May It Please the Palate: Hide those sack lunches kids! The food police are coming to get you!

We lovers of food and drink have endured a lot. From hatchet-wielding Carrie Nation smashing up saloons in the 1800s, to attacks on red meat, butter, fast food, and - in Minneapolis public schools - a recent ban on chocolate milk.

How about the Little Village Academy in Chicago, which this spring banned students bringing lunches from home. "Nutrition wise, it is better for the children to eat at the school," the principal told the Chicago Tribune.

But what really got me thinking about this topic was a recent article in the New York Times by Gary Taubes, discussing the crusading lectures by anti-sugar crusader Robert Lustig, an expert in childhood obesity.

Lustig doesn't just go around saying too much sugar is bad for you. Oh, no. Lustig tells us that sugar is "evil," "toxic," and - just to make sure you don't miss the point - a "poison."

What a freakin' killjoy.

It seems like every time parents turn around these days, someone's trying to make them feel guilty. Give your child a cookie? No, sorry; you're poisoning her. And don't bother packing a lunch, either, you insidious purveyor of high fructose corn syrup!

Look, I'm happy with food education. I am delighted that today's generation seems very food-savvy. (My daughter's friend was over for a sleepover and when I served them dinner, she said "Yum! I love kale chips!")

But I also believe in being open minded. My idea of a healthy diet may be different from yours. I eat prudently, but enjoy the occasional taste of barbeque, jalapeno potato chips, or dark chocolate.

Don't put down my food choices, and I won't put down yours. But that tolerance seems to be losing favor with the food police.

As in: Don't you dare enjoy that cookie, you immoral libertine. Watch out or the new Carrie Nation will bust up your bakery with her hatchet.

I call this attitude one of "New Puritanism." The original Puritan colonists were famous for their prudish intolerance. They were famous for banning recreation, most notably outlawing Christmas celebrations for many decades in the 1600s.

Famous wag H.L. Mencken once defined Puritanism as "The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy." But New Puritanism goes far beyond food. There is a pervasive attitude of "zero tolerance" that infects education, employment, culture, and now, food.

Intolerance used to be a bad word. Restricting choices in literature, art, music, and culture has often been the bellwether of an authoritarian regime, and the opposite of freedom. Intolerants will focus on potentially bad consequences, just as Lustig and Taubes do in speaking about sugar, often in the guise of "it's for your own good."

But nobody wants childhood obesity, either. Somewhere between the two extremes must be a happy balance, between healthy eating and the occasional treat.

So I'm going to close with a peace offering. One that will please the food police and the kid in all of us. It's from Alicia Silverstone, the actress you will remember from "Clueless." She's also a vegan food activist, and her book "The Kind Diet" has inspired many, including my vegan daughter.

Silverstone's recipe for chocolate peanut butter cups, slightly adapted, follows.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups

Ingredients:

1/2 cup Earth Balance vegan butter

3/4 cup crunchy peanut butter

3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs

1/4 cup POISON - er, sugar

1 cup nondairy chocolate chips

1/4 cup soy, rice, or nut milk

1/4 cup chopped nuts

Preparation:

Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners. Set aside.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat.

Stir in the peanut butter, graham cracker crumbs, and sugar and mix well.

Remove the mixture from the heat. Evenly divide the mixture, approximately 2 tablespoons per cup, among the muffin cups.

Combine the chocolate and milk in another pan. Stir over medium heat until the chocolate has melted.

Spoon the chocolate evenly over the peanut butter mixture.

Top with chopped nuts.

Place in the refrigerator to set for at least 2 hours before serving.

It's so easy, it's my daughter's go-to potluck recipe.

And healthy enough that you can give one to a child, without feeling guilty.

Just don't pack it in her lunch.

Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard and Walker, P.C., a litigation firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment litigation.

He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for "Current" magazine.

Published: Thu, Jun 23, 2011

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