Saturday, May 8, 2010

Then, They Came For My Saltshaker...

Having already gone after trans fats and high fructose corn syrup, public health nanny staters are now agitating for banning salt in prepared foods. From a culinary point of view, this is an outrage - as celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain points out in the story, salt is an indispensable ingredient in good cooking. There are aren't many recipes that don't taste better with at least a bit of salt in them, and some dishes simply can't be prepared without it. I'm as ready as the next person to denounce T.V. dinners - they're disgusting, and there's little doubt they're unhealthy. But if you enjoy eating food that tastes good when you go to a restaurant, the possibility of a bill like this becoming law should make you shudder in your boots. This is doubly so given that the evidence that sodium is uniquely pernicious in its effects on heart health is scant. The Japanese eat a lot of salt. They also have a very low incidence of heart disease and hypertension compared to Americans. Perhaps this is because their diet is relatively low in fat, cholesterol, and other substances which raise the risk of heart disease. As far as I can see, the best we can say about consuming a lot of salt is that it's bad for you in conjunction with consuming a lot of other substances. I don't see how eating it alone is a problem.

If the government wants to encourage people to eat more healthily, there's a simple solution that doesn't entail nanny state regulations, and has the benefit of raising a bit of revenue to boot - taxes. As a libertarian-leaning free-marketer, I see no problem with the idea that the prices of unhealthy foodstuffs ought to reflect their true costs to society. I'm fine with taxing the holy hell out of soda, cookies, doughnuts, chips, and whatever else is causing Americans' waistlines to bulge and their hearts to give out, the same way we do with tobacco and alcohol. I see no reason whatsoever why soda, for example, should be cheaper than bottled water. If the price of a two liter bottle were to go up fifty cents or even a dollar, it might discourage people from guzzling it as if it were water while not impeding their ability to pay for it as an occasional treat, and force people who do want to continue to drink it regularly to pay for the negative externalities that creates. The same is true of every other unhealthy food. If we decide that salt belongs in that category, I'll be happy to pay an extra $0.30 for my real French Onion soup rather than eat an alternative prepared without salt.

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