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
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
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
"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
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.