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Buy it; eat it; forget about it

What a parting shot.  Announcing his resignation in December, the nation’s top health official, Tommy Thompson, offered this cheery observation: “For the life of me, I cannot understand why the terrorists have not attacked our food supply because it is so easy to do.” Predictably, the administration downplayed the comments. A few days later, the FDA quietly released new bioterror rules on tracing food sources. Food companies said it just proved what a good job they’d been doing.

Maybe it’s all irrelevant. If 2004 taught us anything about food, it’s that our attention span isn’t long enough to change the way we get it or eat it. Impulse-buy culture has settled in our bellies.

True, the government says two-thirds of the nation is fat. But we’re not doing much to eat less beyond short-term fad diets that become a distant memory when the office cheesecake comes around. With the low-carb star falling, nutritionists are now taking odds on the next likely craze. Low-protein? Glycemic load? The Dim Sum Diet?

There were a few hopeful signs.  Super-sizing died a blubbery death and organic food sales are projected to skyrocket; we got some useful guidance on how to eat fish without getting a side order of mercury; and food manufacturers agreed to craft some healthier options.

But when faced with the nation’s first case of mad cow, officials scrambled to downplay it, then promised things like a national animal I.D. system and tighter feed rules. A year later, neither is in place. You’d think this was as complex as, say, intelligence reform.

Next year, we’ll get new dietary guidelines telling us, shockingly, that eating too much makes you fat, and that a balanced diet is good. But everyone hates being told what to do, and … oooh, those kettle-cooked chips on the aisle look so good.

Besides, you can diet in January. Dim sum, three times a day.