I pride myself on not really being scared of much—snakes, heights, and zombies really don’t get to me… but the one “monster” that always manages to startle me is big government.
Unlike snakes, heights, and zombies, big government creeps into every aspect of your life under the guise of “helping you.” Call me old fashioned, but I like my monsters big and scary—not hiding behind so-called “good intentions.”
I was recently spooked when a Reason Magazine article called out an ordinance passed by the City of Berkeley to ban “junk food” from grocery store checkout aisles.
Nothing gives me the heebie-jeebies like the government mandating how a business markets to try to control OUR diets.
The article reads:
Last month, Berkeley, California, became the first city in the nation to ban so-called “junk food” from grocery checkout aisles. Food with more than 5 grams added sugar or 200 mg sodium will be banished from the checkout aisle. The ordinance takes effect next year, with enforcement set to phase in starting in 2022.
“Grocery stores larger than 2,500 square feet will no longer be allowed to sell unhealthy food and beverages at the checkout line, and instead will be encouraged to offer more nutritious food and drink,” the San Jose Mercury News reported. “Gone will be chips, candy bars, sodas and other sweetened beverages.”
Because you’ll only gain weight from buying candy from large stores? The article continues:
The ordinance was supported with the help of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit that’s long advocated for government intervention to restrict or alter people’s food choices.
“The Center for Science in the Public Interest has created a suggested list of products that meet the criteria of the ordinance,” the ordinance notes. Sure enough, CSPI says traditional checkout items—such as bubble gum, candy bars, Slim Jims—will yield to “fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, dairy, whole grains, and chewing gum and mints with no added sugars.” …
“Fresh, canned, or otherwise hermetically sealed dried fruits, vegetables, or legumes with no more than 5 grams added sugars,” the ordinance recommends.
The impetus for the ban appears to be a belief on the part of Berkeley lawmakers that parents are powerless over their 5-year-olds.
“Cheap, ready-to-eat foods high in salt, saturated fat, and added sugars dominate checkout aisles, where shoppers are more likely to make impulse purchases and where parents struggle with their children over demands to buy treats at the end of a shopping trip,” the ordinance itself declares.
“We’re not saying you can’t have these goods,” says Berkeley Councilmember Kate Harrison. “We’re just saying they’re not going to be right at the eye level of your children when they walk into the store and you’re waiting in that long line at check out.”
Yes, you read that correctly, Berkeley will be mandating that grocery stores replace the candy bars and gum at the checkout aisle with… fruit?
I think one of the most insulting parts of this mandate is the fine folks in the Berkeley City government are doing this to prevent kids from pressuring their parents to buy them junk food.
As if we are so defenseless against our toddlers that we can’t say no, and as if we don’t know our kids diets better than our local government.
Grocery stores put candy on the checkout aisle because it is an impulse buy—something adults purchase as a pick-me-up or to reward their kids with for behaving themselves throughout the shopping trip. (And that is their decision, not Berkeley’s.)
Fruit is not an impulse buy, and will not sell as well in the checkout aisle. Government officials don’t understand this, and will put the grocery stores and candy bar companies at a disadvantage by switching around the checkout aisle.
The government has no place in the voluntary transaction between businesses and their consumers. That is why I wrote The Tuttle Twins and the Food Truck Fiasco—to help kids understand why it is so damaging when the government interferes in the market.
We have seen time and again the “good intentions” of central planners fail miserably. People simply can’t—and shouldn’t—plan for others’ lives and try to mold their behavior through the force of government. Persuasion? Sure. But coercive mandates don’t lead to elevated human conduct.
Halloween is right around the corner, but the “monster” of big government will sadly stick around for a long time to come. Help me fight this monster by helping more kids understand sound economic principles with the Tuttle Twins!