Last year, Slate magazine outlined America’s slow march to diet despotism by describing activists’ strategy to wage war on "junk food": "First, we should protect kids. Second, fat people are burdening the rest of us. Third, junk food isn’t really food." Since then, food cops have pressed for government regulations on children’s advertising and speculated on the economic burden of love handles. Now they’re reaching out to strip food of its sanctity.

Food fulfills a basic human need and provides a great deal of pleasure. But the nutrition interventions concocted by food activists — aimed at living longer, not living better — suck the fun out of eating. For instance, the nutrition zealots at the Center for the Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) have a long history of demonizing anything that tastes good, labeling it "junk food" or even "food porn." The latest example of these pleasure-sucking campaigns comes from the proposed mandating of warning labels on restaurant menus.

The group’s nutrition policy director, Margo Wootan, has justified the moralistic mandate: "Californians, and indeed all Americans, deserve to know what they’re getting when they’re ordering food." Ignoring the detailed nutritional information that most restaurants already provide to customers, CSPI defines "what they’re getting" with just one word: calories. Dictating calorie counts reduces the value of a meal to a measure of energy. But anyone who’s ever enjoyed a snow cone on a hot day or shared a bottle of wine at a romantic dinner knows that food is much more than that.

British researcher David Warburton, who studies the relationship between health and pleasure, seconds that notion. His studies have found that pleasurable experiences hold restorative properties for people suffering from life-threatening illnesses, like AIDS and cancer. On the other hand, guilt places incredible stress on the body and severely compromises the immune system. (And CSPI is essentially lobbying for government-mandated guilt.)

CSPI has also proposed "traffic light" labeling systems for packaged foods, already unfolding in places like Europe and New Zealand. These labels reduce the merit of different grocery items to colored dots: red for "bad" and green for "good." Like the warning labels on menus, this black-and-white approach harms people’s relationship with food and promotes eating disorders.

Maybe someone should clue in the nutrition "experts": Good food isn’t just about staying alive. It’s about enjoying life too.