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Chile’s Busybody Politicos Say You’re Too Dumb to Feed Yourself

By: Malgorzata Lange - @MalgoLange - Jul 14, 2015, 4:12 pm

EspañolThe Chilean government aims to tackle the country’s obesity problem with food labeling regulations. A law passed in 2012 has recently gone into effect and will force producers to include a message on packaging labels warning consumers about products high in salt, sugar, and fat.

According to Chilean authorities, the people living in a society with record-high obesity levels must not realize what they are eating and do not understand traditional labels.

In yet another case of biopolitics, the government has relieved us of the burden of deciding what is in our own best interests when it comes to our bodies.

To promote healthy habits among the public is, in principle, a commendable goal. However, this and other similar measures give the state the power to define and exercise control over an individual citizen’s body and biological capabilities.

We have allowed the state to determine the boundaries between sick and healthy, normal and abnormal; between what is biologically good, correct, and desirable, versus bad, deviant, and indecent.

The state authoritatively violates the autonomy of the individual, who by definition has the ability to understand and define what he wants. In the words of John Stuart Mill: “Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.”

State health policies, “vaccine coercion,” forcing CNS stimulants on hyperactive children, healthy lifestyle campaigns, aggressive labeling on cigarette packs, and now the same for food packaging; all are initiatives from a nanny state that ignores the reality of people’s lives.

There are two main points of view on the reality behind junk food in Chile. This is a country with a huge gap in income levels and standards of living among the public. Junk food, which is highly processed, high in sugar, sodium, and fat, high in preservatives, and low in nutrients, is generally much more affordable and accessible than healthy products.

Healthy eating practices are therefore an investment for those who can afford it. Fresh vegetables and fruit “lose” against a box of cookies that quickly delivers an important caloric intake at a lower price.

The other view has to do with parents that have the means to provide healthier good choices to their children, but choose not to based on convenience. These parents could choose products that are low in calories and less processed, but instead go with ready-made foods, prepackaged and quick, straight from supermarket shelves to the dinner table or school bag.

Parents are able to save time by not spending hours in the kitchen, and avoid the tedious task of teaching their children about the nutritional value of food. These parents understand the traditional labeling system and could opt for healthier choices, but still choose junk food based on other variables.

Nevertheless, these sorts of government initiatives reveal an unbearable contradiction in the bloated nanny state. While the government is supposedly concerned with the health and well-being of the public, it does nothing to get to the root of the problem, since it is not necessarily in their best interest to provide a healthy lifestyle for all.

Chile’s government will not take the initiative to promote and protect green areas in the city; it doesn’t build parks or recreational areas, nor promote outdoor activities. Meanwhile, it does nothing to prevent the monopolization of drugstores, and has authorized the conversion of the last green space for pedestrians in Santiago into a grotesque shopping mall and office complex.

I firmly believe that our bodies are our temples. Within these temples, the individual is the sole governor, according to his own decision-making ability, and without the interference of any political power.

This means the state should not define what is or isn’t good for you. Instead, it should contribute to safeguarding fair conditions for a more diverse set of options, so people can exercise their right to think and act for themselves.

However, the nanny state will always cater to certain interests and allies. It wants to grow and arbitrarily manage its citizens whenever it’s convenient. By limiting the public’s options and inhibiting the exercise of free will, people will become passive over time. The paternalist state belittles people, thinking it sufficient to manipulate them into compliance with countless nudges of signs, patterns, and colors.

Translated by Vanessa Arita.

Malgorzata Lange Malgorzata Lange

Malgorzata Lange is a native of Poland who lives in Santiago de Chile. She holds degrees in political science and international Relations, and is a PhD candidate at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile. She is also a radio panelist on international politics issues. Follow @MalgoLange.