Columns » Outsider

The more you eat the more they spend



OK, we're a hick town. How do we know? Because hundreds of people lined up to get tix to the Stones? No. Get Bronco season tickets? No. Go to the symphony? No. See the latest show at the Fine Arts Center? No.

Hundreds of people lined up for hours to buy a bag of doughnuts. Yep, you can't keep us away from those ever-so-tasty Krispy Kremes. You'd think that the kindly doughnut makers were peddling a powerfully addictive drug, as remorselessly habit-forming as a nickel bag of heroin.

Maybe they are. Over the last few months it's been hard to escape reading about the negative effects of fast food upon public health. Numerous reports have linked dramatic increases in childhood and adult obesity to fast food. Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation, largely researched in Colorado Springs and now available in paperback, carefully documents the pervasive impact of the fast-food industry upon the American diet.

According to Schlosser, fast-food products are designed strictly to appeal to the taste buds. All other considerations (fat content, calorie count, nutritional value) except cost and profit returns are insignificant. If the industry were to adopt a slogan, it might be "Tastes Great! More Filling!"

So what else is new? We all know that fast food isn't particularly good for us, that doughnuts are fattening, that there are enough calories in a Big Mac to last you for a day, and so on and so on. You wanna be thin and pretty? Stay away from junk food, eat lotsa fruit and vegetables, be moderate in your habits, blah, blah blah.

Regrettably, I'm old enough to remember the 1950s. I started smoking when I was 15 -- unfiltered Camels -- because I thought it was cool. It was perfectly clear that smoking was bad for you, but smoking was seen as a voluntary choice. And after all, if you decided to start, you could decide to stop. You say you can't? C'mon buddy, suck it up! Use a little will power, you pathetic sissy!

Luckily for me, I managed to stop smoking in my mid-twenties. Others were not so fortunate. My former companion Ellen, a lifelong smoker with whom I shared a New York apartment in the early 1970s, just had a cancerous lung removed. It looks as if the operation was a success; I hope that she'll fully recover.

Forty years ago, it occurred to few of us that the tobacco companies were engaged in a de facto criminal conspiracy, deliberately marketing a highly addictive and extraordinarily dangerous drug to an unsuspecting public. But that's exactly what they were doing, and they're finally paying for it in reparations.

If anyone were to suggest today that fast-food companies and manufacturers of convenience foods are engaged in the very same kind of conspiracy, they'd be ignored and/or derided. But what will happen 10 or 20 years from now if public-health experts establish an irrefutable link between obesity and fast food/convenience food? What if fast/convenience foods are the primary reason that the incidence of Type 2 diabetes has increased by more than a third in the past 10 years?

What if tens, even hundreds of thousands of premature deaths can be linked to consumption of such foods? What you have then is the tobacco industry redux. Imagine the lawyers, the experts, the grieving families, the damning evidence ... and we all know what the outcome might be.

The industry will cave in, and pay state governments hundreds of billions. The governments will pretend to use the loot for public-health programs -- designed, no doubt, to wean folks from Krispy Kremes -- while diverting the funds to highway building. Meanwhile, the maligned food pushers will continue with business as usual except with increasing advertising efforts and dollars. After all, where are they going to get the money to pay for the settlement? By selling more Krispy Kremes, Dunkin' Donuts and Big Macs, of course.

And that's why the tobacco companies, whose products are no less dangerous, and no less addictive than they were in the '50s, are still rolling merrily along. Gotta move product -- that's why tobacco advertising in our healthy state has doubled in the last few years.

So all you doughnut addicts out there, don't worry! Krispy Kremes may become as politically incorrect as unfiltered Camels, or even Krack Kocaine, but you'll still be able to buy 'em. No doubt, they'll have a warning label (Warning: Doughnuts may make you fat!), and attached federal/state sin taxes.

But for now, all is well ... and hey, I hope that all of you chubby Republicans enjoyed the Donuts for Delegates that Governor Owens handed out last Saturday at the World Arena.


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