Long before 9/11, I knew a couple of guys who worked for an electric company and they traveled by commercial airlines a good deal. I don’t how it started, but at some point they got into competition with one another over who could make the most last minute arrival and still get on a flight. It was great fun. The stories are legendary. Rental cars left on the tarmac of major airports. Being waved through what amount to “security checks” back then by airline employees who knew about the competition. Many of the incidents would today land anyone involved hard time in federal prison, if not a ride to Gitmo. On a couple of occasions was I a spectator to this competition, but I still miss it. Smoking on commercial airlines was gone before 9/11, but I still miss it too. Not because I smoke, but because it was the most effective method for separating the adults from the crying, snot-nosed children. All of us now, as we assume our most Zen-like states as we approach the TSA station, have thoughts and fears about losing personal rights and freedoms in this country. How much freedom are we willing to give up for security? The answer to that question might be different for each of us. Whether its restricting calories in school lunches, removing junk food from school vending machines, prohibiting commercial sale of raw milk, or limiting soda pop sizes, it means the police power of the state is being used to limit someone’s freedom in the name of some greater good. With so much more contributing to this than just policies about food and nutrition, it would be nice if someone were thinking about whether there is a “tipping” point in our futures. Is there going to be a day when we just don’t think about freedom anymore and remain in our most Zen-like states 24/7? Or will we reach a point where we’re not going to take it anymore? The “Food Freedom” folks have already answered that one. What about the rest of us? I have to say I was surprised to see that The Pew Research Center for the People and Press is thinking such thoughts and putting them into some historical perspective with some new survey research on the subject. In a very credible poll, Pew Research last week said that for the first time in history a majority of the American people believes the federal government threatens their rights. “As Barack Obama begins his second term in office, trust in the federal government remains mired near a historic low, while frustration with government remains high,” says Pew Research. Pew’s findings are based on survey research conducted Jan. 9-13 involving completed interviews with 1,502 adults. It found 53 percent of those interviewed think the federal government threatens their personal rights and freedoms, while 43 percent disagree. Pew Research is the third largest think tank in Washington D.C., and is funded by the Philadelphia-based Pew Charitable Trusts. It says majorities consistently rejected the idea that the U.S. government threatened people’s rights and freedoms from 1995 through 2003. As recently as March 2010, the number saying they felt threatened stood short of a majority at 47 percent. But not anymore. “The growing view that the federal government threatens personal rights and freedoms has been led by conservative Republicans,” the pollsters reported. “Currently 76 percent of conservative Republicans say the federal government threatens their personal rights and freedoms and 54 percent describe government as a ‘major” threat.” Pew found that 38 percent of Democrats also think government is a threat to personal rights and freedoms with 16 percent saying it is a major threat. Luckily most people are more frustrated with government than angered by it, according to Pew. And partisan anger has shifted from Democrats at Bush to Republicans at Obama. For example, liberal anger has cooled since Bush left office to just 8 percent, down from 44 percent. It has been replaced by anger among conservatives rising to 31 percent, up from 6 percent. “Public frustration with the federal government is now new,” Pew notes. Also interesting was Pew’s finding that by a 56 to 32 margin, the public thinks the problem in Washington, D.C. is the people elected to Congress, not the political system that is the problem. The survey did not address the specific personal rights and freedoms that people fear losing, so there is no way of knowing how much food safety and nutrition policies might be causing the concerns. It will be interesting to see how leaders in the food safety and nutrition movement, including those who work at Pew Health, respond to these findings. It might be good if someone smart thinks about the cumulative impacts of personal restrictions. None of us would ever want to forget those five most important words in the Declaration of Independence about how government must be based on: “the consent of the governed.” We can live with no more games at the airports, but if we lose the consent of the governed, it’s game over.