Nibbling away at good food


I was eating breakfast in a diner recently when a member of the Health Gestapo came goose-stepping up to my table.

The woman's eyes burned like hot coals as she stared at the bacon and eggs on my plate.

"That's not very . . . healthy," she said finally.

Then she marched back to her table, where a tiny box of Special K sat next to a small glass of milk.

Frankly, I was so stunned that I failed to follow my normal security precautions when approached by a member of the general public, which involves scrambling under the table and screaming: "DON'T SHOOT!"

So it's come to this, I thought.

It's come to the point where decent, God-fearing citizens can't even enjoy a plate of bacon and eggs without being harassed by some nutritional storm trooper determined to save the world from the evils of cholesterol.

The sad thing is that diners used to be wonderful places to eat breakfast.

They bustled with no-nonsense waitresses serving steaming plates of ham and eggs, mounds of greasy home fries, pancakes swimming in maple syrup, bagels topped with thick slabs of cream cheese.

Swarthy Mediterranean men with bad hairpieces and toothpicks lodged in their mouths would ring up your check when the meal was over, watching with quiet satisfaction as you lumbered out the door.

Now, however, these diners have become so overrun with kooks, health nuts and diet Nazis that you're probably better off eating breakfast in the car.

The ugly incident with the anti-bacon-and-egg fanatic confirmed my theory that much of the tension and anxiety in this country can be traced directly to the fitness boom of the late '70s.

Certainly, it has made my life much more miserable.

In the glorious days before the fitness boom, I was smoking a pack a day and drinking enough beer to float the Queen Mary. Three or four steers were routinely sacrificed each day to provide my meals. At night, I would lie on the couch for hours watching TV, my only exercise coming when I stood up to get an ashtray.

Oh, it was a wonderful life! I was very happy.

Then, I don't know . . . something happened.

Along about 1978 or so, I woke up one morning and suddenly it seemed as if everyone was jogging and taking aerobics classes and talking about their pulse rates.

People were also -- this was really scary -- watching what they ate, a concept so foreign to me that it had to be explained several times with visual aids.

This was also when I had my first brush with the Health Gestapo, roving bands of annoying people who felt compelled to comment on the fitness and nutritional habits of complete strangers.

One day at work, for example, a small, energetic man with pinched features appeared at my desk.

In clipped tones, he announced that I was now signed up for the newspaper's tennis league.

"Thanks, but I play on the office softball team," I said brightly. "Used to play second base but . . ."

"The softball team has been disbanded!" he barked, all but clicking his heels and throwing an open-palm salute. "Tennis practice is at 7 p.m. sharp!"

To me, this was the clearest sign yet that the world was coming to an end.

I went home that evening and drank a beer and went to bed, convinced that by the next morning, we would all be engulfed in a river of molten lava.

Now here we are nearly 15 years later and the Health Gestapo is still making life miserable for so many people.

Here I don't smoke anymore, drink light beer and very little of that, have cut back dramatically on red meat and exercise moderately.

Yet total strangers still feel compelled to gawk at my food in public and issue snide comments about me keeling over in a pool of egg yolk. It's depressing.

I'll tell you what else is depressing. Not long ago, I was at a party -- or what passes for a party these days.

There were five couples present. Four people were drinking various forms of mineral water. Two were drinking light beer. One was drinking a wine cooler. Three were drinking diet soda.

On a coffee table, there was a tray of fresh, sliced vegetables and a dip made from . . . yogurt.

Everyone appeared very solemn, and given the circumstances, I couldn't blame them. For here again was a sure sign that the world was coming to an end.

Some people see signs of the apocalypse in the roar of thunder and the flash of lightning across the sky.

I see people standing around a cocktail party drinking designer water and raking carrot sticks through yogurt dip.

And I wonder how much time we have left.

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