2014 SECOND PLACE ESSAY

by Caroline Clauson, Age 16
Submitting Teacher: David Thigpen


Drop that Jimmy Dean Cheesy Sausage Delight, and grab ahold of your new accountability partner's hand. The U.S. government has proudly proclaimed itself the conqueror of your cellulite-sagging thighs' true enemy: yourself. They know how the glorious aroma of partially-hydrogenated soybean oil tantalizes you, and they've been watching your morning wrangles with the tape measure. Don't worry. The FDA guarantees that frozen cheddar-stuffed croissants will never find their way into your grocery cart again.

But perhaps you are willing to exchange your low cholesterol for a daily dose of "great taste and convenience" advertised on the package. Maybe the grin on your son's face is worth every milligram of trans-fat in his Krispy Kreme donut. What about companies thriving off Americans' decisions to buy their products? Our bulging government wants to keep us thin by usurping our freedom to sell and eat food. Citizens must raise their forks against bureaucrats who seek to trespass into our kitchens. It is time for the government to stop dictating what ends up on our plates.

"The Congress shall have the power to regulate the mixing, baking, serving, labeling, selling, and consumption of food, as well as the sodium, fat, and high fructose corn syrup thereof." Did James Madison's secretary forget to copy this provision into the Constitution's final draft? Didn't our founders value a healthy society? The crafters of our republic were committed to an ideal that current citizens have abandoned: the more societal problems we secure into government's eager palms, the more we watch our individual choices disappear. Government does require a certain mandate to defend us from external danger. However, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Assembly Member Felix Ortiz deceive us into thinking they protect us from some outside source: Arby's secretly over- salted curly fries or Little Debbie Cakes iced in fifty grams of sugar. But in today's Google crazed society, citizens have no excuse. Americans do not lack information and they are not ignorantly poisoning themselves with unhealthy food. They know they are gaining weight; they know their last doctor's visit didn't go well, but they are choosing to do it anyway. And as John Stossel responded to Ortiz, "isn't that part of freedom?" Under government's concerned facade lies a craving to thwart citizen's decisions. Even if regulation from Capitol Hill could improve our health, government has no right to impose it.

Supposing the government does deserve the power to play the part of America's personal nutritionist, what leads us to believe they know what is best for individuals? As Stossel points out in his book "No, They Can't," the ten percent of people who suffer from hypertension may help themselves to toss the salt shaker. Proposed regulation, however, demands that the entire population be deprived, though recent studies show that most people benefit from some salt. Sure, I may end up one out of the yearly average of forty-two consumers who are struck by a raw milk induced illness. Perhaps I value daily probiotics fresh from the cow enough to risk a few days with a stomach ache.

In the 1980's, our government convinced citizens that optimal heath could be achieved with a diet free of animal fats. Butter, Eggs, and Tbone steaks were condemned to the "minimal consumption" category while low-fat Triscuits and Crisco packages boasted their new "FDA Heart Healthy" badges. Thirty years, numerous scientific studies, and millions of government misled consumers later, it turns out margarine and wheat were the real culprits. It looks like the government goofed. Go ahead and fill up on those egg yolks.

Prior to the last decade, Washington nudged, but rarely dared to force people into its diet standards. Now that overgrown government is gaining a firmer grip on our grocery lists, the potential of being regulated into a defective eating plan like the 80's low-fat fad is not a slim one.

Bureaucrats have their pens pointed against our favorite restaurants too. If consumers are no longer blinded by entrepreneur's schemes, if they are finally exposed to the horrors of that triple Big Mac, plus size jeans will be a thing of the past, right? In Stossel's TV special, the author of "The Food Police," Jayson Lusk, explains that studies tracking customers' ordering responses to food labels discredit these assumptions. Fast food diners don't need a chart to show them their unhealthy choices. They taste every gram of salt and crispy mouthful of oil, and they like it. Numbers on the menu won't change that.

The problem isn't complicated. In the past, a chef pulled out his best recipes, hung an "open" sign and tacked his prices on the window. Enticed passersby were willing to pay the price for his macaroons. A perfect transaction occurred: both consumer and seller were satisfied. The baker's business grew and townspeople were treated to the option of cherry cobbler too. Government didn't shove its way into the calorie count, disrupting the balance of the free market.

The private sector promises a land of economic prosperity, but can it guarantee a country of carrot-crunching flat-bellies? Perhaps not. Capitalism was never designed to achieve utopia, but rather to fulfill society's desires. "Trans-fat free" and "all-natural" stamps showed up in the food aisles even before the government intervened. America's mindset on health began changing on its own, and companies scrambled to match it. Free-markets reflect the public's priorities, but pushing further is to steal its liberty.

Americans savor independence, yet government is attempting to replace it with the bland aftertaste of forced constraint. They hold no justification for snatching our food, or our freedom from our hands. History and research suggest they aren't quite the fitness whizzes they fancied themselves either. The private sector will always prevail as America's true palate pleaser.

There will always be that daily "Big Gulp" drinker and the regulars at the donut shop. They don't want to change, and that's ok. America claims to be the "land of the free," not the home of the skinny.