Friday Food Freak-Out: Banning Salt and Recalling Pepper

Since last week's Freak-Out (wherein I warned you about the FDA recall of about a million products made with contaminated hydrolyzed vegetable protein, made you feel guilty about eating bluefin tuna and explained how not to blow your hands off using liquid nitrogen in the kitchen) went so well, I've decided to revive it again for this week--now in a convenient compendium form.

First, we've got another massive recall from the FDA--this one having to do with black pepper, of all things. Think the HVP recall effected a lot of products? That was nothin'. This one (which concerns black pepper from Mincing Overseas Spice Company of Dayton, New Jersey and products marketed by Frontier Natural Products Co-op and sold in Whole Foods stores all across the country) is just massive. It's bigger than the Pringles recall (announced earlier this week and connected to the salmonella-tainted HVP scare from last week--check out the Colbert Report video for a laugh), bigger than the Great Mushroom Soup Scare of Tuesday Afternoon. And while the HVP recall shows no signs of slowing down (more associated recalls are being announced almost every day, with McCormick, Quaker and Mrs. Gerry's Kitchen being added just since March 9), this new black pepper recall looks to be gaining ground.

What's more, it looks as though this new recall actually dates back to troubles first discovered back in July of 2009, as reported by one of my new favorite publications: the Food Poison Journal. It started with a salami recall (centered around Daniele Inc.) which involved over a million pounds of salami, but has since blossomed into a wide-ranging panic over black pepper now present in several different products, including those sold by Dutch Valley Food Distributors (which was actually announced while I was looking into the Frontier National Products information).

Still, that's just pepper, right? We can live without pepper so long as we have pepper's best friend and boon companion: salt.

Oh, but wait! How about this for a headline: New York Assembly To Ban Salt.

Think I'm making this up? That's okay. For a minute, I thought MSNBC, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Daily News and FOX News were making it up, too (and FOX probably was).

But no, this is a real thing. Brooklyn Democrat Felix Ortiz has actually introduced a bill before the New York State Assembly banning restaurants from using salt in food preparation, and proposing a $1000 fine for any violation. The vital language of the bill reads: ""No owner or operator of a restaurant in this state shall use salt in any form in the preparation of any food."

While I originally thought this had to just be some kind of stunt by a small political animal looking to get his name in the papers, Ortiz actually appears serious about this. The New York Daily News quoted him as saying: "It's time for us to take a giant step. We need to talk about two ingredients of salt: health care costs and deaths."

I would rather talk about the only ingredient in salt: salt. And maybe about the way it is used in real restaurants (read: those where you don't order your cheeseburgers through a giant clown head), which is sparingly. Pretty much every preparation, every recipe, every dish in a professional kitchen has salt in it--a reasonable amount of salt, in most cases. The perfect amount in the best. And to ban the use of salt outright would be tantamount to saying that every restaurant meal served in the state of New York, from now until forever, must taste like the salisbury steak that you stole off Uncle Jimmy's lunch tray when you visited him in the hospital after his hernia surgery. It's like saying everything must taste like grandma's nursing home dinner or those special meals prepared for invalids recovering from triple-bypass surgery. It would be the death knell for all fast food operations (not the worst thing in the world), but also the end of Manhattan as one of the dining capitals of the world. The tourist economy would collapse. The restaurants would close. Eric Ripert would be reduced to selling his seared langoustine with mache, wild mushroom salad, shaved foie gras and white balsamic vinaigrette out of a van on 51st Street and running for it every time the cops came around the corner.

All for a little bit of salt.

The good news is, this ridiculous bill has virtually no chance of passing in its current form (or any form, I would hope). But the fact that it was even proposed makes me very worried for the future of the restaurant industry. Bans on everything from trans-fat to foie gras are becoming so trendy these days that it's only a matter of time before some asshole with more political weight than brains rams some bit of legislation through which forever tips the scales in favor of the dietary nanny state.

And when that happens, all of us who love to eat (or do it for a living) are going to be criminals.

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