Wednesday, April 04, 2007

NY Times on Blomberg's Food Policy

In today's NY Times the paper focuses in on the Bloomberg administration's effort to craft food policy in the city. As the paper says, "From a policy perspective, Mr. Bloomberg has taken on more food issues, and provoked more controversy, than any New York mayor before him." And yet, in the entire article there only one critical comment from anyone who has a problem with the mayor's overbearing health/food policies.

Take the paper's first quote, from that recognized public policy expert Tim Zagat, who told the Times that, "A lot of what he's doing is going to be happening nationally over time...The government involvement in what we're eating is going to be increasingly visible as a way to make {force?} people healthier." Is that a fact? And if so, how does Zagat see any trend developing before the impact of some of the Bloomberg food initiatives are even evaluated?

Te Times continues blithely on to point out, in what is truly a non sequitur, that the city's Health Department (pre-Taco Rat) made 15,000 more inspections last year than it did for years ago. The Times obviously feels that this is somehow related to some overall food policy, but makes no effort to connect any of the dots if they in fact do exist. The reality is that the inspections are a result of a overbearing enforcement policy that reflects a disdain for the city's small businesses that are viewed as a cash cow by the vaunted anti-business Department of Unhealth.

The Times goes on to discuss the city's efforts to use food policy for generating better eating by New Yorkers and finds, well, incoherence. Food advocates find that the Bloombergistas have not "embraced the full connection on food." Maybe we should be glad for the incoherence since, if it were left to some of the advocates an even greater nannyism would be the rule.

As the paper points out there is a trend around the country to set up "food councils" in order to advise governments on matters of food. These councils "usually include anyone who may have a stake in the urban diet," and include, among a host of other advocacy groups, grocers.

Well, we have reached out to the city's food policy czar, Ben Thomases, and we are hopeful that he will begin to involve all of the industry stakeholders so that a realistic understanding of how food is distributed and sold can leaven the policy efforts of city government. The danger here is that policy will be driven by folks with no business acumen and who are hostile to free market forces.

The Times finally gets around to discussing the role of Dr. Frieden, a person who sees all of the city's efforts, from banning trans fat and mandating calorie posting, as "relatively restrained." Heaven help us if this is true. The paper does point out that the city's "Healthy Bodega" initiative "has not gotten very far." Which is only true because it has not found the proper ways to yet work with the city's grocers in a collaborative manner. This takes time and effort and is less sexy and media provoking.

Finally, as the long and winding read winds down, the Times gets one criticism of the DOH's overreach, with a local chef calling the department a "division of tax and finance." But the really cutting critique is left to former mayor Koch who tells the paper that; "You don't want to leave food policy to a doctor...Because a doctor cuts out everything."

And so we count the days until Dr. Frieden takes his traveling food circus to other venues where, hopefully, he can pontificate to his heart's content without doing any practical damage to local eateries and food stores. Unfortunately, it will be up to the next mayor to unravel the weird schemes that the doctor has foisted on a gullible and passive public.