Freedom is overrated — and flavorful

After a recent whirlwind international vacation, I could tell I was back on easygoing, laid-back American soil when my mother-in-law — a woman in her 60s with three grandkids — got carded when ordering a glass of wine.

This took place at a Chili’s restaurant in San Diego. The sign out front read, “WE CARD EVERYONE.”  They mean it, too. You drag a corpse in the joint and they’ll ask to see its driver’s license.

Judging by the speed of our service, they’ll also ask it to wait tables.

It was a sharp contrast to the laissez-faire attitude we experienced a few days earlier when our cruise ship had stopped in Costa Rica. Marie and I and the baby took a guided bus tour of a coffee plantation. Not exactly the most exciting way to spend your one day in an exotic Central American country, but there’s a lot of compromise involved when traveling with a 15-month-old. I used to prefer more adventurous excursions, such as hiking a volcano or rushing through the plush rainforest via zip line. Now my main criteria for booking a tour is whether or not there’ll be a diaper changing table along the way.

Anyway, somewhere along this broken, two-lane road to the plantation we stopped at a small store, where I bought a can of a locally made beer. Used to America’s draconian liquor laws, I sheepishly asked the store owner if I could possibly drink it inside the store. He gave me a look that said, “Why wouldn’t you?”

I proceeded to buy a couple of huge, inexpensive hand-rolled cigars along with my beer. The whole process was refreshing. The labels weren’t covered with legal disclaimers and surgeon general warnings. A store manager did not have to be called to unlock a tobacco display case. I didn’t even need a photo ID. Six days later, at the Target store in Glenwood Springs, I was forced to show government-issued identification to buy cough syrup.

But at least I wasn’t buying salt.

That’s the cause du jour for government health nannies, whose sole, taxpayer-funded agenda is (as outlined on Page 14 of the Food and Drug Administration’s 2010 Fiscal Year Mission Statement) “to remove all sources of pleasure and enjoyment in the lives of American citizens.”

OK, so maybe I exaggerate. But not by much. The Associated Press reports that the FDA and Institute of Medicine (IOM) have compiled a strategic report on how to step up their efforts to get Americans to reduce their salt intake. For years the government has been trying to get us all to cut back on the salt, but apparently we aren’t listening. According to an actual quote in the AP story, the IOM feels that “Leaving it to consumers to cut back on their own doesn’t work.”

You hear that, consumers? You guys aren’t behaving like the government wants you to. Which is why they’re threatening to implement mandatory reductions and penalties.

One food manufacturer already is bowing to regulatory pressure. If you’ve ever eaten a Healthy Choice frozen dinner, you probably thought they couldn’t taste any blander. You’d be wrong.

Healthy Choice’s parent company has pledged a 20 percent salt reduction by 2015. The FDA will probably hold a press conference to celebrate this news. Bureaucratic nannies and politicians will be there, bragging about how they’re helping consumers’ health by reducing salt by 20 percent. Meanwhile, the actual consumers will go home, taste these meals, then add 50 percent more salt to prevent them from tasting like drywall.

I’m guessing that all these annoying rules and regulations are not what our forefathers had in mind. I’d love to be able to take James Madison, (the author of the Bill of Rights) out for a drink to discuss how things have gone so horribly wrong.

We’d order margaritas, making sure to ask for extra salt around the rim.

I can’t do this, of course. Madison has long since been dead. In fact, if he were alive today, he’d be 259 years old. You know what that means.

He’d still get carded at Chili’s.

E-mail Steve Beauregard at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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