First the TSA Came for the Condiments. . .

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I’ve discussed my love of Reubens here before. I never had the genuine article, though. I’ve never been to New York. The best deli meats around here are tasty, but authentic Jewish delicatessen cuisine is tragically lacking in the otherwise culinarily excellent atmosphere of the Bay Area.

So my very good friends were in New York City this weekend, and in exchange for my picking them up at the airport, they promised to bring me back a pastrami sandwich from Katz’s. The deli guy wouldn’t allow it, for the transit would render the sandwich soggy and wilted. So they generously vacuum-sealed some pastrami and corned beef, to give my friends to bring back to California for me, along with some pickles, sauerkraut, rye, brown mustard and Russian dressing. (Sufficiently tasty Swiss cheese, they were confident, could be found in Berkeley, so I picked some up at the local deli in anticipation of making a sandwich this morning.)

As I feared might happen, but did not adequately prepare for, the TSA confiscated the mustard and Russian dressing at the airport. These are, after all, liquid items that are heavily suspect under new TSA regulations. It didn’t help that my friend, attempting to be friendly by invoking the colloquial lexicon used by the urbanized agents, explained what the Russian dressing was by saying, “This stuff is the bomb.”

Thankfully, my comrades were not subjected to a serious search or interrogation, nor was the meat confiscated. I rushed out and got some Russian dressing first thing this morning, and prepared the best Reuben — equal parts pastrami and corned beef, as is my preference — that I ever tasted, perhaps even the best sandwich. I couldn’t help but think, however, that the TSA nearly deprived me of my ambrosia. I took solace in the inescapable delight that although they won the condiment battle, they lost the sandwich war.

And to think, one of the common excuses for the Constitution was that it swept away the hassles of interstate trade that were present under the Articles of Confederation. This contention has been roundly debunked, but it took that near cataclysm of a sandwich dream unfulfilled for me to realize the full disastrous impact of political centralization on my enjoyment of goods from across state lines. Had the meat been seized as well — and can anyone seriously argue that pastrami is less likely to be used terroristically than Russian dressing, that mayonnaise and horseradish are more incendiary than the pepper or spice ornamenting the smoked beef? — my case against the TSA and federal regulation of the interstate movement of goods would be more conclusive. But I do regard the informal war waged on the Russian sauce, as if this were still the infernal Cold War, to be a sufficient grievance to call for the agency’s abolition.

First they came for the condiments, but I didn’t speak up because I liked my sandwiches dry. We all know where such complacency leads us. Pretty soon you won’t be able to bring oranges from Florida or lobster from Maine onto civilian aircraft, and we’ll be reduced to dietary autarky.

Anthony Gregory [send him mail] is a writer and musician who lives in Berkeley, California. He is a research analyst at the Independent Institute. See his webpage for more articles and personal information.

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