Monday, March 26, 2007

Didn’t I tell you so? First, they’d go after the cigs, then the french fries.

Now that the government grannies have successfully choked the air in most area restaurant and bars, they’re determined to kill the grill, scour the skillet.

Not long ago, I distinctly remember being challenged in a heated public debate during the dust-ups about imposing smoking bans in restaurants and bars. My opposing pundits insisted that I was loony as a bitsy bug to suggest that once the nannylike legislators finish pulverizing smokers, they’ll become food police.

Hold the grease. The proposed trans-fat-free zones in Maryland are just a start. In the not-so-distant future, you will rue the day when you face fines and confinement should you get caught sneaking a 100-calorie pack of salty-sweet munchies into your smoke-free, phone-free, hybrid smart car.

Where else but in the environmentalist haven of Montgomery County would the trans-fat-free zone take root first in the metropolitan area?

If the fat-free bans, similar to those adopted in New Jersey and the Big Apple, are enacted in the so-called Free State, you know it won’t be long before the District and Virginia follow suit, as they have with smoke-free zones.

So what’s a Sistagirl who loves her chicken wings and “fryers,” as my mother calls them, to do?

The ol’ timers better watch out: Don’t be caught anywhere near those soul food shacks famous for a D.C.-style “hot fish sammich, white bread, with hot sauce.”

Ben’s Chili Bowl won’t even be allowed to sell veggie burgers, slapped with chili and cheese sauce.

Bypass Chinatown altogether. And those spicy Chesapeake Bay crab cakes? Fahgeddaboudit.

The Montgomery County Council is slated to vote this week on a countywide measure that would ban foods cooked in trans fats in restaurants. A similar statewide measure was tabled in the Maryland General Assembly to give restaurant owners an opportunity to voluntarily find alternative cooking products.

Trans fats are hydrogenated oils that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says contribute to increasing low-density lipoproteins (LDL), or so-called bad cholesterol.

But trans fats make up only 2 percent of most Americans’ diets. Saturated fats, which some consider to be far worse, make up 10 percent to 15 percent. The food police will not stop with the lesser of the evils.

Tell me, who will be left to enforce these expanding food bans against the patrol cops wolfing down doughnuts and coffee loaded with cream and sugar in the 7-Eleven parking lot?

Shrink the Super Size Me zones. Limit food portions. Rest assured that a total ban on foods baked, sauteed, fried or sugared are next.

While the government plays a necessary role in maintaining public safety and order, how far should that regulating role extend? In a democracy, is it desirable or dangerous to devise legislation designed to enforce preferred personal behavior?

Surely, besides taking our prescribed LDL-reducing statins, such as Lipitor and Crestor, we baby boomers could use some help in our struggle to eat more lean and nutritious diets. It isn’t always a cakewalk. Take it from one who has tried everything from Atkins to starving.

And I understand how important public health awareness campaigns are for providing updated information, particularly to younger generations and communities where childhood obesity is a growing problem.

Still, deliver us from these meddling government grannies. Often they’re like the hypocritical parents who used to scold their misbehaving children by saying confusing stuff like, “Do as I say, not as I do.”

Here again with the trans-fat-free zones we have the classic clash between individual rights and public welfare. Agree with them or not, these intrusive initiatives seek to make children of adults.

We’re fast becoming the “no-free-choice” society. Can’t keep track? No-cell-phone zones, no-doggie-poop zones, no-noise zones, no-smoking zones and no-trans-fat zones.

Wasn’t it in Virginia that a General Assembly member unsuccessfully tried to get a no-droopy-drawers zone adopted? I even read that the most progressive government grannies in the nation want to ban smoking on the beach in California.

Why not let free enterprise take hold?

These behavior bans are not necessary. Let the grown-up consumers choose where to eat, smoke and drink based on a variety of options that ought to be available to them.

Food manufacturers, fast-food chains and restaurants already are switching to healthier choices when such products come available.

For example, Aramark, the company that provides hot dogs and chicken fingers to ballparks and college campuses, announced the switch to sunflower and corn oil earlier this month.

Baltimore provides a good model by distributing decals, like a Better Business gold seal, for trans-fat-free restaurants to display.

Virginia legislators are considering similar laws regarding restaurants that don’t allow smoking. Then the consumer can decide whether to patronize these establishments before entering.

Don’t politicians have enough to do just figuring out ways to spend our tax money? These public health and safety bans are none too helpful to some small owners of hospitality businesses, either.

Some bar owners in the District, for example, are complaining about the drop in their clientele, especially during happy hours, since the smoking ban was enacted earlier this year.

I know a group of guys who used to spend a lot of their money in a small D.C. eatery who now often meet in a private home to enjoy their cigarettes and cigars in peace.

Adults often cling to their bad habits no matter how much you tax them, ban them or shame them. And that is their right.

As I was skewered for stating before: Today, Big Brother is after smokers. Tomorrow, it could be social drinkers, overeaters or people who wear pink. Where will this government grannyism end?

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