A cold glass of discontent - Joel Hall

Earlier this year, I was confronted with the news that my cholesterol was extremely high and that I would need to make some changes in my life in order to remain healthy.

It was a challenge, at first, but I have been able to make those changes and the process has paid dividends.

I got rid of the TV dinners I often ate for lunch, and started bringing my own lunch more. I started eating more salads, doubled my intake of fiber, and tripled my intake of water.

Since my checkup at the beginning of the year, I have lost 30 pounds and have been able to reduce my cholesterol by about 30 points, simply by changing some of my habits.

However, due to the time constraints of my job, I often find myself rushing out the door and leaning toward fast food to fill in the gaps.

Over the last decade, many restaurants, such as Burger King, Wendy's and McDonald's, have figured out that more people will shop with them, if their customers continue to be alive, and have started offering healthier menu options, such as apple slices, parfaits, and premium salads.

This movement was expedited when documentaries, such as "Super Size Me," demonstrated the long-term side effects of eating stuff off the regular menu on a regular basis.

When I am unable to pack something healthy for myself, it's nice to know that I can go by a fast-food restaurant and pick up something that won't slowly kill me. For a few months now, when time permits, I have traveled between two of these restaurants, and picked up a premium salad for lunch.

I've always been annoyed by the person who gets the Double Big Mac, sandwiched by two Krispy Kreme doughnuts, with a Diet Coke. Or, the person who gets a fistful of onion rings and a fudge sundae to go along with the premium salad. So, the most sensible option for me has always been to get a premium salad and a free cup of water to go along with it.

Last week, however, I went to my local fast-food restaurant for a premium salad and a free cup of water to wash all $6 of it down, when I was told that water is no longer free.

I've known restaurants that don't offer refills, but I've never come across a fast-food restaurant where the water wasn't free. When I learned that a 10-ounce cup of ice water now costs the same as a 32-ounce cup of sweet tea that probably has a pound of sugar in it, I was flabbergasted.

The free cup of water has long served as a bond of trust between me and the fast-food industry. For agreeing to purchase processed food that probably isn't good for me, I agree to not fill my water cup with "flavored" water, i.e., soda, tea or other liquids.

I was almost starting to believe that the fast-food industry was beginning to look out for my best interests. In my opinion, however, if someone is willing to pay top dollar for fast food, that restaurant should, at least, give him the option of washing it down with a free, cold glass of water.

Some places already charge for packets of barbecue sauce. If the one last great honor system of the fast-food industry is to disappear, what's next? Napkin levies? Straw taxes? The possibilities are frightening.

I rarely choose to boycott anything, but until my local fast-food joint chooses to stop the madness and stop charging for water, I am taking my business elsewhere.

Joel Hall covers government and politics for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached via e-mail at jhall@news-daily.com.