Tuesday 23 May 2017

The eating ban

The European Congress on Obesity took place last week in Portugal and various British journalists were sent over to find a story. The organisers were happy to oblige. First they announced that you can't be fat and fit (based on a verbal discussion of an abstract of an unpublished, unreviewed study) and then they upped the ante with a demand for 'junk food' to be banned on public transport.

Both stories got acres of newspaper coverage and the media were particularly attracted to the idea of an eating ban. From the Telegraph...

Fast food should be banned from buses and trains, as part of efforts to “nudge” the public out of round-the-clock snacking, obesity experts say.

The call for radical restrictions, in an attempt to reset social norms, came amid warnings that “guzzling on the go” is fuelling Britain’s weight problem.

Experts at the world’s largest obesity conference urged politicians to make sweeping changes to limit the availability of junk food on public transport.

They said buses, trains and trams should take action, in the same way that other health threats, like smoking, and alcohol, have been banned.

This is a policy taken wholesale from the anti-smoking lobby. Public transport was the first target of campaigners for smoking bans back in the 1970s, but while restrictions on smoking in small, shared, government-owned spaces could be justified on the grounds that some people don't want to smell smoke, the case for banning 'junk food' on public transport is wholly arbitrary.

You might assume that the issue is about the smell of hot food, but that is not what the nanny statists are interested in. Their intention is paternalistic. Alleged obesity expert Jason Halford (who is obese) says:

“Food is everywhere and the type of food that is most ubiquitous is unhealthy. We need more action across the public sector, we are seeing changes with hospitals it needs to spread to other sectors – councils, transport, universities.”

They are concerned that you will get fat if you eat certain foods and so they want to make it a crime to do so. They are starting with public transport.

Although it is snacking per se that they have a problem with, they can leverage support by focusing on hot food that has a strong smell. People eating a Burger King or Wasabi next to you on a train is one of life's minor nuisances. I don't want it banned but some intolerant prigs do, and there are enough intolerance prigs to give any call for a ban a bit of traction.

Yesterday morning I was on the Good Morning Britain sofa with Tam Fry of the National Obesity Forum to discuss the eating ban. It's a dreadful idea but I'm glad they have proposed it because it lays bare the authoritarian impulse at the heart of the nanny state industry. It also happens to be unworkable because there is no legal definition of 'junk food'.

Mr Fry tried to avoid the more obvious criticisms by focusing on hot food and pretending that the main issue was the aroma. Like many food snobs, he is obsessed with hamburgers, although what is so dangerous about bread and meat was never explained.

Alas, it all went wrong when he forgot to maintain the pretence that his concern was about the smell of secondhand food. Under pressure from Piers Morgan, he was asked to give an example of a hot dish that people would be allowed to eat on a train under a Tam Fry dictatorship. What happened next will amaze you.

You can watch the video here or read about it here.

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