Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Paternalism -- alive and well, maybe good

Michael Bloomberg has all the hubris of a very rich man who knows how smart he is and believes he knows what is good for New York and for New Yorkers and by extension, really, for everyone. What does rich have to do with it? Well, the self-esteem, which includes a kind of arrogance, is only possible after earning that kind of wealth through a bright idea and a lot of hard world. He IS smart, of course, and, I think, better than most men in poliics. He seems not to hang out with prostitutes and is not embroiled in the Wall Street mess; he's on the moral high ground. And he's probably right in his various health initiatives, which is what I have in mind today after an article in the NYTimes about his latest initiative was announced.

He was no sooner Mayor than he got smoking banned in all public buildings. Of course people still smoke but it is by no means as prevalent as it once was. I have never bought the second hand smoke line of reasoning and always thought making smokers pariahs was a breach of civil liberties. Be that as it may, some years later transfats were banned from restaurant and public venue cooking. This made sense although if I wee a restaurant owner I'd still be unhappy about my civil rights having been denied me once more breached.

Then came calorie counts prominently displayed by fast food restaurants. About this I hav a love/hate feeling. I hate knowing that a muffin in Starbucks -- undersized by usual NYC standards -- is 450 calories. At the same timel I love knowing it. I can decide not to eat so many calories all at once -- as a snack. I haven't actually eaten a muffin in many months. Man people need to know the relative calorie counts of a banana and a scone -- to their shock sometimes. This seems a helpful publication of long hidden facts. Leaving consumers free to make their own informed choices.

Today's long article complained because Bloomberg wants to see that salt use is cut in halef in ten years. Chances are he'll save medical costs, and, best of all, possibly save many people from stokes. The writer was incensed about the unproven stats of lowering sale intake although it's been a part of blood pressure prophylaxis for decades. I have personally, not at a doctor's recommendation but because I felt it would be healtier, stopped salting a lot of my food -- and I am from the part of the midwest where food was salted in cooking and again, lavishly, at the table [along with lots of black pepper usually] and not only on meat and vegetables but we salted, watermelon, cantaloupe, grapefruit and apples [and peppered the cantaloupe]. I no longer salt most vegetables and add only some to meat and fish. Since much is cut out, I don't mind if I add salt to selected items.

Most people, being creatures of habit, will make few changes in their diets, and rarely bother informing themselves about things like the transfats or amount of calories or transfats without the overbearing papa figure insisting the cooks present what he thinks is best for us. We actually don't know, as the article writer pointed out, if it will make us feel healthier. Bloombeg believes it's healthy. Statistics will tell in the future. Just as smokers can and will still smoke and I believe they have the right to that choice, people will cook at home as they please. If we have a marginally healthier population, that's a good thing. If people's consciousnesses are raised, that's probably an even better thing. While, as a serious feminist I deeply despise paternalistic attitudes and actions, there are good father and bad, stupid and intelligent. I will not rate Bloomberg on many areas of his politics but in this one I'm glad he's doing it.

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