Should sugar be regulated like alcohol? That’s the thought that Dr. Robert Lustig, a professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of California, proposes. His argument is that the metabolic effect of sugar, especially fructose, is similar enough to that of ethanol to warrant similar restrictions. However, the good doctor, though well meaning, is utterly wrong.
(NOTE: For the purposes of this argument, I will assume that the government has a right to tell us how we should eat. Whether it actually does is a completely different article, one that will be covered in the fall. Stay tuned!)
Consider the restrictions on alcohol. What’s the result of that? Have we succeeded in keeping alcoholic beverages out of the hands of those who are “not mature enough to use them?” I’m not even going to answer that question. Age restrictions can be, have been and always will be circumvented by people with fake I.D.s or older friends. You don’t even have to be particularly clever.
Lustig proposes a similar restriction on sweetened products. To buy ice cream, soda, Oreos, whatever, you would need to show an I.D. proving that you were of appropriate age—he suggests at least 17. According to his argument, this would keep sugary junk food out of the hands of those who were underage. The intention is good, but let’s not pretend it would be effective.
That idea’s not even worth taking seriously. So, let’s look at some of his other ideas. Lustig also proposes zoning ordinances to keep fast food restaurants and convenience stores out of low-income neighborhoods and away from schools. This will incentivize grocery stores and farmer’s markets to move into those areas, and will in absolutely no way cause people to simply spend more money on gas to go to McDonald’s or Dunkin’ Donuts. Right?
Lustig’s third proposal is that the government imposes a tax on sugary beverages and cereal. I’ll admit this might have some merit, as it could possibly dissuade people from buying such things. But you want to know a better solution? Abolish the corn and sugarcane subsidies that the government hands out. That money isn’t going to small farmers growing crops on the same plot of land that their families have owned for generations; it’s being funneled to massive agribusinesses making sinful amounts of profit. They don’t need that money.
Yes, this would make the processed sugar on which the American diet is based more expensive. I don’t have a problem with this. People shouldn’t be eating that stuff anyway. Americans eat, on average, 150 pounds of sugar a year (and I eat a lot less than that, so at least one person is scoffing about 290 pounds). Do I think sugar consumption should be regulated? No. But that doesn’t mean that I’m unaware that the consequences of it are far from sweet.