A Seattle restaurant owner is poking fun at a law professor John F. Banzhaf III, a professor of public interest law at George Washington University Law School and who is a successful anti-tobacco litigator who recently turned his attention to America’s obesity epidemic. The Owner of the restaurant is making patrons sign an indemnity before serving up a dish he calls ‘The Bulge’ (pictured, right). It’s semi-serious. But the obesity-law campaigner is taking it seriously, just as he takes his new area of interest seriously.The semi-serious gimmick might be the first of its kind in the United States, is displayed in poster-sized dimensions near the front door of the 5 Spot, an eatery on Seattle’s affluent Queen Anne Hill.

“I will not impose any of sort of obesity-related lawsuit against the 5 Spot or consider any similar type of frivolous legislation created by a hungry trial lawyer,” the release says. After a diner signs it, a waiter hauls out a sugarcoated, deep-fried, ice cream-swaddled, caramel-drizzled, whipped-cream-anointed banana.

“We thought, what can we do to illustrate how stupid it is to make restaurants responsible for monitoring the eating habits of Americans?” said Peter Levy, co-owner of the 5 Spot. “We came up with the most fattening and delicious dessert we could think of.”

Banzhaf is trying to be amused by Seattle. “Obviously, it is a joke and I have helped the restaurant publicize it,” he said. “This, however, is not a funny subject.”

He pointed to study after study showing how un-funny it is that Americans, young and old, are fatter than ever before.

All of this, Banzhaf said, is helping him and other plaintiff’s lawyers lay a legal foundation for lawsuits against companies such as major fast-food chains and manufacturers of processed food.

That foundation, though, was cracked this month by a federal judge in New York who dismissed a lawsuit against McDonald’s. The suit contended the company was hiding the health risks of Big Macs and Chicken McNuggets. McDonald’s has trumpeted the obesity ruling as “recognition that the courtroom is not the appropriate forum to address this important issue.”

But Banzhaf argues that, as was the case with tobacco, it takes time for legal theories to coalesce in a way that forces major societal change.

Change does appear to be gathering momentum. McDonald’s announced this week that it has hired talk show host Oprah Winfrey’s trainer to include a fitness program brochure with its new meal-sized salad. To compete against salad meals at McDonald’s and Wendy’s, Burger King this week introduced a low-fat baguette chicken sandwich.

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