Arnold Schwarzenegger traded his Terminator outfit for a governor's suit seven years ago, but we all know he's been faking it this whole time. Schwarzenegger's newest mission? Terminate trans fat in the state of California.
The bill, which forces all restaurants in the state to use oils, margarine and shortening with less than half a gram of trans fat per serving, took effect on Jan. 1. The law will apply to baked goods at the same time next year, and the fine for disregarding the new regulations will be anywhere from $25 to $1,000.
As soon as I read about this bill, I thought about the initial mixed reactions when states first banned smoking in restaurants and public places. Many of the arguments for and against were similar - smoking is a lifestyle choice, if people want to smoke and suffer the negative health consequences they should not be stopped, we can't regulate how people treat their bodies.
The major reason why that legislation became so popular with those states (even North Carolina, the nation's primary producer of tobacco, banned smoking in restaurants this year) is because secondhand smoke actually does put non-smokers in danger. Last time I checked, being in the same room as an obese kid with a cheeseburger is totally safe and those previous arguments against the regulation are still valid.
Eating is a fundamental part of living, and choosing what to eat is a freedom and a privilege that the majority of Americans enjoy on a daily basis (I know, a Campus Auxiliary Services meal plan isn't my idea of a privilege, either, but it could be much worse). This new law in California is going to have almost no impact on the daily dietary decisions of individuals because when it comes down to it, people will eat what they want to eat.
Either they'll keep eating out at restaurants, where a chicken nugget is still unhealthy, trans fat or not, or they'll make their own, unregulated food at home, or they'll go to a vending machine and buy packaged foods that are completely exempt from the law.
Aside from the obvious unnecessary and unappreciated intrusion of the government into the personal lives of its citizens, there is nothing wrong with this law. The world will probably be better off with a little less trans fat. The problem is that it does absolutely nothing to actually promote health. Obese people are still going to be living the lifestyle that makes them obese and a burden (literally) on health care providers throughout the country. It is the people who are going to be robbed of their right to pursue happiness via the occasional Big Mac who will actually suffer.
Once one begins to think about the doors that this "lifestyle legislation" has opened, things get scary fast. Illegal birthday cakes? Nationwide "tofu Tuesdays"? Watching too much television is technically unhealthy, what if the government shut off your cable every hour? Uh oh, you've spent too much time on Facebook today. $500 fine!
If Schwarzenegger and his lean, mean California legislative posse actually want to make a difference, they should focus on the epic battle that is national health care reform. People will consider losing weight and leading an active life if they can see their work literally paying off with decreased health insurance costs. Serving food without the tastiness that is trans fat will accomplish nothing.