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Me want to see Cookie Monster left alone

What in the name of Jim Henson are the folks at "Sesame Street" thinking?

The heretofore sensible crew that controls a menagerie of multihued Muppets has decided to put the beloved Cookie Monster on a diet. You remember the Cookie Monster. Blue shag-carpet fur. Googly eyes. Tarzan diction. And a voracious appetite for that time-honored baked mixture of chocolate chips, sugar and eggs.

Sesame Workshop honchos, the folks behind the show, have decided that given the present obesity epidemic, Cookie's eating habits are promoting an unhealthy lifestyle for children. So instead of "C is for Cookie," our furry friend will be forced to sing the rather dissonant and heave-worthy "A Cookie is a Sometimes Food."

Did me hear somebody say "asinine"?

Sesame Workshop execs have tried to soothe an outraged public - yes, there have already been demonstrations - with the news that they aren't taking away Cookie's cookies; he's simply going to eat them in moderation. The monster's diet change is part of a yearlong emphasis on healthy eating.

But given all this example setting, it's unnerving to contemplate what's next. Sending that ultrathin grunge pioneer Grover to rehab for heroin addiction? Forcing confirmed bachelors Ernie and Bert, whose 36-year-long live-in relationship has been the object of intense speculation, to start eyeing girls?

There's no arguing that kids today have a weight problem. Doubting Thomases need only visit any school playground - if the political correctness police haven't removed those too - and observe the small masses of lard that pass for children today to realize that society has a problem on its hands.

But surely kids could find a better healthy eating model - at home springs to mind - than a blue carpet remnant with someone's hand up its backside. Last I checked, an esophagus is actually required for cookie ingestion.

It's doubtful whether centering a weight loss and healthy living campaign around "a biscuit-eating puppet," as one British paper referred to Cookie, is the best path to success.

Let's face it: Many of us grew up on the show, reveling in Cookie Monster's antics. Very few of us tipped the scales toward obesity. Ditto for millions of kids in the 119 other countries where "Sesame Street" is shown.

Further, I haven't met many adults, adolescents or children who ever thought of any of the "Sesame Street" characters as role models. Back in school, I did know a tall boy with a penchant for feathers and boisterous yellow clothes. But he was channeling Liza Minelli, not Big Bird.

My young stepdaughter's reaction to Cookie setting a dietary example? "Well that's stupid."

Indeed.

A make-believe character's make-believe diet isn't the problem here.

Instead, it's parents who let their children forsake the sandbox for the Xbox. And a fast-food industry that markets toys and lard-laden tasties directly to kids. And schools that sacrifice students' waistlines in exchange for proceeds from soda machines.

Anyone who's ever watched Cookie Monster closely knows that he doesn't so much eat the cookies as pound them into crumbs and spew them across the set.

Instead of changing his diet, maybe "Sesame Street" would be better off giving Cookie lessons in table manners.

Bronwyn Lance Chester is a columnist for The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk. Readers may write to her at The Virginian-Pilot, 150 West Brambleton Avenue, Norfolk, Va. 23510, or send her e-mail at bronwyn.chester@pilotonline.com.