Jewish World Review Sept. 3, 2002 / 15 Elul 5762

Clarence Page

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Consumer Reports

Make better choices before some jury somewhere does | At last, a lawsuit for the rest of us.

If you're one of those unfortunate Americans who's never been part of a class-action lawsuit against somebody with a lot of money, maybe this one is for you.

About a half-dozen class-action suits have been filed by overweight people in various states against the fast-food industry.

Each claims that the industry lured the hefty plaintiffs into obesity by pushing food that was loaded with salt, sugar, starch, saturated fat, cholesterol and other tasty stuff that's not so good for you when consumed in mass quantities.

The plaintiffs could not help themselves, the suits contend. The industry made them do themselves wrong.

People used to say, "The devil made me do it" when they did something they knew they should avoid, but I guess you can't sue Satan.

What's with these folks? Old-fashioned common sense tells me that they don't need a lawyer. They need some will power.

They need to try a physical fitness exercise that my father taught me. "Push yourself away from the table," he would say.

Dad lived to age 87. Not bad. He didn't smoke, either. For several decades, he rode a bicycle to work every day. Had he been born later, he might have taken the bus to work and sued the transportation company for his flabby hips.

Self-control and other forms of personal responsibility have fallen out of vogue in today's litigious age, as long as we have someone else to blame for our own bad habits.

Lawsuits against cigarette companies would open floodgates on frivolous lawsuits, the doomsayers warned, and some plaintiff lawyers are determined to prove them out. About half-a-dozen lawsuits have been filed against the fast-food industry in various states and more are in the planning stages.

One company, for example, is alleged to have given incorrect disclosure information of the fat and calorie content of its diet ice cream -- as if diet ice cream was not an oxymoron in itself, like "jumbo shrimp."

Some Hindus, Sikhs, Jews and vegetarians sued McDonald's for using animal fat in its French fries after allegedly saying it was vegetable oil. They settled out of court for $12 million, including $2.5 million in legal fees.

I don't necessarily fault these folks. If they were told one thing and sold another, as their suit claims, they were misled, pure and simple. As McDonald's slogan says, they deserve a break today.

But, truth in advertising may not be enough to save you, Mr. or Ms. Food Seller. New research may make it easier for clever lawyers to portray fast food as a tobacco-like danger.

For example, the U.S. surgeon general has declared obesity to be rapidly surpassing tobacco as America's number-one killer. His sensible remedy: Eat less and exercise more. But, ah, that would require personal responsibility, wouldn't it?

Major fast-food chains already make nutrition information available on demand to anybody who wants it. The bigger question is, who wants it?

McDonald's offers salads, for examples, but they don't fly out of their coolers nearly as briskly as the cheeseburgers fly off the grill. Whose fault is that? Are the consumers not voting with their appetites?

Memo to prospective jurors: Fight the impulse to kick a few dollars the way of sorrowful but, alas, weak-willed plaintiffs. The economical burgers and fries that you save may be your own.

And the fast-food industry may be asking for trouble, not with what they sell but with the way they sell it. The problem is contained in three words: "Super-size it."

That's the beckoning call of fast-food chains looking to get a competitive edge with the impression that they're giving you more for your money. Yes, they're giving you more sugar, fat, etc.

You can hardly buy a small popcorn or soft drink at the local Cineplex without the kid behind the counter informing you, "For only 50 cents more, you can get the jumbo size."

And, what's up with the "Big Gulp" at the local convenience store? Drinks should be human scale, in my view. Yet, there is a market for such bucket-sized drinks, whether I approve or not.

The best solution is for people to make better choices, before some jury somewhere decides to make it for them.

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08/20/02: Bid farewell to the Cigarette Century
08/16/02: Rights matter, even in circus trials
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08/01/02: Powell's premature obituaries
07/30/02: A common sense tip on internal snooping
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06/28/02: 'Supreme Court reads polls, too
06/25/02: 'The Body' bites, then bows out
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06/04/02: Fix FBI's culture gap first
05/28/02: Fidel's new apartheid for tourists
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05/19/02: A paradox of historical proportions
05/14/02: 'Murphy Brown' revisited in age of Ozzy
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03/12/02: Army race and gender policies on trial
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02/08/02: $nookering the reparations crowd
01/31/02: Prisoners of a War of Words
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01/25/02: Searching for slaves in bin Laden's attic
01/22/02: Andrew Young's newest 'friend'
01/08/02: Hard-earned lessons from 9-11
12/18/01: Whatever happened to questions about the birds and the bees?
12/14/01: The "White Negro" Taliban?
12/07/01: Jackson's turn to gloat
11/27/01: Friendly warning from a lover of liberty
11/21/01: The face of hunger is changing
11/15/01: Our troubled sense of trust
11/08/01: Lessons about terror from the 'hood
11/06/01: Getting used to the 'new normal'
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10/30/01: It's not just about bin Laden
10/26/01: More than mail fell between the cracks
10/23/01: Terrorists threaten urban recovery, too
10/18/01: Sometimes, assassination warranted
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10/05/01: Look who's 'profiling' now
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09/28/01: Life, love and cell phones during wartime
09/24/01: How to catch an elusive terrorist
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09/13/01: Terror attack tests US, let's give right response
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09/04/01: Columbine killer's parents get upclose and personal
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08/28/01: Two Africans, one black, one white, same fight
08/23/01: Sharpton for president
08/20/01: Shaking up the rules on keeping secrets
08/16/01: Bush's u-turn on racial goals
08/09/01: Outsider Bubba comes 'in' again
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06/19/01: Get 'real' about marriage
06/12/01: Amos, Andy and Tony Soprano
06/07/01: Getting tough with the Bush Twins
06/05/01: Bringing marriage back into fashion
05/31/01: "Ken" and "Johnnie": The odd-couple legal team
05/24/01: Sharpton's challenge to Jackson
05/22/01: Test scores equal (a) MERIT? (b) MENACE? (c) ALL OF ABOVE?
05/17/01: Anti-pot politics squeeze the ill
05/15/01: Was Babe Ruth black?
05/10/01: U.N.'s torture caucus slaps Uncle Sam
05/08/01: 'The Sopranos' a reflection of our times
05/03/01: 'Free-fire' zones, then and now
05/01/01: War on drugs misfires against students
04/26/01: Another athlete gets foot-in-mouth disease
04/23/01: 'Slave' boat mystery reveals real tragedy
04/19/01: McVeigh's execution show
04/12/01: Not this time, Jesse
04/05/01: Dubya is DEFINITELY his own man, you fools!
04/02/01: Milking MLK
03/29/01: The candidate who censored himself?
03/22/01: "Will Hispanics elbow blacks out of the way as the nation's most prominent minority group?"
03/19/01: Blacks and the SATs
03/15/01: The census: How much race still matters in the everyday life of America
03/12/01: Jesse is a victim!
03/08/01: Saving kids from becoming killers
03/01/01: Parents owe "Puffy" and Eminem our thanks

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