If there's agreement about anything in our hotly-politicized environment today it is that while we work to find sensible and principled solutions to real-world problems, we also need to do a better job coming to consensuses.
But when it comes to addressing obesity, the most prominent public health activists are intent at making it into a war, rather than a solvable problem.
Consider their reaction to Coca-Cola's latest commercial which discusses the challenges of obesity.
Sure, the commercial strives to put the company in the best possible light; I'd expect nothing else. But having watched the commercial several times, I can't put my finger on any justifiable reason the activists are so up in arms. The actual language of the ad is scientifically accurate and encourages healthy dialogue. It points out that obesity is caused by consuming more calories than we burn, and that calories come from many sources, including Coca-Cola. It also touts the company's no and low-calorie options, its continued support for programs that promote active lifestyles, and its efforts to make sure consumers know how many calories are in each product.
Yet groups claiming to speak on behalf of public health are up in arms about the ad. Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest told Reuters that if the company was serious about wanting to help fight obesity, it shouldn't even advertise full-calorie drinks. "They're trying to pretend they're part of the solution, instead of part of the problem, said Jacobson.
To those like Jacobson, food and soda companies can't be part of the solution because they shouldn't be in the business of promoting and selling food and beverages with calories in the first place. He should at least be more transparent. It isn't the advertising of soda he objects to, its the very manufacture and consumption of it that food police oppose.
But it doesn't end there. Food police groups are saying that Michelle Obama, of all people, is guilty by association. After all, President Obama invited Beyoncé to sing the national anthem at his inauguration. This is a sin because the superstar is appearing in Pepsi commercials and singing in the Pepsi-sponsored Superbowl halftime show.
In the Huffington Post, environmental activist Laurie David scolds the first lady for presumably not discussing the Pepsi sponsorship with Beyoncé.
Mark Bittman, food writer for The New York Times, goes offensively further. Just weeks after the Newtown tragedy, he invoked gun violence by writing that"Beyoncé Knowles would presumably refuse to take part in an ad campaign that showed her carrying a semiautomatic rifle." But she was, in Bittman's view, not "politically" aware enough to eschew a Pepsi deal, even though she and "her husband Jay-Z raised money for President Obama and supported Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" campaign." As if being a spokeswoman for Pepsi and supporting the Obamas are somehow inconsistent.
It seems like only yesterday that the Bittmans of the world were using the outrageous and inapt comparison that food and drinks are the new tobacco.
Those were the good-old days. Now, in their distorted and militant view, a can of Coke is the new AR-15. How far we've come down that slippery slope.
For those following the food wars, this should come as no surprise. When a movement is out of productive and persuasive ideas, it resorts to highly charged language and emotional arguments at the expense of reasoned dialogue. This is no way to solve problems.
Perhaps competing for opportunities to be quoted, activists seek to one-up each other with more and more inflammatory language. Food and soda companies are at all times the villain, while people, adults and children alike, are mindless zombies unable to withstand the lure of a Super Bowl halftime show.
If public health groups truly seek to help Americans deal with obesity, they should seek higher ground and abandon the attacks. Instead, they should take a seat at the table with anyone willing to have a constructive dialogue, with the focus on helping people, rather than on battering companies.
Jeff Stier is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.