The Tampa Tribune’s food writer since 2005, Jeff Houck covers the way people live through their food. He also hosts the Table Conversations food podcast and believes that everything crunchy is good.
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A Modest Declaration: LET FREEDOM FRY! [Voodoo Food Chile, Slight Return]
Posted Jul 4, 2012 by Jeff Houck
Updated Jul 4, 2012 at 11:33 AM
In 2006, I published a manifesto of sorts.
Tired of the incursions I was witnessing into the freedom of all men and women to eat whatever the hell they wanted, I decided to declare independence from the poobahs in power who thought that American needs to be saved from itself.
Fast-forward six years.
Mike Bloomberg wants to ban sodium, soda, and all elements of the periodic table. California has banned foie gras. A sugar ban is being considered in several states.
People think nothing of banning food. It these were books, America would be outraged. Banning food? Well, we’ll just find other stuff to fill ourselves with.
Things are getting worse, not better.
Which makes me think today, of all days, is a perfect time to re-run my modest declaration.
* * * * * *
A MODEST DECLARATION
When in the course of human events it becomes necessary to debate ideas generated by the political winds that blow through our time, it is correct that the general populace take a stand against those notions, to separate the Laws of Nature and the Laws of Man and determine which are valid and which are barely worth a bucket of spit.
We hold these truths to be self-evident: It appears we have arrived at such a time.
Two weeks ago, a 136-page report prepared by The Keystone Center for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration urged the federal government to consider rules governing the size of restaurant serving portions, the caloric amounts for dishes and the marketing messages eateries would be allowed to convey about menu items. Even the use of “doggie bags” is up for discussion. The agency has yet to announce any formal regulations.
While it is a laudable goal to reduce the nation’s ever-growing waistline, the tone of this effort reminds us that for all its benefits, the government’s food pyramid is a slippery slope indeed.
How long will it be before we can buy only a Milk Dud? Won’t such rules have a chilling effect on the neon-orange Krispy Kreme “HOT NOW” sign? And what about gigantic cup holders in vehicles? They were put there for gigantic cups, not for gigantic piles of change.
The problem with the FDA panel’s mission is that it focuses on food purely as a human fuel. There is no appreciation for the heart-healthy benefits of a romantic steak dinner. There is no credit in panel members’ eyes for the business lunch that generates revenue needed to buy nutritious groceries. (How else do you lure “fat cats” if not with food and beverage?) It takes no consideration of the communal experience of a neighborhood cookout or a picnic on the beach.
Friends in gastronomy, we are more than a collection of our caloric intake.
In short, not all meals - and certainly not all consumers - are created equal. And while not all meals are created healthfully, the latitude to pursue our gastronomic delights without mental reservation is one of our most basic rights. It is keen to remember that our forefathers’ battle cry was, “Live free or die,” not “Live free or diet.”
We, therefore, the self-appointed representatives of the United States of Culinary America, in general congress, do, in the name of the good hungry People of these Colonies, declare the following Bill of Eating Rights.
ARTICLE I - The Right To Live Like Our Forefathers
Ben Franklin once said, “Eat to live, and not live to eat.” He also coined the phrase, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.”
It would be helpful to note his line from “Poor Richard’s Almanac”: “Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”
Franklin, like the hundreds of millions of Americans who came after, was a man of contradictions and great girth. We all would be wise to remember that healthful chatter is fine as long as room to eat as we wish is respected and celebrated.
ARTICLE II - The Right To Eat What’s Good For Us As Well As What’s Bad
Thomas Jefferson installed French cuisine at Monticello long before he negotiated the Louisiana Purchase. He was a vegetarian who considered meat “a condiment to the vegetables which constitute my principal diet.”
He also introduced macaroni to the United States and owned the first ice-cream freezer on the continent.
If Jefferson were alive today, we would all be pretty surprised. But if it were possible, he would probably advise that a diet with both chateaubriand and Easy Mac in it would be perfectly acceptable - as long as both were consumed in moderation.
ARTICLE III - The Right To Free Refills
Be it a 52-ounce Extreme Big Gulp big enough to have an undertow or the soup, salad and breadsticks at Olive Garden, all diners should feel free and guiltless about enjoying the sensation that their bulk consumption of food and beverage is somehow so great that it affects each restaurant’s bottom line.
We all know this to be untrue, given the insane markup attached to the retail dining experience. But that false notion is enough to make a person feel truly free and uniquely American.
ARTICLE IV - The Right To Eat However We Choose
This includes the right to as many of those slimy little ketchup packets as you can cram into a Takhomasak; the right to dump the entire contents of the bacon tray onto your plate at Sunday brunch; the right to order your own dessert, even if your wife just wants to split a slice of Killer Cake at TooJay’s; the right to complimentary chips and salsa before every meal at a Mexican restaurant; the right to eat hamburgers that can be accurately described as “bigger than your head”; the right to add a salad for just $1.99 so we feel less guilty; the right to start with a Sampler Platter; the right to extra sprinkles; and the right to eat all we can eat at an all-you-can-eat buffet.
ARTICLE V - The Right To Take Home Whatever You Can’t Eat
Ask not what your country can do for you; ask whether your country wants what’s left of that 250-ounce steak “in a to-go box.”
The concept of the doggie bag is one that should be nurtured, not condemned.
Yes, it means that a diner’s eyes were too big for his or her stomach. But it also means they had the good sense to push away from the table and save the rest for later.
Conservation is a virtue. Even when it comes to servings that would choke Fred Flintstone.