Why no freakout over sugar reduction recommendations?

The US government has proposed new standards for school meals that seek to reduce the amount of sugar (and salt) in them.

U.S. agriculture officials on Friday proposed new nutrition standards for school meals, including the first limits on added sugars, with a focus on sweetened foods such as cereals, yogurt, flavored milk and breakfast pastries.

The plan announced by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack also seeks to significantly decrease sodium in the meals served to the nation’s schoolkids by 2029, while making the rules for foods made with whole grains more flexible.

The goal is to improve nutrition and align with U.S. dietary guidelines in the program that serves breakfast to more than 15 million children and lunch to nearly 30 million children every day, Vilsack said.

“School meals happen to be the meals with the highest nutritional value of any meal that children can get outside the home,” Vilsack said in an interview.

I am bracing myself for the right wing freakout along the lines “OMG! The government is coming to take candy away from our children!” although that is not at all what is being proposed. I am surprised that it has not happened already.

Right wing freakouts over government attempts to recommend better public health measures have become routine. One recent example is the reaction to the suggestion that maybe gas stoves should be phased out in favor of electric ones because gas stoves emit nitrogen oxides and sulphur dioxide that can contribute to breathing problems, especially for people with asthma.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is investigating whether gas stoves need tighter regulations to protect human health. One commissioner even left open the possibility of banning sales of new gas stoves.

This week, the Department of Energy (DOE) proposed rules that would require all stoves to be more energy efficient. If approved, more than half the gas cooktop market today wouldn’t qualify under the new requirements, according to the DOE. The proposed regulations would take effect for sales of new stoves in 2027.

This has caused a freakout on the right with them dialing it up to 11 about this being government tyranny, as if jackbooted thugs are going to break into people’s homes and rip out their gas stoves. There are apparently some advantages to cooking with gas over electric (I would not know because I am by no means a great cook and my own electric stove suits me just fine) but the question is whether those taste benefits outweigh the health risks.

It turns out that gas stove makers knew about these problems of pollution emissions about four decades ago and developed stoves that addressed this issue but they were never put on the market,

Four decades ago, the gas industry and appliance manufacturers developed a partial solution for this problem. They created a cleaner and more efficient burner. But you can’t buy ranges with those burners because the industry never manufactured those appliances for sale.

Appliance manufacturers and gas industry allies say there are reasons for that: these burners cost more, are less durable, harder to clean, and they didn’t see consumer demand for them.

Instead of the iconic blue flame that you normally see at a gas stove, the infrared burner had “a flat ceramic plate… honeycombed with window-screen-like perforations,” according to the article. Air and fuel burned as they were sent across the plate and ignited bright red in a way that makes the flame itself difficult to see.

This infrared burner consumed about 40% less natural gas to reach cooking temperatures and emitted 40% less nitrogen oxides. The Science News article said designers touted another benefit of the infrared burner: a kitchen stays cooler because more energy goes into the cooking vessel instead of the room.

There have always been people in the US that tended to view public health measures as devious plots by scientists and the government to destroy them. In 1963 Richard Hofstadter wrote an influential essay about the paranoid style in 1963. Recall the resistance to the fluoridation of public water supplies that began in the 1940s.

Opposition to fluoridation has existed since its initiation in the 1940s. During the 1950s and 1960s, conspiracy theorists claimed that fluoridation was a communist plot to undermine American public health. In recent years, water fluoridation has become a prevalent health and political issue in many countries, resulting in some countries and communities discontinuing its use while others have expanded it. The controversy is propelled by a significant public opposition supported by a minority of professionals, which include researchers, dental and medical professionals, alternative medical practitioners, health food enthusiasts, a few religious groups (mostly Christian Scientists in the U.S.), and occasionally consumer groups and environmentalists. Organized political opposition has come from libertarians, the John Birch Society, and from groups like the Green parties in the UK and New Zealand.

While the merits of fluoridation can be debated and continuing research into its value should not be controversial, it is the idea that it is part of some Communist plot is where it becomes one of the symptoms of the paranoid style in American politics.

While the paranoid style dates back centuries, it seems to have kicked into high gear during the pandemic, when dark conspiracy theories were circulated about vaccines and there was passionate resistance, including threats of violence, to even innocuous mitigation measures such as wearing masks. This has led to an anti-science mindset in some quarters and the resistance has expanded to encompass any measure that would limit the choices that people can make, even if some of those choices adversely affect people’s health.

UPDATE: And we’re off! New York Republican congresswoman Elise Stefanik is proposing a new federal law that would require schools to provide chocolate milk to all children. While not directly demanding increased sugar, chocolate milk has added sugar so it is an indirect call.


  1. consciousness razor says

    This has caused a freakout on the right with them dialing it up to 11 about this being government tyranny, as if jackbooted thugs are going to break into people’s homes and rip out their gas stoves.

    I was told about it by someone who thought they heard on the evening news that they had decided to ban gas stoves — just plain banned, whatever that might look like. A simple idea, but incorrect.

    It was the first I had heard of it, so pretty much all I could do was seem a bit surprised but just go along with it in the conversation. I’m sort of used to people telling me half fiction and half nonfiction stories, and it’s barely worth it sometimes to try to clear that up in the middle of things.

    Anyway, I don’t think it’s helpful to act like these things are just “a freakout on the right,” at least not all of the time. Certainly, some people are super paranoid by disposition or because they’ve been brainwashed into it, but I think a lot more are just extremely bad at listening, which does enough damage all by itself. It’s nearly the same thing as reading comprehension failures, but I bet it’s a much more common problem, since people don’t need to rely on reading in most everyday situations and may try to avoid it as much as they can because of their problems with that. Maybe that’s a useful approach to take a lot of the time. It just doesn’t mean you actually resolved the communication fail issue, even if that’s what you thought you were doing.

    The thing is, people only really have what they think they heard, and they tend to believe what they’re told if it’s a “reputable” source like some asshat on TV who has all the trappings of an actual journalist. Also, they will barely ever spend any time or do any work to see whether they got the story right (or whether it was lie, etc.). That’s not at all confined to the extreme right or what have you — this applies to most human beings.

    And if there were a way for them to be even less rigorous in the way they handle and process factual information, I get the feeling that a lot of people would love to hear all about it so they can try it out for themselves. As long as it doesn’t cost them anything or they can make you pay for it, that’s exactly what they want.

  2. steve oberski says

    Obligatory Dr. Strangeglove quote

    “It’s incredibly obvious, isn’t it? A foreign substance is introduced into our precious bodily fluids, without the knowledge of the individual, certainly without any choice. That’s the way your hard-core Commie works.”

    Sterling Hayden -- Brig. Gen. Jack D. Ripper

  3. sonofrojblake says

    There are apparently some advantages to cooking with gas over electric

    1. You can use any kind of pan.
    2. Er…
    3. That’s it, I think.

    I was a stauch gas stove user. They’re lovely and controllable, giving full heat immediately and over a wide range more or less instantly. They’re a pig to clean, of course, but that’s OK, it’s a slightly satisfying job making it gleam when you’re done. And resistive coil electric hobs are SHIT.

    We just had our kitchen replaced. I got an induction hob. I’m now evangelical about them. They’ve the instant and controllable features of gas, but I can clean the entire hob in about 30 seconds. The disadvantage is I had to give my old pans to a charity shop and buy a new set. And that’s the extent of the disadvantages. I now can’t make a flammable atmosphere in my kitchen (I could before), can’t melt things in a flame really easily (I could before, and did when I was a kid… I have two kids…), can’t stick a wire in the piezo ignition and get an electric shock (I could before -- see previous brackets), can’t emit noxious fumes into my kitchen, and don’t need to dismantle the whole bloody thing to clean it.

    Get an induction hob -- you’ll wish you’d done it earlier.

  4. Trickster Goddess says

    My Canadian city hasn’t banned gas stoves per se, but they have banned gas hookups for new homes. For many years I had a gas fireplace which I enjoyed but it died last winter and was too old to repair and the landlord was too cheap to replace it. I still have electric heat but it is an old building with poor insulation and it is insufficient when those winter windstorms come howling off the north Pacific.

  5. Tethys says

    I know most pro-chefs prefer gas stoves to electric due to it being faster and easier to control than electric.

    I currently have a nearly 40 year old electric stove that I do not want to replace because the burners are solid, metal induction plates rather than coils and drip pans. Love, love, love the easy cleanup of solid burners rather than disassembling and soaking off the remains of a pot boiling over and carbonizing on the cheap chrome plated tinfoil drip pans which are the crap American appliance standard.
    I recently replaced the oven element after it literally had a melt down and fractured into two bits, but sadly I have not been able to locate any replacement burner plates.

  6. moarscienceplz says

    “There are apparently some advantages to cooking with gas over electric.”
    Julia Child made The French Chef entirely with a resistance coil electric range. And it had pushbuttons rather than knobs, so there was no way to get a halfway setting. With the exception of the very earliest episodes, she had a stage set that was custom built for her, so presumably she could have had a gas stove if she had asked for one.
    Jacques Pepin began his career at a French restaurant that used a cast iron behemoth nicknamed le Piano that had multiple cooktops and ovens all heated by a central wood fire that burned all day, so there really was only one temperature available. Most of the classic recipes of France were developed on stoves like that.
    I only have had electric coil stoves to work with, and the one problem I had was that nobody ever explained that they are much more powerful than gas stoves. So when a recipe called for medium heat I would set my burner knob to 4 or 5 and when my egg-based sauce scrambled I assumed it was just a really tricky recipe, but if I had known to set the knob to 2 or even 1.5 I would have had much more success.


    I’ve had standard electric, gas, and induction. I love, love, love the induction -- oven and burners. I no longer worry about setting my housecoat on fire over the gas when stumbling around half awake in the morning. Easy to clean. Almost as continuous a control range as gas. I’m not going back. I already had a bunch of cast iron cookware, did buy a couple new saucepans. And with many nostalgic sighs, I sent the ancient but fully functional Revereware pans to a charity for stocking homes for domestic violence escapees.

  8. prl says

    Trickster Goddess:

    My Canadian city hasn’t banned gas stoves per se, but they have banned gas hookups for new homes.

    That’s also pretty much what Canberra, the city where I live in Australia, is doing. No natural gas connections from the start of this year for new builds, and the gas network is planned to be shut down in 2045. That will mean the eventual end of gas stoves, hot water and space heating, and a good thing too (even though we have all three).


  9. Kimpatsu1 says

    You can’t cook Chinese on an electric job; not if you’re being authentic. The base of the wok never touches the element.

  10. tuatara says

    I have cooked with all types of conductive ‘fires’ from charcoal or wood fires, to gas and electric. And yes, I have cooked in commercial kitchens too.
    About two years ago as part of our home renovations we traded up to induction. It is so much better than the others.
    The thing with induction is the metal of the pan itself heats up. That means that you can achieve a much higher heat than gas, maintain a barely-on ‘warming’ heat, or anywhere in between, at the touch of a button. It is instant relative to the other types mentioned.
    I already had ferrous pans, and my carbon steel wok works very well. I can get the wok really hot, but the heat just doesn’t travel so high up the sides of the wok as it can on gas or other open flame, although the heat does conduct upwards in the metal so it kinda works anyway. But I am not running a restaurant so who gives a fuck. The food is great, the kitchen doesn’t get heated by waste energy, and cleanup is a breeze.
    Would I willingly go back to gas or other conduction cooking? No Way!
    I am presently on holiday. Our digs have a gas hob. Fuck, did I really like this? It is shit compared to induction.
    The only upgrade I needed at home was a separate 30A breaker and a 6mm csa cable. My mate is a sparkle so these cost me a box of beer and the materials.
    And my power bills have reduced from when I had the old electric conduction top despite a rise in electricity prices.
    By the way, on a normal gas burner a wok performs no better than on my induction hob. “Authentic” would be a fucking mini blast furnace like you see in Asian restaurants. There is no way I would want one of those inside my home!
    I would also say that anyone who says gas is better than induction in a domestic setting probably hasn’t tried induction.

  11. Katydid says

    Regarding the school-lunch freakout; they may have burned themselves out on it when Obama was president. The very notion that Americans might want to try a fruit or a vegetable once in their life threw them into a never-ending hysterical, frothing frenzy because it came from FLOTUS. (What did Melania pick as her pet topic, again? Did anyone ever understand what the mangled English was supposed to suggest?)

    Back in the day, there were endless stupid memes posted to social media of a teenager holding up a single slice of bread and insisting it was their total lunch, *thanks to FLOTUS*, and endless stupid pre-MAGATs thinking that was reality.

    I had kids in school then, and the truth was that pre-Obama, most school lunches were carbs, carbs, and more carbs, and that didn’t change because most schools sold their cafeterias out to outside contractors during the Bush years and had no control over what was served. My kids never bought lunch.

  12. kestrel says

    My perspective on gas stoves: they work when the power is out. I live way out in the sticks and the power goes out all the time. I had to switch to gas heat as well, because that also works when the power is out, and we did have a 7 day outage once where our pipes froze (despite me shoveling wood into the wood stove all day and night) and when the power came back on, we got gas heaters. Oh yes -- I think having electric stuff would be fantastic! Nothing would make me happier. But since it guarantees I won’t have heat or be able to cook during the constant power outages, I at this point prefer gas. I am happy that most seem to have a fairly reliable electric system.

  13. K says

    From https://oregoncub.org/news/blog/gas-myth-all-gas-appliances-work-in-power-outages/2489/

    Unfortunately, only a select few of your gas appliances can keep working without electricity. There is a common misconception that gas appliances are better because they keep working when the lights go out. While natural gas can still flow into your home during a blackout, many appliances still require power to operate. Gas Furnaces Works in a power outage: NO Gas Water Heaters Works in a power outage: NO, IN MOST CASES Gas Stovetops Works in a power outage: YES (depending on the model) Gas Ovens Works in a power outage: NO

  14. Tethys says

    Propane (LPG) in cylinders is not the same fuel as the Natural Gas that is piped to homes. I know propane is far cleaner burning, but haven’t found anything that compares the health risks of the two gases.

    When I lived in an area where multi-day power outages were a regular occurrence, we had an LP gas stove out in the fort, a gas grill, and both an indoor and outdoor fireplace for cooking and heating.

    We had many candlelight picnics in the Living Room, complete with roasting hotdogs, s’mores, and amazing popcorn, all made in the fireplace.

    Bonus dessert decadence, after toasting the marshmallows and assembling the s’more, wrap the whole thing in tinfoil and place it at the edge of the coals in the fireplace for a minute or two each side. The toasted graham cracker is the perfect counterpoint to oozing marshmallows and chocolate.

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