At some point in the meal one of us noticed it: the sign proudly declaring the restaurant's health code rating of 49. That's 49 out of 100, not out of 50.
In this unnamed restaurant of an unnamed genre in an unnamed location, lunch was proceeding as usual. We sat alone in a crowded dining room with our mouths open, not at the ready to ingest the food, but in shock at the sign behind the register.
There's a long list of government encroachments in our daily lives and a shorter list of areas that it should actually be involved in. Food service evaluation is on the short list.
We sat at our booth and talked about the rating while we ate.
What could they have done to deserve such a low rating? Were the standards fair? Would any of us be back after these plates of contamination had been swallowed?
Next to the sheet with the 49 rating was another that had a list of items marked "corrected." This revision bumped their number up to 86.
Had the 86 been the only number on the wall there would be no issue, but let's consider that newer number.
The Health Department pays this place a visit, gives them a score that approaches condemnation and requires that they shape up. In response, the best that the owners of the restaurant can do is manage a "B" grade? If your business had been rated an "F," wouldn't you do everything in your power to turn that around?
How about an "A" grade? At least for posterity, we would have known that they did everything they could have done to make the place sanitary. When it comes to the safety of food, I'd like a little better than an average effort. If this 86 was the best they could manage after being smacked with an abominable score, then I guess the answer to the question of "Will you go back there?" is fairly obvious.
Our government is charged with the duty of protecting us from foreign invaders, violent separatist groups, fraudulent companies, the infringement on our right of self-governance and any act that deprives us of life or liberty.
The Food and Drug Administration, along with local health departments, offers one of the most important services that our tax dollars fund. Although their power is far-reaching and sometimes under question, imagine the alternative.
You'd have no idea what's really in the food you eat, the drugs you ingest or what lies behind the swinging doors to the kitchen of your favorite local dive.
The argument can be made that the free market would weed out the truly dangerous products and locations, because open standards would lead to a voluntary adoption of health codes as another level of competition.
Toeing a strictly Libertarian line, this argument is correct but only to a point. The time that the free market would use to correct the mistakes of unethical food and drug companies would cost lives, and what's to keep an upstart company from planning on breaking the rules with no intention of staying around for the long haul?
Look at the numbers on the back of your frozen dinner, the health code scores of restaurants you eat at and the warnings on your over-the-counter drugs. They're posted for your protection, and in order for them to work to their fullest, they need to be enforced with one of the greatest powers in America.
The one in your wallet.
Rob Felt is the photographer for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or firstname.lastname@example.org .