When was the last time you heard someone use the phrase “it’s a free country” un-ironically? Years, most likely. Because no matter where one turns in what was once called the “free world”, one runs into stories like this one, this time out of London:
Council officials are cracking down on the freedom to choose how your burger is done, warning restaurants not to offer them rare or even medium-rare.
A number of celebrity chefs are affected by the move, including Gordon Ramsay, whose Maze Grill restaurant sells a burger for £12, Angela Hartnett, whose York and Albany’s bar menu includes burgers, and the Soho House chain, run by Nick Jones, the husband of broadcaster Kirsty Young.
All face being asked at their next routine inspection how they offer their burgers after the decision by Westminster city council, which regulates food safety in more restaurants than any other local authority.
The decision is expected to be followed by other councils, but critics fear it could lead to questions over the safety of rare steaks and raw meat dishes such as steak tartare ….
After routine inspections by environmental health officers, Westminster council challenged the way Davy’s was serving its £13.95 burgers at one of its restaurants in central London. Davy’s has taken the case to the High Court, which experts say could set a legal precedent as to whether or not diners will be able to order meat rare.
Easier said than done, but were the Prick in Davy’s shoes, he would have been sorely tempted to tell those “environmental health officers” where they could stick their legal precedent. Burgers should be cooked rare, unless stuffed with Stilton or Roquefort, in which case they should be well-done to allow the cheese to melt through.
But more importantly, who the hell is Westminster Council – or any other agency – to stand in the way of a contract between diner and chef? I mean, this is England we’re talking about. Birthplace of the Magna Carta. Font of liberty. Home of parliamentary democracy. And the government there now thinks how rational adults order their meat is any of their business? Were Churchill alive today he’d surely be saying, We defeated the Nazis for this?
Of course officials say that the regulations are about safety. But then again they always say that – and it is a wonder that Westminster Council officials haven’t yet found a compliant public health academic to claim that so many billions of dollars are lost due to people missing work and burdening hospitals because they are puking up their gourmet burgers and steak tartare. Do we need to rehearse the various assaults on freedom, personal liberty and good taste in cities like New York or Sydney? Or mention the pincer assault by Barack and Michelle Obama on the restaurant industry in the US where between health care regulations, demonization campaigns, and fretting about obesity, simply trying to fill peoples’ bellies and make a buck at the same time has become a very fraught business indeed? Not even lemonade stands are safe.
No, this sort of thing is not – and never really is – about health and safety. It is about control, which is what for-your-own-good fascism is at its heart all about.
For-your-own-good fascists have much in common with other sorts of totalitarians and statists who have always had it in for restaurants because they represent enterprise and innovation and allow people to enjoy the fruits of their labour by decadently letting someone else do the cooking. Restaurants, cafés, and pubs have traditionally been pillars of civil society and hotbeds for people to come together without the endorsement or supervision of the state, something that makes certain types very nervous indeed.
Leftie statists also harbour misapprehensions that the mere act of “service” means restaurants are necessarily havens of exploitation and elitism. (Here Orwell had it right in Down and Out in Paris and London: “The moral is, never be sorry for a waiter. Sometimes when you sit in a restaurant, still stuffing yourself half an hour after closing time, you feel that the tired waiter at your side must surely be despising you. But he is not … he is ministering to a kind of pleasure he thoroughly understands and admires. And that is why waiters are seldom Socialists.”)
Lately I’ve been reading Anne Applebaum’s superb Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944-1956, and while the secret police is hardly bundling people off in the night (much….yet), it came as no surprise to read that the demonization and shuttering of restaurants was an early priority of the Soviet puppet regimes after World War II. In late-‘40s Budapest, Applebaum writes that “over time, nearly all private restaurants in Budapest became ‘people’s’ cafeterias or state-owned proletarian pubs … waiters and tips disappeared. Queues replaced good service. In a city which had fuelled itself on espresso and cream cakes for decades, these were truly revolutionary changes.”
Changes which were surely made with the good of the people in mind, surely.