Trans Fats And The Hebrew Hercules

Keeping it legal: a Kentucky Fried Chicken employee eats some of the restaurant's updated fried chicken, with no trans fats, New York City, Oct. 30, 2006. AP (file)

This commentary was written by CBSNews.com's Dick Meyer.



Grab your knives and forks because the nattering nabobs of nagging are narrowing their negativity on a last nook of nicety: eating in restaurants.

Self-appointed guardians of the public girth famously banned Satanic trans fats from being served in the People's Republic of New York City. Nutrient nags also forced some restaurants to add nutritional information to the menus.

Now Washington, D.C. and a host of other cities, states and penal colonies want to get into the nutritional nanny-state business. Please Dionysus, god of wine and pleasure, let them fail.

If the nutrient narcs pulled a stunt like this in Rome, Paris or Buenos Aires there would be high-cholesterol blood flowing in the streets. But we bovine belly-fillers of America submit to the scolding of gastronomic virtucrats without a moo. We meekly let the scolding industry spew their altruistic, we-know-what's-good-for-and you-don't propaganda medicine into every corner of life – and we ignore it.

The problem is it enables the hubris of the do-gooders and breeds a simmering resentment in we-who-don't know-what's-best-for-us that then fosters a backlash against the admittedly good intentions of the do-gooders.

First off, no one will pay attention to food labels on menus – don't be delusional. Consider: would any sane person eat this scary concoction?

Enriched flour (bleached and unbleached wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, and folic acid), semi-sweet chocolate chips (sugar, chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, anhydrous dextrose, milkfat, soy lecithin, natural and artificial flavors), vegetable shortening (partially hydrogenated soybean and cottonseed oil), sugar, high fructose corn syrup, molasses, whey, polydextrose, crystalline fructose, modified food starch, sodium bicarbonate, propylene glycol mono- and digesters of fats and fatty acids, mono and diglycerides, soy lecithin, BHT, citric acid, salt, caramel color, ammonium bicarbonate, natural and artificial vanilla flavor, whole eggs.

No way, right? Well, those are the ingredients of Frito-Lay's Grandma's Chocolate Chip Cookies. They're listed on every package that jillions of hungry cookie monsters rip open every day on their way to a delicious, unhealthy snack. Apparently, anhydrous dextrose is not a culinary deterrent.

Take a more extreme example. Millions of people around the world each day suck deep into their lungs the fumes of dried tobacco cure in chemicals. Warnings are ample, omnipresent and indisputable. Yet people do it.

All this implies that there's no good reason to think the effectiveness of listing calories on menus will outweigh the dreariness of having social scolding invade another pleasant corner of life. The nice people at the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the D.C. City Council are not responsible for my doughnut intake. I am.

Every parent knows, or ought to know, that too much nagging and preaching leads makes kids tune you out completely. It erodes your credibility and eventually turns the little angels into rebellious and wicked ratfinks.

This is also true in the big family of society. Too much scolding becomes crying wolf; way too much scolding and its cousin, political correctness, leads to puerile rebellion.

This occurred to me as I read the Sunday papers. After plodding through The Washington Post's enthusiastic and virtuous endorsement of the Restaurant Party Pooper Act of 2007, I stumbled on a wonderful obituary of Abe Coleman, 101. Abe was better known as the Hebrew Hercules, a star of pro wrestling in the 30's, 40's and 50's. Also known as the Jewish Tarzan, Coleman entered the ring at 5 feet 3 inches and 220 pounds, with cauliflower ears.

If a wrestler, rapper or high school talent show gagster went public as the Hebrew Hercules, the soldiers of the professionally offended would storm the airwaves.

We can't take a joke anymore. We've been hit on the nose by the scolders too often. And so we have lost a social salve that can and have eased ethnic and racial tensions in this diverse country – humor. The unintended consequence, of political correctness run amok and the scolding syndromes, is intolerance.

One can see that in the battle over the names and mascots of sports teams. Some people are enormously offended by the Chiefs, Redskins, Indians, Braves, Angels or Seminoles and are fighting all over the country to ban such insults.

The backlash, in turn, is immense. It's not just that Seminoles fans like their tradition; they don't like being called insensitive because they are not insensitive. They don't like living in a society that no longer gives the benefit of the doubt to the nice guy and the honorable intention. They can't see how changing a name rights historical wrongs. They don't like feeling like ours is a thin-skinned, self-serious world.

All our scolding is made more difficult to bear by the obvious fact that it is kabuki, superficial window-dressing pretending to be serious. Putting nutritional information on menus will not make a dent in the obesity epidemic, but it will make somebody feel like they're doing something.

Renaming the Redskins the Senators won't rewrite history nor will it create more respect and dignity for Native Americans in any enduring way, but it will make somebody feel like they're doing something.

And maybe that's point. Because in America today, it's what we feel that counts the most.



Dick Meyer, who is based in Washington, is the editorial director of CBSNews.com.

E-mail questions, comments, complaints, arguments and ideas to
Against the Grain. We will publish some of the interesting (and civil) ones, sometimes in edited form.

By Dick Meyer
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