Should you have to qualify for the bathing suit competition to get served at your favorite restaurant? Obviously not! Imagine walking into a restaurant and having to step on a scale before being seated and served. Imagine how you'd feel in front of your date if you were denied service at the door of the local bistro.
If I told you that a café refused to serve a pregnant woman or African-American, it would be a no-brainer discrimination suit. But what about if a restaurant refused business because of your waist size? You probably wouldn't believe me, however, some state lawmakers in Mississippi say otherwise. The latest proposal in the battle of the bulge seeks to discriminate against obese customers by prohibiting restaurants from serving them.
Three Mississippi legislators proposed a bill that would force those in the Magnolia State to back away from the buffet table. House bill 282 would prohibit restaurants from serving food to obese customers by "trying to shed a little light on the No. 1 problem in Mississippi." The state has the highest obesity rate in the U.S. State Representative John Read, an author of the bill, said that he wasn't trying to offend anyone and never even expected his plan to become a law. Then what was the point of this proposal?
I don't know about you, but I am picturing people secretly smuggling Zagat-rated deli food to their heavier friends, significant others and family members. Right now, I am sure that some of you must be running to the calendar to see if it is April Fools' Day. Perhaps you thought this was a story from The Onion? This may sound humorous, but I assure you this isn't a spoof!
Proponents say they're just trying to "call attention to the problem," but others aren't buying the argument. "[The bill's] dead on arrival at my desk," said the state House Public Health and Human Services Committee chairman. "It is too oppressive for the government to require a restaurant owner to police another human being from their own indiscretions."
If this law were to be passed, it could lead to a dangerous slippery slope. Where would we draw the line to ensure civil liberties and prevent discrimination? The bill has no specifics about how obesity would be defined, or how restaurants are even supposed to determine if a potential customer is considered obese.
"This brings bias against obese individuals to a new and appalling level, and at a time when significant progress is being made in the effort to stop blaming obesity on the people who have it and to address the social and political conditions that drive it," said Kelly Brownell, director of Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity.
This proposed "segregation" bill only masks the real problem — that several restaurants serve unhealthy food. Instead, Mississippi should try to introduce a bill that encourages restaurants to serve more nutritious meals — cutting out trans fats, providing more reasonable portions, reducing the costs of healthier foods and trading a side of french fries for broccoli. As a follow up from a recent "Lis on Law" article, "Menus on a Mission ," other states could benefit from following the Big Apple's bright idea to force restaurants to place the calories on menus and menu boards as well as banning trans fats. Maybe the politicians were inspired, or rather misguided, by the legislation in NY. However, I think they need to wake up and smell the garlic bread!
Perhaps it's restaurants and not waistlines that should be under scrutiny. This tasteless proposal won't have any positive effects on the obesity problem in Mississippi. This embarrassing legislation isn't going to cure obesity, however, support, encouragement and education may. When heading your favorite eatery, are we looking for a place to dine with family and friends or a spot in the local beauty pageant? This form of discrimination may just take the cake (with a cherry on top) for the most insane obesity-fighting legislation of all time.
• ClarionLedger.com: Some Say Obese Bill Has Fat Chance
• The Smoking Gun: Mississippi Pols Seek To Ban Fats
• Msnbc.com: Sorry, you’re too fat to eat here
• AOL News: Bill to Ban Serving Obese Sparks Furor
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Lis Wiehl joined FOX News Channel as a legal analyst in October 2001. To read the rest of Lis's bio, click here.