06/29/2007 09:42 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Campaign Bus Menu

"As for butter versus margarine, I trust cows more than I trust chemists." -- Joan Dye Gussow

I'm with Joan: very little culinary good springs forth from the bottom of a test tube, especially when corporations like Monsanto and Archer Daniels Midland are involved. Which is why, as I've written in a previous post, I find it very hard to swallow that the folks who head up this health department and that, who are now suddenly hell-bent on making sure we eat better, are starting, of all places, with the artificial trans fat ban that is beginning to gobble up the nation. I think it's wonderful -- remarkable, really -- that the same people who brought us the joys of high fructose corn syrup are now so deeply concerned about what's slithering around in our arteries, that they're insisting on replacing one bad artificial substance with another, produced by one of America's largest chemical manufacturers. The trickle-down effect of this pseudo-pious swap is that eventually, it'll hit home for the gang down in D.C., just as they're starting to board those campaign caravans. And everyone knows that campaign caravans are nothing but a bunch of glorified rock and roll tour buses strung together, complete with road crew, women, and a swell assortment of munchies to cure those middle-of-Iowa pangs.

Can't you just hear the conversation?

"Son, can you stop at the next Taco Bell please? I have a hankering for a few Bean Chalupas."

(Now, it is common knowledge that President Bush's favorite food is Mexican; it's also common knowledge that real Mexican food -- not the chemically altered, prefabricated stuff sold in national chains but the real thing, created by expert hands practiced in the centuries-old art of gordita-making -- is very often made with lard, which, at 40 percent saturated fat, is still healthier than palm oil, at 80 percent saturated fat. The latter, which is virtually trans fat free, is now being blended with other vegetable oils for commercial use, regardless of its very high, arguably dangerous saturated fat count.)

Back to the road: The bus stops, a few guys wearing dark suits, dark glasses, and wires go into Taco Bell and pick up half a dozen Chalupas, three regular burritos, and a Big Bell Value Meal. They bring it back to the bus and The President tucks in. He makes a face.

"This ain't like the stuff we get down in Crawford. This tastes funny. Sorta chemical-ed."
The men in dark suits look at each other. The Boss isn't happy and when the Boss isn't happy, nobody is happy.

Unfortunately, when the President gets back to the ranch, he'll learn that the real Mexican food he's been dreaming about on these long swings through America's great red heartland has also been sorta chemical-ed.

On another bus traversing the hills of West Virginia is Dick Cheney who, having suffered his first heart attack in his late 30s, has now had so many coronary procedures and surgeries that he could qualify as a body double in a remake of Westworld. It's two a.m. and Dick is cranky and hungry: a bad combination for our Vice President and pretty much anyone sitting near him.

"We're this close to White Sulfur Springs, boys. Might as well stop. I could use some grub."

White Sulfur Springs is, of course, home to The Greenbrier Resort. Often called "The Little White House" not only because of its reputation for catering to Washington's mighty but because of its formerly secret bunker built to house Congress in the event of a nuclear blast, The Greenbrier is world-renowned for its spectacular, if somewhat formal cuisine.

The boys get off the bus and check in. Meanwhile, Dick walks through the cabbage rose- wallpapered upper lobby, makes a left, and heads for the empty dining room where a single table is set and waiting for him. He sits down and sighs.

"What can I get for you, sir?" a waiter asks.

"The usual, son," Dick replies.

"I'm sorry sir, but the law now forbids us from serving that anymore."

"You imbecile, I am the law," Cheney grumbles, his upper lip in tight curl.

"But sir..."

"You know the drill: a platter of cold cheeseburger sliders. And a side of deep-fried onion rings. Pronto." (Cold cheeseburgers are, according to an unnamed source at The Greenbrier, one of the Vice President's favorite foods.)

Moments later, an enormous plate appears, covered by a silver lid. Removed by the waiter, it reveals half a dozen congealed patties topped with slices of white American cheese, surrounding a small mountain of onion rings that appear to be oven-fried; rather than glisten with the crispness that a quick plunge into hot oil will provide, they crumble and fall apart when Dick attempts to pick one up.

"I said deep-fried, you moron," he says, his face in a scowl. "We have nothing to fry them in anymore, sir, ever since the oil's been, well, sorta chemical-ed. The chef just won't fry anything anymore -- not hush puppies, not fried chicken, and not your onion rings."

Brillat-Savarin once said "Tell me what you eat and I'll tell you who you are," and if Mr. Cheney wants to enjoy a platter of cold, fatty cheeseburgers and bucket-load of deep-fried onion rings (sorta chemical-ed or not) after the number of heart surgeries he's had, I, for one am not going to stop him. Why? It's his choice. Not mine, or yours, or anyone else's. On the other hand, restaurants and chefs are now going to be forced, by law, to swap out real food for what's produced, with help from Monsanto, at the bottom of a test tube. Many will refuse and be fined. Many will go out of business rather than succumb to gastro-fascism. And many will just plain lie until the inspectors show up.

Forget trans fats and frying oils: if our government was indeed so worried about the health of its citizens, they would have strategically banned America's two greatest culinary threats -- lack of honest education that teaches moderation, and the use of high fructose corn syrup in everything from pre-packaged, flavored water to milk "products" to baby food and beyond. Chew on that.

Till next time, Slow down, eat well.