No passing the buck for unchecked expansion

Over the last quarter-century, the United States has continually been developing a worldwide reputation as an overly litigious society. When it comes to suing tobacco companies for our smoking habits, suing car companies for their products not being able to withstand an 80-mph drunk driving collision, or suing Hostess for putting too much sugar into their Twinkies and sending someone off on a homicidal rampage, Americans have established themselves as the ultimate masters of the frivolous class-action lawsuit. Now that hitting up the tobacco companies for huge amounts of dough has become pass퀌�, the newest trend is to go after the fast-food industry for our inability to stop shoving fat-soaked food into our faces. However, Congress is now stepping into the fray to prevent this newest group-settlement bonanza from becoming overly popular.

A so-called “Cheeseburger Bill” has just been introduced on Capitol Hill in an effort to make a pre-emptive strike on a number of lawsuits currently in the hopper over the health practices of McDonalds, Burger King, et al. Lawmakers are hoping to forestall a repeat of the billion-dollar suits against tobacco companies for misleading the good citizens of this country into believing that smoking Marlboros would turn them all into rugged chick-magnet cowboys. This proposed legislation would negate the possibility of people bringing suits against the fast-food industry for their own obesity.

Critics claim the bill is a stopgap measure to mitigate the recent uproar over the fattening of mainstream America. They believe it provides an unfair safe haven for an industry that has already seen more than its fair share of kickbacks from the Washington gravy train. Rather than attacking the problem at its source, this legislation expects individuals to shoulder full responsibility for being swept along with a seemingly unavoidable cultural norm.

Chronic obesity has always been an ugly side product of life in this country, but only recently has it become the 800-pound gorilla in our collective living room that nobody can avoid looking at. The sea of blubber that can be witnessed in any middle-school classroom has finally caught the public’s eye as something that should be counteracted by public awareness campaigns and, possibly, draconian legislation. People are finally paying attention to something that should have been a source of national embarrassment long before now. The “Ugly American” stereotype perpetuated across the globe is not merely a result of our invasive foreign policy. We are seen as a society that consumes way more than it needs at a time when so many are going without. The overwhelming image of the United States abroad is that of a provider of Royales with Cheese to countries that have upheld much higher nutritional standards for centuries previously. A scapegoat has to be found, and most of the time they choose to point the finger at U.S. culture as a whole.

But who truly is to blame? Is this quasi-edible crap being shoved down our throats against our will? Or are their other forces at work? The fact that someone’s stressful lifestyle drives them to drink eight cups of coffee or eat five cheeseburgers or smoke a pack of cigarettes a day may partly be due to the easy availability of those products, but it is still the individual who bears ultimate responsibility for using them as a crutch.

It can be hard to avoid the fast-fat trap. At my current job, the only food source available while still staying within the limits of our mid-shift ten-minute break is the McDonald’s around the corner on Sixth and Harrison, unless you want to order in advance from the much more expensive “slow-food” residents in the Ondine/Student Health Center area. Hard to justify on a starving-student budget. So down the hatch goes another McPigeon sandwich. But of course it’s not the government’s duty to mandate a fresh produce stand on every corner. The existence of the Artery-Clogger Express is only a reflection of public demand. Nobody makes time to slap two slices of bread and a slab of meat together on their own time, so they willingly rely on the services of the nearest fast-food restaurant. The fact that these places are so prevalent is merely an example of capitalism at work.

This is an extreme rarity, but I find myself falling on the side of big business on this particular issue. Anybody with six or more functioning brain cells already knows that their products aren’t the most ideal route to a long life and a slim figure. People seeking to get some money out of an outside source for their own inability not to turn into a gelatinous blob should be stopped before they can worm their way into the judicial system.