The Assault on Salt

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If a ban proposed by Brooklyn assemblyman Felix Ortiz passes, New York chefs will be banned from using salt in food preparation in all restaurants. The bill states: "No owner or operator of a restaurant in this state shall use salt in any form in the preparation of any food for consumption by customers of such restaurant, including food prepared to be consumed on the premises of such restaurant or off of such premises." Ortiz suggests a $1,000 fine for each violation.

Salt finds a place in every recipe from french fries to chocolate chip cookies, and the proposed ban, not surprisingly, upset quite a few people.

The New York Daily News led off their coverage with this: "If State Assemblyman Felix Ortiz has his way, the only salt added to your meal will come from the chef's tears." The New York Times covered the story on their blog. The Baltimore Sun pointed out that not only does salt add flavor, it also affects the chemical reactions that happen during baking (as well as the texture of baked goods). Max Fischer at The Atlantic guessed that Ortiz never actually wanted the ban to pass but rather wanted to get media attention and make other restrictions seem reasonable. He definitely got the media attention.

Ortiz told the Albany Times Union that he was inspired by his father who "used salt excessively for many years, developed high blood pressure and had a heart attack." Under Ortiz's salt ban, the public would still be allowed to add salt at the table. I have to admit that if I got a batch of unsalted fries, I would add just as much, if not more, salt than the cooks in the kitchen would have.

Ortiz did issue a clarification later in the week: “My intention for this legislation was to prohibit the use of salt as an additive to meals. If salt is a functional component of the recipe, by all means, it should be included. But, when we have meals prepared by restaurants that pile unnecessary amounts of salt, we have a problem.”

New York is not new to bans. New York City passed a ban on trans fat in 2006. For a column in the Chicago Tribune, Mary Schmich talked to Nicole Pederson, executive chef at C-House in Chicago, who compared the ban to the trans fat ban with one important distinction: "Trans fat is bad in every single way... But salt is not bad in every single way."

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