Saturday, April 29, 2006

Bake a tête de nègre and go to jail?

Remember, some things because of their name or origin are magically less wrong than others. In a fit of zeal, elements and factions of the EU want to bring the humble hamburgers under their loving wing of regulation. Never mind the Dutch predilection for mayonnaise on pomme-frites, or raw herring, never mind the dubious biology of sushi inside the Périphérique, or the bizarrely names tête de nègre.
Yes, the Commission is a place of paradoxes, and frankly, the Eurocrats wouldn't want it any other way. As they sit in Michelin-starred restaurants, washing down the foie gras with champagne, conversations among the Eurocrat heavyweights inevitably turn to the poor diet of the average European. Apparently, the great unwashed of the old continent eat pizza, fries, and even that most unspeakably vulgar American snack, the hamburger. The results are there for all to see: healthier populations, rising life expectancies, more balanced diets than previous generations and ... Wait! Wrong spin sheet! What I meant was: rising obesity levels, bordering on the epidemic!
Remember, habits don’t kill people, it’s the specific, politically incorrect nation-of-origin of the things that are plugging the übermenschliche artery of the old-world man. Traditions get a pass, unless they're not "fair trade" and are intellectually linked to revolutionairies or starving pastoralists, or something, but they're only nearly wrong for now.

Or is it?
Unfortunately, it's unlikely these measures will stop European policy-makers from taking matters into their own hands. Take the recent proposal by the Dutch Health Minister Hans Hoogervorst. In what we can only assume to be one of his more frivolous moments, Hoogervorst suggested forcing food outlets to reduce the size of the hamburgers they sell. It's an idea right out of the Soviet Union cookbook: the government issuing decrees on the maximum diameter of your burger (it makes you wonder what Hoogervorst would make of this initiative, by the way).

Others aim to shrink not the size of the average burger but the number of burgers sold. The way to achieve this aim is, apparently, to slap a big, fat tax on every burger sold -- a fat tax, if you like. In order to drum up support for this initiative, European politicians are even willing to sell the odd big fat lie, for instance when a British government minister claimed that no fewer than 900,000 people in his country were claiming incapacity benefit because of obesity, costing the British taxpayers a shocking £3.5 billion a year. Stunning figures indeed. Unfortunately, they were based on a small clerical error. The real figure, the minister in question, Lord Warner, later admitted in a press release, was not 900,000, but a rather less impressive 900. That's n-i-n-e h-u-n-d-r-e-d, a mere 899,100 fewer than first suggested. The real benefit costs of obesity were therefore approximately £3.5 billion less than the £3.5 billion mentioned above.
Amusing, yet stupid. Since you’re entirely incapable of choosing for yourself, you need to be saved from the impulse of the evil, round, nearly Atkins-compliant bit of bouffe, and stick to that unidentifiable thing drowning in Hollandaise. The croque, somehow, won’t make you croak. After all, it might even have an ISO 9001 label on it.

Agitators have long learned to cook the books, but doing it by two orders of magnitude is normally a desperate measure reserved for cases when the claim is so wrong that you have to try something new after people stop buying the previous crock of scaring the money out of them.

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