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Government should stay off the menu

Photo by Mico Mazza

Ontario’s Health Minister Deb Matthews recently announced plans to introduce legislation that would force chain restaurants to print calorie numbers on menus. This idea is unnecessary, ridiculous, and limits our ability to make decisions as private individuals.

Proponents of the bill argue that this program will make people think twice before eating high-calorie restaurant meals. This might be true for some, but assuming that mandatory calorie counting will decrease obesity is an oversimplification of the issue.

People eat for a variety of reasons, and not always for rational ones. Overeating is a genetically inherited trait that can be incredibly hard to kick. Making people’s unhealthy eating habits more obvious and shameful will not have any significant impact.

Furthermore, allowing the provincial government to overstep its boundaries and insert itself into an everyday aspect of our lives sets a dangerous precedent.

If the government really wants to prevent obesity, maybe it should pass a bill limiting how many bags of chips the local convenience store can sell you, or institute mandatory daily exercise sessions, or why don’t they just ban junk food altogether? When we give the government too much power over our lives, we also give them the ability to decide what is right and wrong for us.

Anyone who eats at chain restaurants should already know that the food is unhealthy. It is up to individuals to then choose whether they want to eat that food, how often they will do so, and how much they will exercise. That’s how living in a free-market economy works.

Pointing out how many calories people consume is unnecessary. If someone makes the choice to indulge on a slice of pizza, they should be able to enjoy their meal without feeling guilty.

Should the role of the government really be to discourage people from consuming legal products? By discouraging people from frequenting restaurants, the government is attempting to diminish the revenues made by these businesses. Shouldn’t we be concerned with the effect this will have on the economy? Warning labels on dangerous products are one thing (and have debatable effectiveness), but do we really need the government to interfere with the operations of private, legal businesses?

Although government interference in the private sector is unnecessary, it would be better if a menu with nutritional information was available upon request instead of printed right on the menu. That way, if you’d prefer not to know how many calories are in your meal, you wouldn’t have to. Is the Ontario government considering this compromise? Of course not. In a CBC News report, Matthews said, “It’s going to be there right up with the price. That decision is made. We will have the calories on the menus and menu boards.”

So much for democratic decision-making.