On the fourth Thursday of November, our attention naturally turns to food and football the Pilgrims who celebrated America’s first Thanksgiving. After great privation, a bountiful harvest inspired the Plymouth colony to lay a great feast.

That they survived is remarkable. After all, there was no Environmental Protection Agency to restrict the greenhouse gases escaping from all that burning wood. No Department of Labor to inspect the whipsaws, augers, and chisels employed in home construction. Nor was the U.S. Department of Agriculture at the ready to dole out subsidies and manage crop production.

But lo, anarchy there was not. The intrepid Pilgrims organized themselves (themselves!) to protect kin and hearth through the Mayflower Compact. Signed on November 11, 1620, the compact obligated its signatories to “solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic; for our better ordering, and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony.”

Alas, “from time to time” has given way in the modern age to “incessantly.” There is virtually no aspect of our lives over which laws and ordinances do not reign. In the Obama Administration’s first term alone, regulatory burdens on Americans increased by nearly $70 billion.

Even the Thanksgiving menu is laden with regulatory do’s and don’ts. Some may be justified as safeguarding public health and safety, but thousands of others are simply the meddling of an administrative state that is threatening to transform us into regulatory serfs.

Lest there be any doubts about the extent of the problem, forthwith is just a taste of the regulatory minutiae that control today’s menu:

  • Turkey. Title 9, Part 381.76, of the Code of Federal Regulations directs turkey inspectors on the proper method of examining a frozen bird, to wit: “If a carcass is frozen, it shall be thoroughly thawed before being opened for examination by the inspector. Each carcass, or all parts comprising such carcass, shall be examined by the inspector, except for parts that are not needed for inspection.”
  • Cranberries. Title 7, Part 929, establishes a “marketing committee” overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to set quotas on the volume of cranberries shipped to handlers from growers in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington, and Long Island, New York. The grower “allotments” help to ensure that the price of cranberries remains artificially high.
  • Bread/rolls. Title 21, Part 136, requires anything labeled as “bread” in a bakery to weigh one-half pound or more after cooling. To be legally called a “roll,” each unit must weigh less than one-half pound after cooling.
  • Potatoes. Title 7, Part 51.1546, dictates the proportion of allowable defects among specific grades of spuds. Potatoes graded as “U.S. No. 1” may not exceed the following tolerances at the point of shipping: 5 percent for external defects, 5 percent for internal defects, and not more than a total of 1 percent for potatoes that are frozen or affected by soft rot or wet breakdown. An entirely different set of tolerances apply to U.S. No. 1 potatoes while en route or upon reaching the destination, while similar standards are also set for “commercial” grade potatoes, “U.S. No. 2” potatoes, and “off-size” potatoes.
  • Green beans. Title 21, Part 155.120, defined green beans and wax beans as “the foods prepared from succulent pods of fresh green bean or wax bean plants conforming to the characteristics of Phaseolus vulgaris L. and Phaseolus coccineus L. The beans shall be one of the following distinct color types: (a) Green; or (b) Wax. The varietal type is either (a) beans having a width not greater than 1 1/2 times the thickness of the bean; or (b) beans having a width greater than 1 1/2 times the thickness of the bean.”
  • Corn meal (for stuffing). Title 21, Part 137.275, distinguishes yellow corn meal from cleaned white corn meal: “Yellow corn meal conforms to the definition and standard of identity prescribed by §137.250 for white corn meal except that cleaned yellow corn is used instead of cleaned white corn.”
  • Pecans. Title 7, Part 65, requires “country of origin” labeling for pecans and a variety of other foods. The declaration may not contain abbreviations or flags. However, the adjectival form of the name of a country may be used to identify the country of origin—provided the adjectival form of the name does not appear with other words so as to refer to a kind or species of product.

All of this regulation raises a simple question: Who are the actual turkeys?