Should the Government Tell You What You Can’t Eat?

Paul Dean
Paul Dean
2011 30 Sep

I’m not sure I want my wife telling me what I can’t eat, let alone the government (though I do try to listen to my wife). Stories about government banning certain food items, particularly those with high fat content, are increasing. By way of example, not the latest, but perhaps the most prominent, occurred some time back in San Francisco. The Board of Supervisors declared the McDonald’s “Happy Meal” must have less than 600 calories, fewer than 640 milligrams of sodium, and less than 35% of calories from fat (unless the item that pushes the meal past the limit is deemed healthy -- like nuts). McDonald’s will be banned from giving away a toy if those standards are not met.

Is it right for the government to tell a restaurant what they can and cannot give away? Suppose it was your restaurant; how would you feel? We all know the concern is children who are obese. However, if the government is going to ban toy give aways or high fat content meals, why stop there? Why not ban inactivity in children or video games that promote such? Why not ban children from watching television or at least put time limits on their viewing? After all, we all know the government knows what’s best for our children, not us. Or at least the government thinks so.

Let’s inquire further. Don’t kids like the “Happy Meal” and the toys that come with them? Do they count? What if I or my kids like French Fries? How many people would rather eat nuts with their Big-Mac, or double cheese burger, or even their regular hamburger? Do we really want the government telling us we can’t eat more than 600 calories at lunch? If I eat two chocolate-chip cookies, I’m at the limit! Isn’t this really an encroachment on personal liberty? We really don’t want government intruding into our lives at this kind of micro-management level do we? Don’t we Americans have the right to pursue life, liberty, and happiness, even if what makes us happy is the Happy Meal? Who should determine what you should or should not eat or whether or not you should run a few miles after you eat? When we put things in these terms the answers to these queries seem pretty obvious.

But let’s think biblically; let’s come to the issue of worldview. Are we simply talking about opinion or can we answer the above questions in a way that has universal application? The truth of the matter is that God has an answer for us. He has created us and has determined how we should interact in civil society with one another; He has determined how we should be civil.

Government plays a role in protecting us from harming each other; people are prone to hurt other people by virtue of their sinful nature. We may defend ourselves from others or enlist help to do so. Government’s role of protecting us from one another, in one sense, is an extension of the principle of self-defense. In other words, Government is simply an agent of ours for self-defense. Government therefore establishes and executes laws that protect us from harming one another.

But, individuals have consciences when it comes to personal choices. We may choose to eat something healthy or unhealthy. It is not the role of government to violate our consciences and make those choices for us. I am the one who determines whether or not I should eat a cheese burger, not the government.

We Christians need to understand the government is force; it is power. We don’t want to give it more power than it should rightfully have. At the same time, the influence we Christians have on others is not by force but by winsome persuasion. God would not have us force Christ or Christianity on others nor would He have non-Christians forcing their views and standards on us. That’s why government is limited to a protective role; a role of protecting rights, not forcing others to conform to someone’s standard of what’s right, healthy, or wise, vs. what’s wrong, unhealthy, or unwise. God is interested in whether or not the government bans Happy Meals; He says it should not. His standard of what government should and should not do in contemporary civil society is universal.

Yet, the point for us is not merely to complain about what government is doing. The reality is that we who call ourselves Christians must understand the biblical role of government and propagate that truth as others are promoting their own views about government. In so doing, we not only want people to see government’s role clearly and therefore society benefited, but we also want people to see their ultimate need is Christ. We can’t talk about good government apart from Christ. At the same time, government will never be perfect or save us. Christ is and will. And, when more and more people get Christ, society and government can’t help but be transformed. More than that, we’ll also be able to freely serve and eat Happy Meals as well as know when to eat something a little more healthy (if we like). Should the government tell you what not to eat? No, God does that.


Dr. Paul Dean invites you to discover more about the role of Government, the role of the church, and the role of the market  . . . and develop a Christian worldview. Dr. Dean is a pastor, cultural commentator, and author. Please visit