Working in tandem with Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, whose press conference last week renewed the prevailing bombast over our so-called “epidemic” of obesity, the Food and Drug Administration has announced plans to “encourage” restaurants to add calorie labels to menus and menu-boards. But this common sense approach doesn’t pass muster with the puritanical Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), whose recent press conference featured Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) announcing his bill to mandate menu labels. At the CSPI event, Harkin described his legislation as merely a “first step.” A first step to what?

The only people likely to take advantage of menu labels are those who are already health conscious — not the truly obese. And the Americans whose silhouettes are in greatest need of a slim-down are also the least educated among us. High-school dropouts are nearly twice as likely as college graduates to be obese, but they may be the only ones who care to compute fat and sodium counts and place them in their proper context — let alone understand what “partially hydrogenated soybean oil” and “conjugated linoleic acid” are.

CSPI and its allies in the fight for mandatory menu labeling in restaurants are fond of over-hyping the expansion of America’s collective waistline, but they’re a bit embarrassed by one inconvenient fact: mandatory nutrition labels on packaged foods haven’t been a silver bullet on obesity. Even its advocates know that mandatory menu labeling isn’t going to slim us down.

So Harkin’s “first step” may lead us down the road to “next steps” that aren’t intended to inform people about what’s in their food, but rather to control what kinds of food they eat. CSPI and John “Sue the Bastards” Banzhaf want cigarette-style Surgeon General’s warnings slapped on certain foods. Public Health Institute lawyer Edward Bolen has proposed moving high-calorie snacks behind the counter next to porn magazines. There’s the perennial threat of fat taxes. And CSPI’s crack team of donut-inspectors are surely salivating at the chance to target=_blank>file a lawsuit over the discovery of a few extra calories in some chef’s creation.

Memo to CSPI and its Big Brother friends: Most of us don’t want to be lectured or condescended to when we eat out. As U.S. Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) recently told reporters, there’s a simple solution available to nutrition zealots whose favorite restaurant declines to hit Americans over the head with fat grams and calorie counts: “You don’t have to eat there.”