Rants & Essays

Breakfast at the FDA Café

By John R. Alden

"I'll have two eggs over easy, home fries, a blueberry muffin, decaf coffee and fresh-squeezed orange juice," I told my waiter at the FDA Café.

I'd just unfolded my paper when he brought the coffee. "Here you are," he said. "But first our legal department insists we warn you that consumption of three or more cups of coffee a day may increase your risk of stroke and bladder cancer. This is decaffeinated, so the Food and Drug Administration requires me to mention the decaffeination process may leave traces of carcinogenic solvents in the coffee bean." He poured.

I had nearly finished the front page when he returned with my breakfast. "Your eggs," he said, "if not cooked thoroughly, could contain salmonella, an organism that causes food poisoning. Egg yolks contain large quantities of cholesterol, a material that plays a potentially significant role in the development of arteriosclerosis and heart disease. The American Association of Cardiological Surgeons recommends consuming no more than four eggs per week, particularly for people who smoke or are more than ten pounds overweight."

I sucked in my stomach.

"Potatoes," he continued, "are a member of the nightshade family, and any greenish patches on their skin may include traces of an alkaloid poison called solanine. The Physician's Reference Manual says solanine can cause vomiting, diarrhea and acute nausea. However, your potatoes have been carefully peeled, and our supplier has agreed to assume any liability that may arise from their consumption.

"The blueberry muffin contains enriched flour, eggs, butter, blueberries and low-sodium baking powder, but no fiber. The Institute of Alimentary Studies warns that a diet low in fiber may add to your risk of stomach and intestinal cancer. The Center for Dietary Purity cautions that flour may be contaminated with fungicides and rodenticides, and may also have traces of ergot, which can cause hallucinations, convulsions and arterial spasms.

"Butter is high in cholesterol. If any of your close relatives ever had a heart attack, the Department of Health and Human Services warns that your doctor might advise limiting your intake of both cholesterol and saturated fats.

"Our blueberries, from Maine, have not been fertilized or treated with pesticides. However, the U.S. Geological Survey has reported that many Maine blueberry barrens are located on granite which frequently carries radioactive uranium, radium and radon gas.

"Finally, baking powder contains sodium aluminum sulfate. Researchers are investigating a possible link between aluminum and Alzheimer's disease."

He picked up a pitcher. "I also have to inform you that our 'fresh-squeezed' orange juice was actually prepared before 6 a.m. It is now 8:30. The FDA and the Justice Department recently sued a restaurant (U.S. v. Mom's Homebaked Café) for describing three-hour-old juice as 'fresh-squeezed.' Until that case is decided, our lawyers require us to get a waiver from any customer ordering a similar product."

I signed the form he handed me, and he stapled a copy to my bill. But as I reached for the glass, he stopped me. "One more thing," he said. "The Department of Consumer Safety has determined that the tines of your fork are sharp. Use that utensil with extreme care."

With a cheery "Enjoy your breakfast, sir," he headed off. I picked at my meal. The food was cold, and somehow I'd lost my appetite.