FoodPolitik: Put Down the Margarine and Come Out with Your Hands Up!

Richard Berman President, Berman and Company
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When the heck did the Food Police get actual badges?

Last week, a Korean carry-out in Baltimore’s downtown Lexington Market was slapped with a $100 fine for — are you sitting down? — cooking food in margarine (most recently demonized as “trans fat” ).

The cook might have had it coming for naming his outfit “Healthy Choice.” But do we really need government to tell us what kind of butter or oil to use when we fry eggs?

Put this in perspective: This year there have already been 182 murders reported in Baltimore. Most of those deaths are related to a vicious drug trade that makes the part of town near the famed Johns Hopkins Hospital a virtual war zone after dark.

The city government, however, is spending its resources attacking the real menace: Parkay.

Election Day is more than just a time to pick who sits at the top of various government food-chains. Elected politicians hire countless unelected bureaucrats at every level; they are the ones affecting our day-to-day lives far more than anyone you might have voted for.

These pencil-pushers forced their way into our gas tanks decades ago. They’re in our homes, watching over the energy efficiency of our refrigerators and making sure we recycle. (The DC suburb of Alexandria, Virginia will soon put tracking chips in recycling bins — at taxpayer expense — to make sure citizens comply.)

Now they’re hovering over our menus, lurking in our vending machines, nosing around in our kitchens.

When I was young, if someone had the audacity to come into my mother’s kitchen with instructions about how much salt to use, what kind of sugar to bake with, or whether to spread margarine on ears of corn, she would have gotten a sharp rap on the knuckles with a spatula. Today the same busybody gets a public-health award.

How come we’ve become more accepting of self-anointed pests whose mission in life is to save us from ourselves?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was founded in 1942 as the Office of National Defense Malaria Control Activities. After its oversight helped crush malaria (at least in this country), the standing bureaucracy had to have something to do. It was renamed the Communicable Disease Center, and later the Centers for Disease Control. And in 1992, when Congress added the words “and Prevention,” Big Government officially became Über-Nanny.

Today the CDC is led by Dr. Thomas Frieden, whose credentials have nothing to do with curing diseases. He was New York City’s salt-banning, soda-taxing, freedom-hating Health Department chief (again, an unelected post). And we have a “regulatory czar” in the White House, Cass Sunstein, who openly yearns to manipulate Americans’ “choice architecture” in a bid to “nudge” us toward government-approved behaviors.

The result is a government that thinks it’s entitled to push us around in the vague hope of helping us avoid this ailment or that, at some point in the distant future.

Ultimately, practically everything we do, eat, and breathe shuffles the odds of getting this disease instead of that one when we’re 85. Yet our life-spans have been growing, not shrinking. The feds, predictably, have come to dictate the most minute elements of our lives anyway.

And as government assumes a bigger role in everyone’s health care decisions, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue will have an unprecedented incentive — a financial one — to punish us for our polyunsaturated transgressions. Or to tax them out of our reach.

You can never find a good spatula when you need one.

Complicating the issue is a cottage industry of activist groups that play the twin roles of cheerleader and lead blocker for the government nannies. Most of the environmental lobby is essentially a giant enabling force for nosy bureaucracies. The same can be said of nutrition-zealot groups like the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Even the surprisingly wealthy animal rights industry gets into public health squabbles when it suits them. They argue that meat and dairy foods are somehow akin to nuclear waste. (Funny how all those spinach and peanut recalls are conveniently moot.)

Remember the persistence of these unseen forces when you vote tomorrow. Elect people who will do more than just lead you and your neighbors. The alternative is another generation that’s treated like an expanding sea of pre-schoolers. Among other things, you’re voting to accept or reject a future where your dinners are bland, your breakfast cereal is reminiscent of cardboard, your soft drinks come with warning labels, a Happy Meal requires a doctor’s note, and Halloween trick-or-treaters have to cross picket lines. Vote for people who will respect you enough to leave you alone now and again.

Rick Berman is President of the public affairs firm Berman and Company. He has worked extensively in the food and beverage industries for the past 30 years. To learn more, visit http://www.BermanCo.com.