Diary

Berkeley Bans Unhealthy Foods from Grocery Store Checkout Lines

FILE - In this Friday, Nov. 16, 2013, file photo, Twinkies baked goods are displayed for sale at the Hostess Brands' bakery in Denver. The Fresh Market, a grocery store chain, has agreed to be acquired by private equity firm Apollo for more than $1.3 billion. Fresh Market, based in Greensboro, N.C., has nearly 190 stores around the country. Apollo's holdings include Twinkie maker Hostess and the Chuck E. Cheese restaurants. Apollo is based in New York. The deal is expected to close in the second quarter of 2016. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File)

Last week, Berkeley, California became the first city to ever ban unhealthy food items from the checkout lines in grocery stores. The “Healthy Checkout Ordinance,” which passed unanimously, is yet just another example of Berkeley’s City Council projecting their will upon the public.

One might think this is a small issue in the grand scheme of things, to give up the snack aisle at the check-out, but the problem with an overreaching government is that there are very few forces on earth to stop the encroachment once it has begun. If you give them an inch they assuredly will take a mile.

These types of rules are rarely rolled back, and if they are, it is immensely difficult to do so. It is just another law on the books now, yet it has become a slippery slope of government overreach on the freedoms we hold dear. The government has shown how vastly unsuccessful they are at central planning, yet they still continue to implement policies that remove personal responsibility from the individual’s daily life.

The bedrock American principle of individual liberty, what most Americans believe to be the ability for us to make choices for ourselves, is something the Berkeley City Council seemingly doesn’t understand.

If an American wants to buy a candy bar while waiting in a long checkout line, that is his or her choice. It is not the City Council’s job to create a nanny state that tries to social engineer and steer the population into making what they consider “good choices.”

And, as history shows, when arbitrary rules are enacted, it is almost inevitable they will birth even more draconian measures. When does it stop? Why not just eliminate all junk food?

Moreover, Berkeley has much bigger problems on its hands than residents being able to buy junk food while waiting in line to purchase groceries.

Perhaps the City Council should focus on the homelessness problem it has helped foster. Or maybe it should put its energy toward cleaning up the filth that litters its downtown. Berkeley similarly has problems with crime and drug abuse, which are just but a few challenges among a long list of pressing problems than the availability of a chocolate bar in a grocery store checkout line.

With the passage of this ordinance, the government is asserting they know what is best for the people. Reality check: The government is not in the best place to be picking and choosing what is best for us. The government is good at two things: collecting taxes and distributing checks, yet our federal government is sitting on $26 trillion in debt, and that number is ever growing. Instead of tackling issues of importance like debt, or homelessness, the government simply chose to spend time on restricting access to “junk food.”

Why doesn’t government focus on instituting laws to not spend more than the tax revenues brought in? What we have discovered is that a law on spending would enforce good behavioral economics and facilitate better public policy initiatives. Or maybe the city could spend time and effort addressing the local homeless population. As a city of 120,000 people, they actually have the highest per capita rate of homelessness in the Bay Area.

Ultimately, why doesn’t the Berkeley City Council just dictate to grocery stores what they can and cannot put on their shelves? Isn’t that the next logical step in this illogical process?

In places like Berkeley, government is removing the need for personal responsibility at every turn. It seems to this young observer that the City Council does not believe that “We the People” have enough self-control, or the intelligence, to make decisions for ourselves regarding the purchase of a candy bar. Although it seems like an insignificant decision, it is our right. And if the City Council thinks it is their job to control grocery store checkout shelves, what else might they want to control in the future?

For years, Americans have been coddled in far too many areas of our lives. This is dangerous because it creates a passive population that is unwilling to stand up when their rights are under threat.

It is not the role of any government to micromanage one’s dietary decisions. On the contrary, the primary role of government is to protect individual liberty. As small and inconsequential as this law may be, it is emblematic of a larger issue. It isn’t about a candy bar anymore, it is bigger than a bag of M&Ms!

Instead of addressing the major problems that plague its town, the City Council seems more concerned with waging war on Willy Wonka.

From economic to humanitarian issues, there is no shortage of real injustices that our governments could focus efforts on that would benefit the public safety and health of the community as a whole. My recommendation to the Berkeley City Council would be to worry less about our sweet tooths and more about a crumbling infrastructure, homelessness, and their own overspending. There are bigger and better fish to fry and hopefully the locals take notice come election time.

Christina Herrin ([email protected]) is the Government Relations Manager of Health Policy at The Heartland Institute, a non-partisan, free-market think tank headquartered in Arlington Heights, Illinois.