Hot on the heels of “net neutrality”: government regulation of supermarkets.
Or at least that’s the wish of anti-fat activist Deborah A. Cohen. Cohen believes that the reason we have an obesity problem in the U.S. is that those darned supermarkets give shoppers so many choices in what food to buy. Their brains collapse from “decision fatigue”—so they just reach for the nearest two-pound bag of Cheetos and head for the checkout counter.
Here’s Cohen’s article, “Supermarkets Are the Problem,” for the Slow Food USA website:
Even people who want to resist grabbing these low-nutrient items sometimes fail to do so because they suffer from decision fatigue, most prominent at the end of a shopping trip. After making so many decisions about what to buy and what not to, people’s cognitive capacity becomes overwhelmed, and subsequent decisions are often made impulsively and emotionally without consideration of the long-term consequences.
And here’s Cohen’s proposed solution: Yup, you guessed it, strict laws telling your local Safeway exactly what items are permissible to stock and where to put them:
One solution is to develop standards that identify which products should not be displayed in these prominent locations. Moving candy, chips, sodas, cookies, and other junk food away from special displays, cash registers, and easily accessible vending machines would be a good start. Relocating foods that increase the risk of obesity and chronic diseases to less conspicuous places would still allow those who want such foods to get them, but the decision to buy would be deliberate rather than impulsive.
You see, Cohen’s theory is that obesity is all society’s fault (actually, capitalism’s fault): greedy, profit-obsessed corporations creating an “obesegenic” environment by making food cheap, plentiful, widely available, and attractive.
In her 2014 book, A Big Fat Crisis: The Hidden Forces Behind the Obesity Epidemic—and How We Can End It, reviewed here, Cohen calls for a vast empire of food-consumption regulation that would govern everything from the hours that a drive-through Starbucks could stay open to a do-it-yourselfer’s ability to pick up a candy bar at the hardware-store counter:
Cohen’s first policy recommendation is the standardization of portion sizes. With alcohol, whether you order a beer, a glass of wine or a shot, you know that a drink is a drink. She thinks restaurants should serve food in single-portion units. Second, the government should limit “impulse marketing” by banning food from stores that aren’t dedicated to food, restricting combo meals at restaurants and keeping drive-thru windows closed outside meal times. Third, she wants to run counter-advertising that makes the downsides of fattening food more salient, the way one ad depicts body fat being poured from a soda bottle.
I’ve got an even better idea: Get private enterprise out of the food business entirely. The government could slash food-production overnight just by setting up agricultural entities that I’d call “collective farms.” Then, no more supermarkets—just drab, unappetizing-looking government-run stores where people would line up outside for hours to buy whatever happened to be on the nearly empty shelves. It’s been tried–and did it ever work!—in this country called the Soviet Union. No “decision fatigue” there. And no obesity problem either.