When Cupid slings his amorous arrows on February 14th, love struck couples young and old will head straight for their favorite restaurant. But a year of activist attacks blaming restaurants for the so-called “obesity epidemic” is sure to cast a shadow over many couples’ evening out.

Why the guilty little tug at the heartstrings of otherwise happy diners? Because bewildering activist claims about food and drink have been taken up by bureaucrats and amplified by the media.

“I recommend we develop a militant attitude about the toxic food environment, like we have about tobacco” says Yale professor Kelly Brownell, who made international headlines calling for a “Twinkie tax.” But that wasn’t enough for Brownell, who has proposed a publicly funded anti-fat crusade to be run by special interest activists in cahoots with government bureaucrats, in much the same way massive tobacco settlement funds are being spent today.

Only a few months ago, Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman announced a new (and unprecedented) nutritional intervention pilot program in Mississippi to first audit and then attempt to change what people choose to eat. Kinda like your parents, only more bureaucratic.

According to the USDA’s Dr. Rajen S. Anand, “[P]eople don’t have the knowledge or willpower to select the right kind of food.” Another USDA’s spokesperson adds, “Right now this anti-obesity campaign is only in its infancy.”

What could be next? Use your imagination. This is the same administration that considered a message that bars and taverns “were killing us softly” in an effort to get people to drink less.

Mother of all Nannies, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), says “It is high time the [restaurant] industry begins to bear some responsibility for its contribution to obesity, heart disease and cancer.” CSPI willfully ignores the fact that everything brought to the table by a server has been ordered by someone who wants to eat it.

In the meanwhile, for the first time ever new USDA dietary guidelines (now publicly available in draft form) caution Americans to be “careful to limit portion size” in restaurants. Presuming those enjoying a dinner out don’t know any better, the USDA warns “If you’re eating out, choose small portion sizes, share an entrée with a friend or take part of the food home.” This is the role of the federal government?

Like a Nanny reading over their shoulder, the USDA then makes menu selections for dinner patrons: “Try to order fish or lean meats…avoid or limit ground meat and fatty processed meats, marbled steaks and cheese. Avoid food with cream sauces, and add little or no butter to your food.” Gee thanks, Uncle Sam! Would you like to cut my meat in bite-size pieces for me while you’re at it?

Do Valentine lovebirds dare lift a glass in a toast to “Amore”? Just barely! The USDA is poised to call an ambulance if the happy couple gets to the bottom of that extra-special bottle of wine.

“Taking more than one drink per day for women or two drinks per day for men,” they warn, “can raise the risk for auto accidents, other accidents, high blood pressure, stroke, violence, suicide, birth defects and certain cancers.” Cheers!

Traditionally, Valentine’s Day is America’s most popular “date night,” for singles and married couples alike. The millions of Americans who choose to go out to dinner know exactly what they’re doing. They know how to ask for a doggie bag; they know how to use, or ignore, a salt shaker. And they need a government Nanny or a battalion of food cops about as much as an arrow through their heart…unless it’s from Cupid!

— Rick Berman is the executive director of the Center for Consumer Freedom, a coalition of more than 30,000 restaurant and tavern operators working together to preserve the right to offer guests a full menu of dining and entertainment choices.