Because I’d written more than I’d like to about a law I felt unconstitutional and paternalistic, no matter how well-intended, I was going to lay off contributing to the flurry of “Ooooh, you got tolllld, Bloomberg!!!11111ONE” posts that littered the Internet. I was even gonna lay off dissing on soda for the day.
But this just…. felt creepy:
To that end, the people who govern the state with the highest rate of obesity in the nation have passed a bill saying that any law that might restrict what Mississippians eat or drink has to go through them — barring federal regulations.
That means that cities or counties cannot enact rules limiting soda size, salt content, shortening in cookies, toys in fast-food meals for children, how a menu is written or just about any other aspect of the daily dining experience in Mississippi.
The bill, which is on the desk of Gov. Phil Bryant and is likely to get a swift signature, is unique not only in its approach to managing the state’s diet but also in its timing.
Informally, legislators are calling it the anti-Bloomberg bill, a reference to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York, whose attempt to limit the size of sugar-laced drinks was shot down by a state judge this week.
It is easy to view the new Mississippi law with an ironic eye. As Representative Omeria Scott, a Democrat, pointed out during the debate on the bill, “Mississippi is the fattest and most unhealthy state in the U.S.A.”
But the legislation is the latest and most sweeping expression of a nationwide battle in which some government officials, public health leaders and food supply reformers are pitted against those who would prefer the government quit trying to control what people eat.
“I can’t defend what the statistics show about obesity,” said Senator Tony Smith, the owner of Stonewall’s Barbecue in Picayune, Miss., who introduced the bill after being approached by the Mississippi Hospitality and Restaurant Association. “But this is about personal responsibility. When I go out to eat with my three daughters they get waters. I don’t need the government to tell me to do that.”
Also signing on to the bill were associations that represent sellers of soft drinks and owners of convenience stores, as well as the farm bureau and the Mississippi Poultry Association.
…but wait! There’s more:
But Mississippi’s law appears to be the broadest in scope. Cities and counties cannot limit portion sizes or require calorie counts on menus or restrict the sale of food based on how it was grown, which would protect food made with genetically modified grain, a growing concern among some consumers, as well as the way livestock is raised.
Similarly, only the state can control zoning laws that would restrict some restaurants and favor others or mandate labeling of seeds that would force what proponents of the bill call “an organic agenda.”
Mike Cashion, the director of the Mississippi Hospitality and Restaurant Association, said the point of the bill was to avoid having a patchwork of regulations that would be difficult to enforce and put a burden on small-business owners.
“We see the writing on the wall with what’s happened in other parts of the country and we want to make sure we stay one step ahead of the process,” he said.
Still, discussion as the bill made its way through the Legislature was often more about food and health than concerns over regulations.
In its government blog, The Clarion-Ledger of Jackson recorded this exchange between lawmakers:
“We’ve got an obesity problem in the state of Mississippi, haven’t we? Of major proportions. Childhood obesity especially. Do you think that immoderate use of a Coca-Cola is good for a man?” asked Representative Steve Holland, a Democrat who voted for the bill.
“I don’t see where it would kill him,” answered Representative Gregory Holloway, a Democrat who fought for the bill by arguing that “if you want to go eat 20 Big Macs, you can eat 20 Big Macs.”
“All right, what about the excessive use of a Coca-Cola? If you drink 10, 15 a day?” Mr. Holland countered.
“Probably would have some effect on your kidneys,” Mr. Holloway answered.
“Dang sure would,” said Mr. Holland.
Listen. I had an awfully hard time not believing this was from The Onion.
I was thankful that the city requires certain restaurants to post their calorie counts. I don’t go in those places too often, but I know that when I step into a starbucks, I’d better stop playing and just get my regular coffee. Those calorie counts remind me.
I like things that add opportunities for education to my life. I’m not here for being told what I can and can’t drink, and I’m not here for being told what I could or couldn’t sell. That’s not okay.
All flaws with the BMI chart considered,] Mississippi is the most obese state in the union. Like, it isn’t even close. Even by self-reported figures, Louisiana is next in line by over a full percentage point. The state legislature couldn’t have found a more productive use of its time?
It’s one thing to want to discourage paternalistic legislation, but this felt sooooooo much more like a high-five to the “you’ll pry my big gulp from my cold, dead, diabetic fingers” crowd than it did an actual concern for constitutional freedom [to kill yourself].
Am I missing something, here?