New York city banned trans fat this summer. Well, mostly. The city won’t begin issuing fines for restaurants that still use trans fat until October 1st. But the law took effect July 1st, meaning any time a health inspector catches a restaurant that’s still using trans fat, the owner gets a very stern talking to.
There’ve been a few reports here and there about restaurants that haven’t complied, but for the most part, New York became both the first and largest major city in the US to ban trans fat in one fell swoop.
I met with chefs Carrie Levin and Jeffrey Nathan who have both complied with the new law, but really don’t like the idea of being told what to do. And I met with assistant health commissioner Lynn Silver who explains why she thinks this is exactly the sort of thing public health officials should be regulating. And I talked to a couple New Yorkers eating lunch in the park about their feelings.
Overall, it was an interesting piece to work on. I’m still not really sure where I fall on the should the government be regulating this stuff issue. But I do certainly find myself spending more time looking at the fat section of food labels than I used to. And when we ran out of margarine last week, I bought butter instead. The trans fat ban in New York only affects restaurants, not supermarkets. So you can still go out and buy all the margarine you want, but it might be worth spending a few extra bucks on butter.
Here’s one of my favorite bits of information that didn’t fit into the story. The health inspectors have a very sophisticated method for checking to see if a restaurant is using trans fat. They read the list of ingredients on various food items in the kitchen. That’s it. Theoretically, you could slap a fake label on a tub of oil. But that probably won’t work real well. Since the inspectors are visiting restaurants day in and day out, they have a pretty good idea what food labels should look like. And it’s probably not worth counterfeiting food labels just to get around a few hundred dollar fine.