek said...

I think this is a great regulation and find it amusing that non New-Yorkers are so worked up about it. If you don't like the law, then don't come here.

Note for newbies: This is one of the very few times you will see DTL post here for any reason other than pissing and moaning about gay marriage restrictions in places like Wisconsin.

downtownlad said...

Paul should eat lots of trans fats. Lots of them.

reader_iam said...

happy return to lard

Palladian: I'd agree with you regarding taste (for example, French fries, which I eat only rarely, have never tasted as good to me since they stopped being made in lard).

But my DH would have a hard time of it--because he's vegetarian (I'm not). I suspect he wouldn't be alone in that boat.

downtownlad said...

Vegetarians tend to be very conscious of nutrition. Somehow I'm pretty certain that most vegetarians would be in favor of banning an unnatural substance that was only invented 100 years ago and science has proved to be extremely unhealthy.

reader_iam said...

"Lard" or "Suet", by the way?

And remember the trouble McDonald's got into for putting a little beef tallow back into its fries after it switched to making them in vegetable oil?

Heck, what's it gonna do now, in New York????

reader_iam said...

downtownlad: I was responding specifically to Palladian's comment about using meat-based fats in pies, fries and so forth.

And vegetarians have a range of opinions, like anyone else. They also fall along of range of the health spectrum.

Don't argue with me about that. Not only have I lived with one, and cooked for one for many, many years (and been raising a child largely in that way) on a daily basis, but I've been around vegetarians and cooked for them since, oh, 1971, when my mother first took me to a co-op.

Is there NO topic to which you won't take a broad-brush?

Anonymous said...

Heck, what's it gonna do now, in New York????

Close up shop? That's the goal of the nannies, you know ;-)

Is there NO topic to which you won't take a broad-brush?

Purely rhetorical question, I am sure ;-)

Joe said...

Does anyone actually bother reading the science behind the trans-fat hysteria? I have. It's virtual non-existant. At best there are a few extremely weak statistical correlations. Several of the scientists make claims either not supported or even contradicted in their own studies. Other studies show no effect at all.

The only thing you can actually say about trans fat based on the ACTUAL scientific evidence is that it MAY have a very small, short term effect on blood lipid levels. Yup, that's it. This entire scare is about a very minor observed change in lipid levels (that may, in fact, have been caused by something else since trans fats were not being specifically and uniquely studied let alone in a double-blind experiment.)

Ron said...

Ron, by "terrible fault to overcome," I simply mean that it's very difficult to overcome, not that it's an especially bad fault. But you know, gluttony is traditionally considered a sin. I am only calling for personal responsibility. I'm not saying fat people are bad, just that they should focus on their own responsibility for their condition. I am hypothesizing that the failure to do that is part of the problem. They don't have to solve their problem, but they should see that it is their problem, which ought to be empowering. Chiding me about sounding "ugly" does not move me. I am trying to talk straight, not soothe feelings here.

And when I call your prose in this instance "ugly", I too am trying to talk straight and soothe feelings. Perhaps you should be moved by it, if for no other reason than to show respect for someone is trying to talk straight to you. I have admired your arguments and writing on this blog, and have had for years now, so when
I see writing that just still seems unworthy of what I have come to both respect and enjoy, I feel I have to say so. Upon reading it again, I still see an overly judgmental tone (even in this response you're still talking about sin!, Nope not judgemental there!)that seems more to berate than to make people take responsibility for themselves.

Frankly, given the extremely high failure rate of dieting, I often wonder if the whole idea of holding people 'responsible' is even a correct approach to this problem. When 95% of people fail at their diet, I doubt that they've all lapsed from grace. What the answer is, I have no idea, but perhaps the traditional approaches are not it.

miked0268 said...

What I'd like to see is a government regulation banning the use of HFCS, just for the hilarity of it!

Government intervention is what caused HFCS to come into widespread use anyway. Because of sugar tarriffs and price controls, sucrose (whether from cane or beets) costs almost 3 times as much in the USA as in the rest of the world. Without the government's interference in the first place, HFCS would probably not be in widespread use at all. It takes all kinds of food-chemistry fiddling to conceal the off taste.

Typical.

Palladian said...

"I think this is a great regulation and find it amusing that non New-Yorkers are so worked up about it. If you don't like the law, then don't come here."

Classic downtownlad! "I'm a libertarian everyone! I'm a real live libertarian!"

It's people like you that have royally fucked up what a great city New York once was.

Shanna said...

Government intervention is what caused HFCS to come into widespread use anyway.
Yes! Alot of health food fads that government scientists and recommendations foisted on us turned out to be either bunk or just plain bad for you. I think maybe the government should get out of the busines altogether, because they seem to suck at it.

downtownlad said...

Oh right - New York is great because of its trans fats.

Obviously Palladian knows zippo about the New York restaurant scene. Absolutely zilch.

The top restaurants in New York don't use trans fats. They use real fats such as olive oils and butter.

However, the crappy restaurants like MacDonalds and KFC use trans fats galore.

Who knew that it was Popeye's Fried Chicken that makes New York City great . . .

But then again - if you've seen a picture of Palladian - you know that he obviously likes to eat at Fast Food restaurants.

kettle said...

"hundreds, possibly thousands of individuals -- the vast majority of whom have more than the three-years-and-a-summer-job that passes for graduate education in the legal profession -- have spent tens of thousands of hours and millions of dollars in the simple search for truth on this issue."

Scientific research is concerned with facts, not truth. That's a pretty egregious error.

Epistemological nihilism? Is that what healthy, informed skepticism of statistical inference amounts to now?

downtownlad said...

I'm quite into nutrition and I've read many studies on trans fats. I have yet to read anyone who thinks they are good.

Pretty much any substitute (butter, olive oil, canola oil, and yes - even lard) is going to be better than trans fats.

The rule of thumb is that any oil that is a solid at room temperature is not going to be as good for you as an oil that is a liquid.

I'd be happy with disclosure instead of a ban. But it seems that most people on this thread prefer to dine in ignorance, unaware of the food that is poisoning their bodies.

downtownlad said...

Another thing that people should note is how many packaged foods that say "NO TRANS FATS". Items like Doritos.

The labelling laws on trans fats required people to report them in their entirety by 2006. Guess how many trans fats were in Doritos and other Frito-Lay products prior to that law? Answer - Lots.

So how did companies deal with the labelling requirement? They eliminated them.

http://www.fritolay.com/fl/flstore/cgi-bin/ProdDetEv_Cat_304_SubCat_352002_NavRoot_303_ProdID_352013.htm

Has anyone "really" noticed the difference in taste? I doubt it.

downtownlad said...

Oh - and for the vegetarians who like Crisco - there's the following:

http://www.crisco.com/about/0_grams_faqs.asp#2

Here's good info on the subject:

http://www.bantransfats.com/

If KFC can bans trans fats (which they are) - then anyone can.

reader_iam said...

DTL: I'm going to assume your info re: Crisco for vegetarians is more generic, and not because you made them mistake of reading into my comments that we **like** Crisco, specifically.

I use shortening almost never ... when I do it's around this time of year for specific recipes. (Which means "almost never" translates into exceedingl little.)

Here's what's on on the kitchen table, the same one on which this laptop is perched:

Spectrum Organic All Vegetable Shortening

Non-hydrogenated

0 grams of Trans Fat

***

Of course, there are options. It's healthier to choose the, well, healthier option(s).

"Choose" is an important value, too, however.

reader_iam said...

DTL: Good info on the Crisco, by the way. I should have said that first.

Pogo said...

Re: "But it seems that most people on this thread prefer to dine in ignorance, unaware of the food that is poisoning their bodies."

Our modern Puritan scolds have elevated Health to a Virtue because they lack all others.

knoxgirl said...

When they go after caffeine is when I pick up a gun.

As Ronin pointed out, they keep trying to demonize caffeine, despite their inability to find anything truly harmful with it.

I have no faith in the veracity of the "scientific evidence" behind any of these diet/consumption-related health scares. It's obvious to me that the nannies in charge target things that people enjoy and go after them. Then "scientists" work to find conclusions that they know fit the sought-after results. Trial lawyers and the MSM "What you don't know might be killing you!" only exacerbate the situation.

Anyone remember when eggs were supposed to be just the worst thing you could possibly eat? For a while it was butter (turns out a lot of the margarine we used instead was worse for us). There was a time we were told to load up on pasta and other carbs... obviously they've since reversed that. And periodically there are people who go on the attack against dairy.

It's all bullshit--or too much of it is bullshit for me to ever support laws banning this or that. Jesus, there are a lot of things that more urgently threaten the existence of mankind.

Joe said...

DTL, first there aren't "many" studies on Trans Fat, there are a few and they aren't specifically about Trans Fat (though in a few the authors make it seem they were.)

Second, "I have yet to read anyone who thinks they are good." Is just plain nuts. It doesn't matter whether any thinks they are good, it matter what the science actually supports and it doesn't support the current hysteria about trans fat!

(PS. Less anyong think I'm some fat eating nut, I'm actually not. I rarely use or eat trans fat and have regulated all my fat intake ever since I had my gall bladder removed many years ago. The point is, though, that I CHOOSE to do this and it isn't really that hard.)