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The Free Market Made Them Do It: Dunkin' Donuts Introduces Healthier Options

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Chain responds to shifting demand, not wagging fingers.

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Imagine: A fast food chain offering healthier food to its customers without a government mandate.

Ain't the free market grand?

Dunkin' Donuts will offer low-calorie sandwiches made with egg whites starting August 6th. The choice: Turkey sausage or vegetable. The payoff: Each is under 300 calories.

The new menu will be called DDSmart and will include all new and current items that have 25% less calories, sugar, fat or salt than comparable products or contain ingredients that are deemed "nutritionally beneficial."

Dunkin' Donuts plans to expand its low-calorie menu in the future, but didn't release any details. The fast food chain says the menu is "growing and evolving."

This is in sharp contrast to the Los Angeles City Council that's considering a ban on fast food restaurants in poor neighborhoods, citing a link to obesity.

Members of the Los Angeles City Council don't understand, or refuse to consider, market forces. Here's a heads up for council members who don't get out much: If customers demand something, the smart retailer provides it - or soon takes a hit in sales and may go out of business. Customers make independent decisions and vote with their wallets. Hyperventilating by council members doesn't change much.

However, a public educational program might help. Anti-smoking campaigns have cut tobacco usage among the young and few would argue that's a bad thing. The sticking point: Do we want government acting as kids' parents? In many school districts, this is at the center of the debate over sex education, especially when the curriculum pushes values at odds with what parents want for their children.

For fast food, it's not difficult to imagine a campaign pitched to kids linking French fries to a flabby gut, acne and a chronic lack of dates on Saturday night. You know, subtle stuff.

Do we want government-sponsored "public service" campaigns going after legal products? After a while, wouldn't hectoring from Big Brother about the evils of pickup trucks, SUVs or luxury cars and the ecstasy of driving a hybrid wear a little thin? In any case, won't the smart driver make that decision based on the price of gasoline at the pump?

The basic question: Is it the role of government to pick winners and losers in the marketplace based on Big Brother's understanding of what's good for us peons or Mother Earth?

The slugging match over fast food underscores the different viewpoints of those who believe in an activist government with limitless reach and those who back limited government of enumerated powers. You'd expect the battle to play out on a larger scale - oil supplies or home mortgages, for example. But fast food?

The answer may be simple: Those who believe in nanny government know what's good for you and aren't the least bit shy about announcing their superior insight everywhere, even as you chow down McDonalds (MCD), Burger King (BKC), Wendys (WEN) or, given a chance, Dunkin Donuts, the latest battlefield in the culture wars with Starbucks (SBUX).

Think of government "eat your peas" campaigns as your tax dollars at work.

In the meantime, please pass the salt… While it's still legal.
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