Try it. Who knows, you may even like it.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Should French fries be banned or rationed?

By Dick Hirsch

Obesity gets an enormous helping of news coverage these days and many of the stories about the consequences are so frightening you’d think people would be losing their appetites from coast to coast. But that hasn’t happened so far and experience has shown it’s unlikely to happen in the near future.

Not too many years ago obesity rarely merited a mention in the papers and magazines. It was a virtually verboten topic and, as for media interest, obesity ranked somewhere between halitosis and leprosy. People were seldom described as obese; they were a little overweight or stout, husky, paunchy or corpulent. But now, an entire industry has grown up around obesity. Many persons who claim a degree of expertise on the subject---physicians, authors, publishers, dietitians, psychologists and others---have reaped substantial financial rewards by offering advice. Some might say they’ve grown fat by marketing ways for people to lose weight.

With the cooperation of a willing prospect, some of the advice has proven valuable, but that cooperation is not easy to obtain. I have been wondering whether restrictive legislation may provide a better answer. I hate to see the government become involved in such a personal matter, yet if the consequences of obesity are as threatening as they are portrayed, it may be worth a try.

In my view, it is time to restrict the sale and consumption of French fries.

Yes, I realize that would be a bold policy, one that critics would be quick to describe as an infringement on the civil rights of people with appetites large and small. There would be strong opposition from what is obviously a sizable constituency of obese persons, some of whom apparently don’t mind being the way they are. It might be a policy offensive to many, yet it could result in improving the health of Americans.

Statistics from the World Health Organization report that 31 percent of Americans qualify as obese. That figure seems portly to me, but I suppose obesity is a difficult term to quantify; often it’s in the eye of the beholder. For comparison, in France, where eating is revered as a national pastime, the number of those who are officially categorized as obese is only around 8 percent.

I’ll leave it to the bureaucrats to formulate the details of the program and its specific restrictions. Rather than any broad-ranging effort to abolish French fries, perhaps they could develop a policy that might involve the issuance of ration cards. Skinny individuals would be issued a less restrictive card while pudgy persons would either get no card at all, or else a card that permitted the annual purchase and intake of a very limited amount of French fries.

Why do I select French fries? Because they are such an attractive---although formidable---target, being so delectable, so seductive, so universally appealing. There are countless other high calorie consumables, but none as entrenched and abundant as French fries. Yet for all their popularity, there is an evil side to their nature.

Purveyors of fries in the US stress quantity, serving portions that are excessive. Things are different in France. I once ordered French fries in Paris, where they are called pomme frites, and where they supposedly originated in the mid-19th century. When the order arrived it was surprising; the potatoes had been surgically reduced to elegant small cuttings and the portion was unexpectedly small. They were delicious.

In contrast, just a few years ago we paid an initial visit to a small bar and restaurant, ordered sandwiches, and I asked for single order of French fries to share with my wife, Lynn. What arrived was a heaping allotment of crispy fries on a platter large enough to accommodate a Thanksgiving turkey. It was supposedly a single order, but the two of us could not finish the fries. I’m ashamed to admit that I recommended the place to friends, and, on a subsequent visit I watched, astonished, as a friend ate the whole serving. It was far more than any one person should eat, but he ate every last fry, not because he was hungry, but because they were there. Many persons follow that plan and eat whatever is available. If society could only clamp some controls on the manufacture and issuance of French fries, it would be a major step toward reducing obesity.

I’m aware that French fries have a powerful lobby supporting their marketing efforts, even stronger than chicken wings. And, yes, once again I missed the wing festival, Buffalo’s annual tribute to gluttony.


Post a Comment

<< Home