<a href=http://www.edmontonjournal.com>Edmonton Journal</a>
July 27, 2001
<font size=5>Puritans against fat: </font>
<font size=4>New Public health concerns could empower all-knowing bureaucrats</font>
Hysterical -- you could call it that. Or perhaps berserk would be more like it.
Whatever adjective we settle upon, the Globe and Mailhas launched itself upon a crusade to skinny-up Canadians. Well, more correctly, the Globeseems intent upon pressuring Ottawa into skinnying us up, a sort of reverse Hansel and Gretel nightmare in which the witch plies us with low-fat broth, soy casseroles and sugar-free ``treats.''
All week the Globehas been running a series on how fat Canadians have become. In and of itself, such a series would be inoffensive; one of those changing lifestyle epics of more interest to the writer and his or her editor than the reader, or of interest only to some axe-grinding organization intent on changing public policy by ``proving'' the ``old ways and norms'' no longer apply.
One might stop in for a visit to such a series, browse the curious knick-knacks inside for diversion during travels to and from the really important parts of the paper -- columns and coupons -- but mostly such series are fluff, unconnected to ordinary people's daily lives.
The trouble with the Globe'santi-fat crusade is that is has the flavour of New Puritanism and the Next Prohibition sprinkled liberally over it.
Not satisfied merely to trumpet its disapproval with Canadians, half of whom the paper claims are overweight (tisk, tisk), and to exhort them to rise from their desks for a brisk constitutional, the Globeappears shocked -- and outraged -- that ``government is doing little to discourage dreadful eating habits, and ... to push physical fitness.''
Remember the preachy ParticipAction campaign of the 1970s, in which we were condemningly assured 60-year-old Swedes were in better shape than our 30-year-old Canuck selves?
Well the Globehas found its double-00's equivalent -- the slim, bronzed Aussie. Can you believe it, the paper moaned in an editorial Monday, Down Under they spend ``considerably more than Canada on athletic and fitness programs for all ages,'' and as a result ``the cost of health care in Australia is much lower than in Canada.''
(Of course, the Globewould never dream of wondering if the lower cost of health in Australia had anything to do with the much greater level of private provision of public care, but that's another discussion for another day.)
Anti-Fat a Power Grab
Ah, yes. There's the real crux of the Globe'sefforts, isn't it? This is all about extending the grasp of the state even further into our daily lives. I'm sure the Globedoesn't see this as the end product of its bleating about fitness and fatness, but that is the logical terminus of its demand that something be done.
Before we know it, we shall have bureaucrat-planned menus in our homes and restaurants and a government-approved list of behaviours.
H.L. Mencken once observed, ``You know the type ... Give him Prohibition, and he launches a new crusade against cigarettes, coffee, jazz, and custard pies.''
Mencken's ``him'' is precisely the type who has infested the editorial suite of many papers, and bureaucratic bullpens, and the cozy offices of public health faculties, although ``him'' is just as likely to be a ``her'' these days, of course.
Having all but stamped out smoking, except in a dank, dark corner of one's own garage, this type is turning its reformist, meddlesome energies now to clearing clogged arteries, by regulatory force, if needs be.
Just how unimaginatively dependent the Globeand the other New Puritans are on government as the source of all wisdom and prohibition as the only solution, can be seen in the paper's claim that ``the average Canadian'' is unfit because he or she ``will drive a car to work rather than walk, cycle or use public transit.''
The physical benefits of walking or riding a bike to work I can grasp. But how does taking the bus to work solve the alleged fat problem, other than possibly requiring an inconvenient two- or three-block walk from home to bus stop and bus stop to office?
Riding transit does no more for fitness than car commuting, but it fits into the overall notion that public action is more noble than private, which is behind all social engineering campaigns, and so such an irrelevant statement slips by the Globe's writers and editors because it seems perfectly logical, although it is merely consistent.
I very soon expect middle-class voters and the politicians they elect to fall victim to ``public good, profits bad'' propaganda (the Globelabelled McDonald's a ``cholesterol conglomerate'') and approve of ``fat'' taxes and government grants for behaviour modification courses.
Fearful of losing their ``free'' health care, Boomers and suburbanites will permit bureaucrats and state diet inspectors to invade their personal lives (and yours and mine) to root out and punish undesirable ``lifestyle choices'' and reward ``good'' citizens, with the goal of reducing health costs and saving the system.