Friday, October 22, 2010

Not on the DOH Menu: Ratatouille

We have been ragging on the NYC DOH's meddling into areas that are less than germane to their core mission-calorie posting, menu labeling, salt intake restriction-and, of course, grading local eateries. Not that these things that are unrelated to health, but because of the manner in which the Health Intrusion Squad at the department seeks to use these issues to force feed NewYorkers-kind like spinach; whether they like it or not.

But, even more importantly, the DOH's interest in becoming ubber-regulators of the lives of the city's citizens, takes it away from doing what is normally considered the purview of a health department-eliminating real concrete threats that are truly unhealthy to the population. Enter the rats. As the NY Daily News reported the other day, they are a ubiquitous threat that is most prevalent in the city's poorest neighborhoods. So, while the health department labors mightily to reduce obesity in those poor precincts, disease spreading rats run wild with seeming impunity.

The News lays this out: "Bedbugs may be the latest pests in town, but rats still command top billing in the nightmares of many New Yorkers. A new survey of Manhattan residents shows that rats are still scurrying all over the place - with Harlem taking the top spot for the "rattiest" neighborhood in the borough."

And in neighborhoods all over Manhattan, the complaints abound: "There are rats everywhere," said Radhames Santos, 30, of Washington Heights. "They're like cats." The survey, however, found the problem was widespread, with neighborhoods all over Manhattan being overrun by rodents. In Hell's Kitchen - which came in fourth place with 9% - residents say it sometimes feels like the persistent pests are lurking around every corner. "I've seen people standing on cars screaming. They come out of the basement and run all over the streets," said 53-year-old Nick Apongalook. "It doesn't matter if it's garbage day or not. It's a pandemic."

This is the kind of public health problem that the NYC DOH should be prioritizing-and it's defensive comments notwithstanding, one would be excused for feeling that this isn't issue number one down at Worth Street: "The city Health Department said it is keenly aware of the problem and has been working on new initiatives to battle rats. A pilot screening program in the Bronx has resulted in an 83% decrease in the number of properties reporting rodent infestations, the department said."

Every one feel better now? Thought not-but one citizen has a useful, if limited, observation: "For Manuel Parkas, 40, of Harlem, there's only one solution. "It is very simple. If you keep your home clean, you won't have any rats to deal with. If you do not, you will have rats to deal with," he said."

But keeping your own space clean is no panacea-as we pointed out before. When food waste is not properly stored and disposed of in your neighborhood, than be prepared; as our friend Brian Ketcham found out when the local Park Slope Trader Joe's left garbage out on the street for too long.

DOH, as part of his proactive public health agenda, should be promoting food waste disposers in order to eliminate the old veritable smorgasbord that Charlotte Web's Templeton the Rat sang about in that movie. But too much time conspiring to think of more ways to control how people live, gets in the way of the more mundane tasks that actually could enhance the city's public health. It's time that the DOH went back to basics, and simply leaved the rest of us the hell alone.