New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a former (thankfully) Republican, has decided to limit food donations to city charities, including homeless shelters, because the government is unable to measure the nutritional value of the food.
Who in city government believes that a homeless person with no access to money other than what he or she might panhandle cares about the nutritional content of food? If they are able to scrounge up a few bucks on the streets, does anyone seriously think they're headed to a grocery store to buy carrots and arugula? Any food, including "unhealthy" fast food, would be their preferred choice.
As reported in the New York Post by Jeff Stier, Seth Diamond, the commissioner of the Department of Homeless Services, claims Mayor Bloomberg is simply being "consistent" with his goal of improving nutrition for all New Yorkers. "A new interagency document," writes Stier, "controls what can be served at facilities -- dictating serving sizes as well as salt, fat and calorie contents, plus fiber minimums and condiment recommendations."
Will the government permit ketchup on fries? Maybe it will allow ketchup, which liberals mocked Ronald Reagan for correctly calling a vegetable, but not fries, unless they are unsalted, and then just a few. No super-sizing it.
Who will police this? If a homeless man wants salt on his food, will a city official wrestle the shaker from his hands? Will he be arrested by the salt police if he rebels? Will a woman who has not eaten in days be told she can't have a second helping because the government won't allow it under its new portion-control regulation? Will she be fined if she eats more? How will the government collect the fine if she has no money?
What effect will this new requirement have on restaurants, some of which have donated surplus food to local food banks and charities for years? Will they have to first comply with government dietary regulations before they donate anything? Mire the process in red tape, and bureaucracy and the restaurants won't think it's worth the trouble to donate at all.
It takes the notion of "food police" to a new level.
Mr. Stier tells the story of Glenn Richter and his wife, Lenore, who for 10 years have led a team of volunteers from their Upper West Side Orthodox synagogue. "They brought freshly cooked, nutrient-rich surplus foods from synagogue events to homeless facilities in the neighborhood." Many recipients, Mr. Richter says, are seniors recovering from alcohol and drug abuse.
Last month, writes Mr. Stier, employees at a local shelter "turned away food he brought from a bar mitzvah." It didn't conform to the new regulations.
I know the rationale. If the homeless eat nutritional food, it could reduce the number of health problems and presumably lower the cost of health care.
But more than the issue of salt and portion size is the greater issue of liberty, which is being slowly but steadily eroded by big government that wants to save us from ourselves. The freedoms to choose what to eat, drink, smoke and a lot of other things -- and to accept the benefits and consequences that go with these choices -- are the wedge issues that government uses to snake its way into new areas of our lives.
Our Founding Fathers issued many warnings about the dangers of growing and intrusive government, which they sought to control with the Constitution. Among the best was from Thomas Jefferson: "Most bad government has grown out of too much government."
No better example of that can be found than in what Mayor Bloomberg has forced on the hungry of New York City.
Cal Thomas is a syndicated columnist. He may be contacted at email@example.com.