You're big, bulky—and hungry. So you lumber into a restaurant to get a bite. You scan the menu for a tasty meal, but when it comes time to order the waiter refuses to serve you. The reason? You're too fat. Sound outrageous? You may want to steer clear of Mississippi, where legislation was recently introduced that would ban restaurants from serving proportion-challenged patrons.
We kid you not. The controversial measure (state House Bill 282) would prohibit eateries from serving food to "any person who is obese based on criteria prescribed by the state health department." The department would monitor compliance and have the power to revoke violators' permits. (Pity the poor waiter with the thankless task of denying corpulent customers service, leaving them with the humiliating dilemma of either twiddling their thumbs as their less hefty chums chow down or slinking (storming?) out and slogging to a supermarket or over the state line for sustenance.)
Sponsors of the legislation insist that it was designed to spark discussion on ways to get a handle on obesity: More than 30 percent of Mississippi's adults are considered obese, giving the Magnolia State--where fried chicken and other greasy fare rule--the distinction of being the nation's first in fatness, according to a 2007 study by the Trust for America's Health, a Washington, D.C.–based research group that focuses on disease prevention.
"I was trying to shed a little light on the number one health problem in Mississippi," co-sponsor Republican Rep. John Read of Gautier, a former pharmaceutical company sales representative, told the Associated Press, acknowledging that at five feet, 11 inches (1.8 meters) and 230 pounds (104 kilograms), he might get the restaurant boot under his own bill.
People, both chubby and thin, immediately blasted the proposal. Physicians called it insane, saying it would do nothing to help plump patients pare down to healthier weights. The rotund rights lobby agreed, charging that it was discriminatory and arbitrary. "We as Americans have made substantial progress in race and gender relations. Unfortunately, our progress hasn't extended to our country's uneasy relationship with fat people," Paul McAleer, president of the Coalition of Fat Rights Activists, said in a statement.
And the restaurant industry, which stands to lose many a coveted and loyal customer, was beside itself.
"This is the latest example of food cops run amok. Are waiters supposed to carry scales around the restaurant and weigh every customer? Give me a break," J. Justin Wilson, a senior research analyst at The Center for Consumer Freedom, which represents the restaurant and food service industry, said in a statement. "What's next? Will waitresses soon be expected to make sure we eat all our veggies?"
More helpful in the battle of bulge, say critics: programs directed at getting to the core of the problem, such as a law passed in Mississippi last year that requires kids in kindergarten through eighth grade to receive at least 150 minutes of physical education and 45 minutes of health ed instruction weekly; until then, gym had been optional.
But lest you're not a skinny-minny and worry you may starve should you travel to Mississippi—fear not: state Rep. Steve Holland, the Democratic chairman of the House Public Health and Human Services Committee, pronounced the controversial bill "dead on arrival at my desk." In other words, it will never even make it out of committee and onto the floor of the legislature for a vote. "While I appreciate the efforts of my fellow House members to help curb the obesity problem in Mississippi,'' he said, "this is totally the wrong approach.''
That'll teach the (anti-) fat cats to stick their (tape) measures where they don't belong.