The Crisco Crisis

Not content with making outlaws of people who smoke in their offices, New York City now seeks to criminalize chefs who cook with trans fat. Restaurants that persist in pleasing their customers rather than the City’s food fascists will face fines of $200 to $2000.

Trans fat, more familiar to home cooks as Crisco, makes pie crust just as flaky and fried foods just as crispy as Grandmother promised. "Hydrogenated vegetable shortening" finds extensive commercial use, too. Then a couple (literally) of scientists hypothesized that hydrogenated oils contribute to heart disease. That gave government yet another bugaboo with which to scare us, as though Al Qaeda weren’t enough. No matter that the hypothesis is disputed, nor that freedom means folks decide for themselves what to ingest: politicians are making war on Crisco. And why not? It looks disgusting. It makes us fat. Best of all, it doesn’t shoot back. It’s an ideal enemy, and New York City is gleefully expanding its power under the guise of "protecting" diners from it.

Several phrases sprang to mind when I heard that the City wants to force cardboard cookies and spongy spring rolls on me. Among the printable ones is that architectural advice, "Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones." Let the City trim its own fat before cutting mine.

That will keep it busy for a very long time. The City gorges on a $52.2 billion budget, an $80 billion pension fund, and no less than 250,000 employees. Not only do we pay a mayor, we pay deputy mayors, too. And each of the City’s five boroughs has a president on the dole as well. How do they earn their keep? "Borough presidents advise the Mayor on issues relating to each borough, comment on all land use items in their borough, advocate borough needs in the annual municipal budget process, administer a small discretionary budget for projects within each borough, appoint Community Boards, and chair the Borough Boards." Call me nave, but I bet if they didn’t show up for "work" one day, the City wouldn’t crash to a halt.

The roll call continues through a comptroller, a public advocate, 51 council members and their staffs, 59 community boards with up to 50 small-fry politicians each, and the City’s 101 agencies (everything from "Administrative Trials and Hearings, Office of" and "Anti-Graffiti Task Force, Mayor’s" through the "Equal Employment Practices Commission" and the "Fund to Advance NYC" to the "United Nations, Consular Corps and Protocol, Commission for the" and the "Workforce Investment Board").

Which brings us back to the lard at the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH). Unless we’re living in an Orwell novel, why does this agency even exist? Here’s the City’s ambitious answer: "The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene [DOHMH] protects and promotes the health and mental well being of all New Yorkers." Quite a few folks might charge the Department with dereliction on the "mental well being," at least.

Last year, DOHMH bureaucrats began hectoring restaurants to "voluntarily" eliminate trans fat from their menus. "Consumers want healthier choices," their propaganda insisted. "Clearing artificial trans fat out of your kitchen is an excellent way to attract customers and increase demand for your products." Oh, right. Some consumers want tofu and turnips; others seldom if ever ask the waiter, "Ryan, tell me, what’ve you got tonight without trans fat? I’m in the mood for healthier choices."

Restaurateurs recognized a Big Lie when they heard it. They know what their customers want: food that tastes good. Fast. At reasonable prices. Some may avoid trans fat, too, but preferences in food, like everything else, vary tremendously from person to person. It’s the highest arrogance for bureaucrats to pretend they know what we want without the minute attention to our whims by which entrepreneurs live or die. And if bureaucrats can somehow magically discern that we’ll order 58 slices of carrot cake most Monday evenings but only 7 sides of steamed carrots, let them risk their own resources and open a restaurant instead of leeching off taxpayers.

New York’s eateries were too savvy to heed the DOHMH’s propaganda, as its website plaintively wails: "This proposal [to u2018phase-out (sic) artificial trans fat in all NYC restaurants and other food service establishments’] follows a one-year education campaign to help" — love it! — "restaurants voluntarily reduce trans fat. Despite this effort, there was no decline in the proportion of restaurants using oils and spreads with trans fat." Busybodies who waxed frantic over such trivia were once dismissed as cranks. Now we give them badges and whistles and authority over their betters. Alas, empowered cranks won’t be ignored. They started the War on Crisco.

Right now, that war is confined to restaurants. But the DOHMH has also "requested" supermarkets to "expand your supply and promotion of products that are free of artificial trans fat, and phase out products containing artificial trans fat." The City isn’t quashing anything other than sales at this point. But it will expand to possession and consumption, just as the War on Drug Users did. Lest you shrug this off as more New York nonsense, cities like Chicago are avidly watching with the intention of starting their own war.

The DOHMH is in cahoots with the Board of Health and its chief crank, Dr. Thomas Frieden. He apparently knows as little about cooking as he does about freedom: "Like lead paint," he told the New York Times, "artificial trans fat in food is invisible and dangerous, and it can be replaced. No one will miss it when it is gone."

Poor Tom’s confused Crisco with cranks.