(Earlier this month, the Bloomberg administration announced a new initiative aimed at encouraging food processors and restaurants in New York and across the country to cut back on salt in the foods they sell. This one of two commentaries on the move. The other, in support of the plan, appears here.)
Mayor Michael Bloomberg is at it again with his "big government knows better than you and your doctor" attitude. He crusaded to ban smoking in New York City restaurants and bars, forced restaurants into posting calorie counts and promoted high-powered advertising campaigns against sugary drinks. Now, the mayor and his health department czar are demanding 25 percent reductions in the amount of salt in manufactured foods sold in New York City -- even hysterically comparing the popular seasoning with rooting out "deadly asbestos in the classroom."
Since manufacturers would have to change their entire food product line for New York City because of this aggressive assault against salt, Bloomberg's zealous effort will affect food policy for the entire country. Although claiming this is a "voluntary" anti-sodium campaign, his vicious and untrue comparison of salt to deadly asbestos is especially a stab in the back to the city's ethnic cuisine. It will soon affect millions of resident diners as well as tourists who visit New York City for its excellent food offerings.
"Say it's not our business?" the mayor grumped at a news conference. "I don't think so," he declared.
In recent years the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has been asked to run a large-scale trial to determine the impact of salt reduction in the diet upon health outcomes in the general population. Yet this has never occurred. And since there has never been a conclusive scientific trial, what Bloomberg is "making his own business" is essentially his own egomaniacal experiment. He is placing New York City's population into the largest clinical trial ever, using its residents as guinea pigs without their consent.
A Taste for Salt
Bloomberg and his health czar are again pushing a "one size fits all" model for New York City, ignoring that salt has important properties that preserve and stabilize food and, of course, often makes it taste better. Sodium cannot be manufactured in the human body, so all humans need some measure of salt. Isn't it better for Americans to be free to consult their own doctors about their salt intake r than have politicians and nanny state bureaucrats setting arbitrary government rules? What's next in Bloomberg's radical book of "health regulations"? A "bedtime" rule stipulating how long people should get their nightly rest?
By the way, one can conduct an intellectually honest debate over the pros and cons of Bloomberg's health crusades, but there's no argument that the mayor is a hypocrite for often openly indulging in junk food while at the same time attacking everything ranging from salt to sugary drinks. New York Times reporter Michael Barbaro recently listed the mayor's admitted "weaknesses," including burnt bacon, hot dogs, Big Macs, fried chicken, wine, pizza, coffee and his favorite snack of all, Cheez-It's. Think of all the sodium in all that!
New York Magazine's Chris Rovzar has mused that, because of the mayor's love of junk food and awareness of how hard it is to resist, hizzoner likes to set up "hurdles" like calorie counts and trans-fat bans for people who are subject to temptation.
Whatever the mayor's motivation, restaurant owners, chefs and their customers know that salt obviously makes certain foods taste better. Chef David Chang, owner of the Momofuku Noodle Bar, notes that cooks have been using varying degrees of salt with food almost as long as they have been using fire. "You need salt to draw flavor out of food," Chang says. "It is a skill that you teach cooks. For that to be regulated by the government is stupid and foolish."
Noma Dumich, former owner of the Manhattan French restaurant Sel Et Poivre ("Salt and Pepper"), which is now owned by her daughter and son in-law, further underscores that the city government is pursuing a restaurant-killing and job-killing strategy. "I'm very worried about what Bloomberg's campaign will mean to my family and other city restaurants," she says.
Research shows that over the past 30 years the only country that has ever reduced its salt consumption is Finland. Interestingly, though, when comparing cardiovascular performance and increases in longevity in Finland over the last 30 years with the rates in neighboring countries and the U.S., none of which lowered salt consumption, Finland's has had the worst performance of all. Could one therefore conclude that salt reduction doesn't provide any significant health benefits, and may actually lead to diminishing the health of a population?
That's one more reason why the My Food My Choice grassroots organization has emerged to join a growing number of New York City consumers, restaurant owners and food manufacturers in opposing Bloomberg's nutritional fascism. The group is calling for peoples' freedom of health choices, as well as asking the mayor to not treat his constituents as guinea pigs. Bloomberg ought to mull that over while munching on his Cheez-Its.
Orit Sklar is the national spokeswoman of the coalition My Food My Choice, a grassroots coalition of consumers and businesses that promotes the advancement of consumer choice in the marketplace and an environment of economic vitality.