Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The New American Rage for Prudence

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The New American Rage for Prudence

Article excerpt

RESTAURANT patrons in New Jersey who order their eggs "over easy" or "sunny side up" are getting a rude shock this month: No more runny eggs, by order of the state Health Department. Health officials have also banned Caesar salad and eggs Benedict with Hollandaise sauce, because they are made with raw eggs. Restaurants can be fined $25 to $100 if they defy the new ruling, designed to prevent salmonella.

If runny eggs are against the law this year - and many residents of New Jersey believe the danger they pose has been exaggerated - will all eggs be declared illegal next year? Only the Egg Police know for sure. Meanwhile, restaurateurs worry that indignant diners will walk out.

New Jersey's ruling serves as the latest example of well-meaning but sometimes overzealous public efforts to protect people from every possible danger, real or imagined. We live in an age of risk, and at times the whole world seems to have a warning label attached to it.

So wide-ranging are the nutritional laws laid down by the Food Patrol, for instance, that a conscientious shopper could spend all day in the supermarket, checking labels for salt, cholesterol, and fat. Even the most careful eater can find it hard to keep up with changing theories of "good" and "bad" food. After years of warning about the dangers of sodium, nutritionists now suggest that certain health problems stem from too little calcium rather than too much salt. Please pass the pretzels - and milk.

Then there are the perils lurking beyond the kitchen. Annual lists of the 10 most dangerous toys make the playroom seem like a minefield. And parents who once thought baby-proofing a house meant putting away knickknacks find themselves being urged to read entire books on how to protect infants from every sharp-edged hazard in sight.

For children and adults alike, venturing outdoors in the age of the greenhouse effect invites another warning: Don't forget your sunblock. But here, too, revisionists argue that sunscreens can cause the very problems they are supposed to prevent.

Other contradictions abound. Auto manufacturers continue to make faster and faster cars, then sell them by emphasizing such safety-first specialties as anti-lock braking systems and airbags. …

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