Another unsung casualty of the War on Terror: my sweet tooth. Yep. The Department of Homeland Security -- not content with kneecapping the academic community by futzing around with student visas -- has now turned its attention to a dangerous new source of anti-American activity: care packages. The guiding motto: "Don't let them eat cake."
One of the upsides of living a long way from home is being blessed with a family that keeps you supplied with treats from home. Every birthday and Christmas, and sometimes completely randomly (but always when you need it most) there’s a fat little package in the hallway, stuffed full of familiar goodies. With missionary zeal, we share them with the natives and have made quite a few converts.
I don’t want to drop particular brand names here -- unless they want to advertise with Public Address, in which case we can talk -- but I’m sure you have your own list of faves. Mine runs to what I’ll call “Pops o’ Toffee.” Also “Nuts o’ Ginger.” And those politically incorrect but tasty edible Inuits in sherbet colours. Ooh and that kind of chocolate that boasts “all the goodness of a glass and a half of full-cream milk” in every family-sized block. The other kind that purports to give you nothing but energy and is the colour of a moonless night on Stewart Island. Orange-chocolate cinema-rollers. Wink wink, say no more. I know you know what I’m talking about: the taste of childhood.
When it comes time for the Christmas box, Mum and Dad go bonkers in the bickie aisle, and we make that stash last for months, rationing the biscuits, standing the golden syrup bottle upside down to get the last lovely drops. And then my father-in-law, a biscuit connoisseur from way back, makes random deliveries. He likes to send full sets of things. All the different kinds of toffee pop – dark, caramel, double chocolate, white chocolate; once, in answer to a particularly intense pregnancy craving, all the different flavours of barley sugar. They looked like an art installation, lined up on the top of the fridge.
So Papa-in-law went down to the Hamilton post office the other day with a well-wrapped package of, I don’t know, perhaps all the different kinds of mallowpuffs (hey, I can hope) -- only to be informed by the staff that America was no longer accepting food in the mail. It wasn’t a joke. It’s policy – check it out for yourself at the website of the Food and Drug Administration. There it is in multisyllabic black and white: you can’t send food through the international mail without obtaining prior permission through a complicated bureaucratic process designed to scare off the average kindly relative.
Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your tastebuds.
I could perhaps understand the policy if it was aimed at beefing up the domestic bickie industry (which, god knows, doesn’t need the help). Food industry protectionism isn’t a new thing in this country, after all. But it’s being billed as a security measure. You know, in case someone wants to use the mail to send some “yellowcake” from Osama’s Crusty Bakery, or some of those spicy anthrax cookies. Cher, like those guys don’t have their own couriers. And like there haven’t been domestic deliveries of dodgy substances -- the Unabomber? So Far Unidentified Anthrax Nut? Hello?
What makes the policy truly odd is that there is an exception for home-made food, "made in the sender's personal residence."
So let’s get this straight. Something pre-packaged and factory fresh, straight from the paws of Cookie Bear himself, untouched by human hands, completely sealed in plastic -- probably a highly dangerous bioweapon, so into the lead-lined bin with it. Uncle Sid’s homemade herbal cookies in a paper bag, on the other hand -- perfectly acceptable, here ya go, postie. Well, maybe the sniffer beagles would snarf the really special herbal cookies. But one way or another, under this new policy you'll have more luck posting Auntie Madge’s irregular dance-party Anzac bickies or a nice foil-wrapped fruitcake with a file inside it, than a good old king-sized bar of chocky.
The more I think about it, the crazier it is. I mean, isn’t something illicit more likely to have been, as it were, “homebaked” in the sender’s own personal “kitchen”, than purchased over the counter? Plus, having carefully wrapped the dangerous item in brown paper and string, can you really see Mr Naughty Badman sitting down and carefully filling in that little green customs form correctly? “Contents: one lovingly hand-made Spotted Dick, or as we call it in the old country, Smallpox Loaf. PS those aren’t raisins.”
Anne, writing from San Francisco, notes: "If anything, I would've thought that the bunches of deprived Kiwis would be more of a threat to national security as we take to the streets in protest." Yeah. Bring it on. "What do we want? Chocolate fish! When do we want them? NOW!" And I'm sure it's not just us lot -- every other household in this nation of immigrants is probably in the same boat. Keep your eyes peeled for a Million Munchie March on Washington.
Not that there's anything wrong with home-made munchies. In a way it’s rather old-fashioned: the care packages sent to our boys at the front eighty years ago probably contained not much in the way of shop-bought goodies, just lots of knitted socks and homemade jam and the odd tin of peppermints. One more way in which history appears to be stupidly repeating itself, even in this brave new 21st century... But hell, there’s something really wrong here. I can’t help thinking: if Bush and Ashcroft take away my toffeepops, the terrorists have won.
Here’s a hypothetical question, though: could you get around the policy by decanting Mr Griffin’s fine products into a biscuit tin with a note saying “I hope you like these, I baked them myself in me own kitchen. Was a bit hard on the old eyes printing my name on the bottom in that very fine type, but as you’ll see I did quite a neat job. Love, Griff”?
I don’t know, but we’ll soon find out. Watch this mailbox!
Update: Anne from Palmerston North writes with semi-encouraging news: "It is possible to apply for 'Prior Notice' clearance and then get 'Prior Notice' for the packages -- I've successfully sent some Tim Tams and Toffee Pops to an American friend. It just means spending about an hour wrestling with on-line forms (!)."
She also wonders if the baking exception is because they think Osama and the lads aren't exactly Hudson and Halls in the cookery department. Who knows? I'm off to apply for my prior notice so my sister can slip a bag of Eskimos in the mail...
In another update, Robert writes from Southern California:
"I noticed that it's only an interim rule at the moment, and is still open to public comment until July 14th. Maybe if we get enough people pointing out the, let's say flaws, in the proposed rule, they'll work in some kind of exception for small care packages."
Worth a crack, Nigel?
And Gregg, also writing from California, has quite a genius idea: he has vast quantities of unwanted Vegemite sitting in the cupboard, which inspires thoughts of an intra-U.S. care package swap-meet, zinging illicit goodies from West Coast to East, right under the nose of the Dept of Homeland Security. Now all we need is a website to list what we have and what we're after, and some sort of exchange rate mechanism to decide how many Eskimos equal one tube of fizzy Berocca...