First, it’s your soda, then they’ll come for the bacon

CODA

GREG BEAN

Everybody has their own idea of what the fire pit down below might look like, and what we have to look forward to if we don’t mind our p’s and q’s while we’re on this mortal plane. In my imagined Hades, only the very bad go to the worst levels, and those of us who are only marginally bad wind up in lesser purgatories for a while until we’ve worked off our transgressions.

That’s why I figure I’ll wind up at a million year barbecue where the only things on the grill are tofu pups (ersatz hot dogs), veggie burgers and organic lemonade with no processed sugar. I was at one of those once, and while I was able to escape in a little over an hour, the experience frightened me so badly that I went out the very next morning and joined the Peace Corps. Just kidding about that. I thought about joining the Peace Corps, but my family reminded me I had an obligation to work and support them.

Still, my limited exposure to enforced healthy eating was enough to convince me that those of us who’d like to avoid hell on earth had best be vigilant. That’s why this growing movement to tax so-called junk food makes me incredibly nervous.

For a while, the movement was confined to the big thinkers in the healthy eating community, but it started to spread into the mainstream like an outbreak of bird flu. You’ll remember last year when there was that big fight in NewYork City about whether to impose prohibitive taxes on sugary beverages, because they’re bad for your health and make you fat. The logic is that if we tax those soft drinks enough, people will quit buying them in favor of pureed veggie smoothies. Even Mike Bloomberg, whom I consider a usually rational human being, jumped on the bandwagon for that one.

And now, the argument to tax all junk foods is being debated on the pages of some of our nation’s most influential publications, like last week’s cover story in The New York Times Sunday Review section. In that imposingly long diatribe, the writer argued that not only should we impose prohibitive taxes on sugary soft drinks, we ought to impose them on things like “French fries, doughnuts and hyperprocessed snacks. The resulting income should be earmarked for a program that encourages a sound diet for Americans by making healthy food more affordable and widely available.”

These writers usually gloss over the arguments that junk-food taxes would disproportionately affect the poor, and that we ought to have a right to eat what we want, even if we know it’s not good for us. They think that people with better ideas about nutrition should be given the power to decide what’s best for the rest of us, and punish us if we don’t toe the line. It’s Big Nanny at the breakfast table, with an organic zucchini to whack us over the head if we look longingly at the Pop Tarts.

I predict Michael Bloomberg will be on television in the next year proposing this very tax, and we can expect it in New Jersey shortly thereafter. I’ll confess a fondness for Twinkies, and Twizzlers and Hostess fruit pies, deep-fried with sugar glaze, but I don’t indulge those particular weaknesses often, and I could probably live without them. What’s keeping me awake nights is the knowledge that if they get higher taxes on certain junk foods we all agree have the nutritional value of packing peanuts, they won’t stop there, and it won’t be long before they’re imposing prohibitive taxes on things I really can’t live without.

Like bacon (the currency of the gods). And barbecued ribs. And pecan rolls slathered with so much caramelized sugar you look like a

dog eating a Gummy

Bear because the upper and lower parts of your mouth are stuck together.

I’ve whittled down my list of vices over the years because of personal decisions about my own health. I gave up cigarettes and cigars, my alcohol intake is limited to the amount the health professionals say is good for me. I don’t stay up all night dancing, and I no longer fry my biscuits in bacon fat.

I’m pretty boring, in other words, but I made a mind deal with myself that if I lived healthier in most areas, I could eat whatever I want in moderation. I figure that’s why they invented statins and blood pressure drugs, and it’s my patriotic duty to do what I can to keep the American pharmaceutical industry in tall cotton.

Is that a stupid rationalization? Of course it is. But I’m not Mohandas Gandhi, and a cheeseburger on the grill and a cold beer on Saturday afternoon gives me something to look forward to after I choke down a handful of fiber tablets.

I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in my uneasiness about turning the responsibility for my dietary health over to the government, and if this thing goes too much further, I might have to start my own Tea Party — except we’ll be serving sweet tea at our functions.    Last week, I wrote about East Brunswick soccer phenom Heather O’Reilly, and several readers noted that I said she graduated from high school in 1985. That was obviously incorrect. She was born in 1985. Sue, of East Brunswick, said, “Maybe you could print a correction about poor old Heather’s graduation date,” and her comment echoed several others. I checked about a bazillion online sources this morning, including some stories from our papers, and lots of them agree she graduated in 2002. Many of them were also wrong. She graduated in 2003.

So I stand corrected. In my own defense, I’ll point out that this typo wasn’t the worst error I’ve ever made. My worst error was … oh, never mind. My readers haven’t caught me in that one yet, so Heather O’Reilly was my worst error ever. Sorry.

Gregory Bean is the former executive editor of Greater Media Newspapers. You can reach him at gbean@gmnews.com.