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March 11, 2010

New York tries to hold the salt

saltMore bizarre restaurant news from the great state of New York.

Earlier this week, we heard about a Chelsea chef making cheese from his wife's breast milk.

And we're thinking, "Why isn't a food cop ever around when you need one?"

Instead of going after bodily fluids in foods, the food police are up to something else: banning salt from restaurant meals.

"No owner or operator of a restaurant in this state shall use salt in any form in the preparation of any food for consumption by customers of such restaurant, including food prepared to be consumed on the premises of such restaurant or off of such premises," the bill states, according to a reports from various news outlets.

The idea is to let restaurant patrons decide how much salt they want in their meal. Salt shakers still would be allowed on tables.

Said the New York Daily News: "If [bill sponsor] state assemblyman Felix Ortiz has his way, the only salt added to your meal will come from the chef's tears."

There's more than just taste at stake. Salt plays a role in kitchen chemistry. When baking bread, for instance, amino acids in flour interact with salt ions to help "line up the gluten fibers," something I should know as the daughter of a chemist and home economics teacher but, to be honest, I had to Google that.

First they came for the trans fats, and I did not speak out ... 


Photo by Getty Images

Posted by Laura Vozzella at 11:21 AM | | Comments (30)


Okay well transfats are just a cheap alternative, they dont really add anything (although Im sure the lolbertarians will come out to defend their rights to kill themselves), but salt is pretty pivotal to cooking, not just seasoning, so either this guy is an idiot or.. well, no, there really isn't an either or here.

"hawkish merit"

Since when did going to a restaurant in NY equal to checking into a nursing home?

captcha = unproved after

That's as agnostic as it gets.

This is interesting, because I am not sure I am clear on the substance of the language. Table salt or the dash of salt that is used in cooking is a fraction of the problem that most diners have when it comes to sodium consumption. Our problems are in the sodium used in processed, prepackaged foods. If you go into a chain restaurant most of the food will be loaded with sodium and nitrates because it's premade. Having the chefs not throw in that "dash" for flavor (say in a boiling pot of pasta) will NOT be making a difference in the blood pressure levels of diners. But does this language mean that the processing site of a TGI Fridays has to avoid using salt when making say, pre-breaded chicken breasts or sauces?

And let me state for the record that I too agree: Assemblyman Ortiz has clearly never set foot in a kitchen or cooked anything in his life.

If elected officials really want to use their regulatory power in the interest of public health, then address the manufacturing standards up our food chain. Anyone ever get the chance to go into a Monsanto factory? (Probably not, they're tighter than fort knox). Or, do what Baltimore City has done and hire guys like Tony Geraci to look at the way institutions purchase and serve food. But leave the cooking and eating decisions to chefs and diners!

We need trans fats, salt, smoking, booze, and drugs accessible to all. If we don't start killing off the population, instead of keeping them alive to a ripe old age our healthcare will continue to skyrocket..While we're at it, get rid of seatbelts too.

Jeff is right. We should be allowed to pick our poison. My grandparents had a nightcap (heavy on the booze) daily for years, They used it to wash down crackers and processed cheese product. Gramps was 95 when he died. Gram made it to 103.

Another complete waste of time. Dear politicians, please work on something that will benefit society!

This is, clearly, the stupidest proposal ever.

Tortured lawmakers, anyone?

Okay, I'm a dietitian/nutritionist (who loves good food!) and this is just stupid. Would "salt in any form" include things like soy sauce or marinades? BBQ sauce? How about those yummy salted caramels? Will chefs hide their salt stash in hollowed out cookbooks? And how will this be enforced?

Seriously, there is a ridiculous amount of sodium in most restaurant food, but people who are concerned about eating healthfully generally make restaurant meals an occasional thing. In that case, the extra sodium is not a big deal for most people. I am all for healthy options on menus but no one wants to be forced to eat bland food.

This gives a little credibility to the "slippery slope" theories. After salt what is next? Caffeine? Alcohol again? Portion control and calorie limits?

No salt, I don't know about anyone else, but some foods need an extra dash or so.

Well, let's not get all excited. Most bills die in committee, and this one looks to have only one co-sponsor.

what will I put on my freedom fries?

Die in committee? This bill should have never been sponsored or more importantly co-sponsored. Bills such as AB 10129 should be shut down before it hits the assembly. They've already wasted taxpayers money. Even if it cost one dollar, that was one dollar too many.

This is the government out of control, they are slowly controlling everything. People need to wake up, the government is going to tell us what we can eat, they will dictate our healthcare.

It was in the late, great winter of 2010. The heavy snows had melted until all that remained was the occasional diminutive snowman-corpse propped along the north side of a fence, sometimes just a misshapen pile of soot-capped white with a carrot nearby, resembling nothing more than a photographic negative of the Wicked Witch of the West in her decline. Solitary lawn chairs still perched here and there by the dry roadway, in an attempt to continue the privatization of public parking spaces. The streets were pockmarked with potholes, and the pavement was scarred by the ghost-markings of road salt. But these were the last traces of salt to be found in the metropolis. A salt ban had been enacted by the State Legislature, and an insipid sense of blandness now descended over the land.

At first, people were quite confused. No salt in the pasta water? How would the clafoutis rise properly? No salt bagels? Soft-boiled eggs without salt - the very thought of that induced retching. The question of soy sauce was problematic: was that the end of Chinese, Korean, and Japanese food? Whither kimchi and nori? How to brine the St. Patrick's Day corned beef? Would there even be a Smithfield ham for Easter?

Life changed, day by day. Sysco deliveries to restaurants ceased immediately, as all of their food products contained generous amounts of sodium. Waiters demanded salaries instead of tips. ERs were inundated with cases of hyponatremia, causing shortages of .9 normal saline solution. And behind unmarked doors on every other corner, salteasies sprang up. Those in the know knocked surreptitiously, muttering the password "Morton Girl" before entering a savory world of salty, sybaritic celebration.

Meanwhile, those with an entrepreneurial bent began quietly running interstate trafficking operations. From small, back road bootleggers moving Kosher crystals strapped to their bikes, to large shipments of NaCl arriving from the salt mines of Colorado, it was a heady time of anarchy. Teenagers borrowed their parents' credit cards to order Fleur de sel through the internet, showing unprecedented interest in the UPS delivery schedule, then carefully concealing packages of the white stuff to sell in the schoolyard.

Contraband was everywhere, the forces of temperance were gathering, and it all could have ended tragically were it not for The Great Salt March to Ocean City...

LV, have you heard of Beach Week?

Listen up, Solons: no bill may be introduced unless that Joel guy approves in advance.

As usual, brilliant, LL!

food does not taste like food without salt. Ever eat an unsalted potato chip? What's it taste like? Nothing, right? Yup it doesnt taste like a potato until you put a little salt on it.

NYC would no longer be a food mecca. It would be a sad, sad day.

Laura Lee, I bow down to you! As someone who would rather have salt than chocolate, I find this a very serious matter.

micecantread,,,,Ketchup of course,which is loaded to gills w/ sodium

Well done, Laura Lee!

Thank you Trixie, Dahlink, and Bourbon Girl. We can only hope it remains a fantasy.

Guess I need to find the closest equestrian supply store and stock up on salt licks...

As a rabid fan (and enthusiastic baker) of bread of all kinds, I weep for the many loaves of overrisen underflavoured bread this bill would produce. Gack.

nice one LL! I even read every word instead of skimming, which is high praise indeed, since I don't think I've read anything longer than a Krugman column in years!

As a consumate carb addict, I too weep, Sloth. Especially thinking of all the tasteless potato and pasta dishes in addition to that ruined bread! As a person who could honestly give up all protein and go to a complete carb diet, this news saddens me greatly!

Just wait for the inevitable backlash, Joyce W.

(Albany, N.Y) –Assemblyman Felix W. Ortiz (Brooklyn), sought to clarify his intentions for his sodium legislation (A.10129) today. The Assemblyman stated, “My intention for this legislation was to prohibit the use of salt as an additive to meals. If salt is a functional component of the recipe, by all means, it should be included. But, when we have meals prepared by restaurants that pile unnecessary amounts of salt, we have a problem.” Ortiz’s concern also stems from alarming reports issued by the World Health Organization as well as a study issued by the Annals of Internal Medicine.

According to the American Heart Association, Americans on average consume 3,436 mg sodium daily. Many experts now believe that lowering daily consumption to no more than 1,500 mg of sodium daily would be an effective way to prevent or lower high blood pressure. However, the amount of salt used in the U.S. food supply makes this goal difficult to achieve for most Americans.

The Assemblyman is concerned that consumers might not understand the absurd levels of sodium you can find in one dish at many restaurants. “Think of it this way: You only need 1,500 mg of sodium in a given day. Then look at the sodium in one serving of Chicken Portobello from a popular family chain restaurant. This one dish has 7,300 mg of sodium; over three times the daily need!” said Ortiz. These levels of salt are not essential for the recipe and are often added to the dish to mask the lack of freshness of the food.

Besides many dishes’ salt levels being unnecessary for flavor, there are serious health risks associated with increased sodium intake. A study done by the World Health Organization showed that if everyone consumed half a teaspoon less per day, there would be between 54,000 and 99,000 fewer heart attacks each year and between 44,000 and 92,000 fewer deaths. This same study also showed that lowering the amount of salt people eat, even by small amounts, could reduce cases of heart disease, stroke and heart attacks as much as reductions in smoking, obesity, and cholesterol levels.

In addition to the health benefits of lower salt intake, a study in this month's Annals of Internal Medicine says reducing dietary sodium levels would save $32 billion in medical costs and avert almost one million heart attacks and strokes over the lifetime of adults ages 45 to 85.

Now all somebody has to do is define "unnessary amounts". As with many things government agencies come up with this is impossible.

If the assemblyman is so concerned about salt in foods we eat he should restructure his bill and focus on the commercial food industry, where most people get most of the salt in their diets, not at the restaurants.

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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