Category Archives: Food/Drink

Tyranny with your Dinner?

Out in the wider world, things are slowly getting back to normal, almost:

  • Buses are back to the normal routine of getting on the front end of the bus and paying the fare, but the white line beyond which passengers are not permitted to stand when the bus is in motion has been relocated to keep passengers from standing too close to the driver.
  • Museums are reopening, but one must make a reservation before visiting.
  • Blink, the gym I used to frequent before the emergency, has reopened.  But the showers are closed, and one is encouraged to make a reservation.  I can resume my membership, or keep it suspended until the end of October.  I think I’ll wait.

Meanwhile, a proper meal inside a restaurant is still prohibited in New York City.  There’s outdoor dining, which is OK while the weather is nice, if one doesn’t get caught in a public protest (‘shame on you for flaunting your dining privilege!’), but will likely not be so wonderful come November.  One can also cheat a bit, and go outside the city (Hoboken is a few minutes from Greenwich Village on the PATH train), but that’s a so-so substitute.

Uncle Andy (Governor Cuomo) and Uncle Bill (Mayor DeBlasio) were maundering earlier this month about how resuming indoor dining would be ‘too risky.’  After raging at President Trump and insisting that they would make decisions driven by science and data, they fumbled about uselessly.  Governor Cuomo feared that indoor dining would bring about a resurgence of Covid… unless, perhaps, we allocated 4,000 police officers to mind people’s behavior in restaurants.  (In fairness, this is the same Uncle Andy who predicted dire consequences without 30,000 ventilators for the anticipated Covid victims of New York State.)  While I first came across this item on a conservative news feed, I checked a couple of more mainstream news sources to make sure it was real.

The Labor Day weekend felt close to normal.  My wife and I had lunch in Little Italy: there were fewer people in the streets than in past years, but it was comfortably busy.  We could get a seat on the subway returning home, but not a socially distant seat like in past weeks. 

A couple of days ago, Uncle Andy relented and put forth a plan for indoor dining in New York City, to take effect 30 September.  Restaurants would be limited to 25% capacity, with tables at least six feet apart, no seating at the bar, temperature checks at the door, and masks required to be worn when not seated.

But the worst part, to my view, is that one member of each party must identify himself for contact tracing.  If someone visits the same restaurant and later turns up positive, the Covid police will show up at my door demanding to know who I’ve been hanging out with for the past month.

The icky part is that restaurants with indoor and outdoor dining spaces (October is still mostly nice for outdoor dining in New York City) will probably collect contract tracing information from everyone, not just the indoor diners.  Choosing to eat outdoors to avoid contact tracing probably won’t work.

Oh, yes: New York City will provide ‘a team of 400 enforcement personnel’ to ensure compliance.  Not quite 4,000 cops, but it’s still onerous and stupid.

The saddest part is the response from the restaurant community reported on the New York State Web page.  The Restaurant Association and the owners of various restaurants are unanimous in praising and thanking Uncle Andy for his wise leadership.  Alas, he has them all by the throat.

On to August

It’s been a while since I’ve last posted.  I wrote some drafts after George Floyd, but realized that I really shouldn’t write about race relations: whatever I might post could be used against me, to no practical gain.  The only thing that I think I can safely say is this:  When I was a kid growing up in New York City in the 1960s and 1970s, I was sure that sometime in the future, say, 2020, we would be past fussing over race, and look at black and white as no different from blond or brunette, or tall or short.

That clearly hasn’t happened.

*          *          *

No, we haven’t gotten sick: my wife, my son, and I are still very much alive and well.

A couple of weeks ago, though, I felt icky.  I was really achy, and excused myself from work ‘in an abundance of caution,’ although I could have toughed it out.  I went back to bed, slept a couple of hours, and felt partway better by lunchtime, and well enough in the afternoon to take my daily walk (2-3 miles, although sometimes longer).

There was no fever, no shortness of breath, no coughing: none of the things we were told to look out for in March.  But the symptoms of Covid have broadened to the point where anything beyond a broken bone is suspect.

I was not to go out into the field for work until I was tested.  I went for a test the next day.

“Was it as horrible as you imagined?” the doctor asked after sticking the swab up both nostrils.

“It was about 80% as horrible as I imagined.”  I think I’d prefer a blood test.

My wife went for the test at the same time.  She has been following what’s happened in Korea in response to Covid, and was wondering why there wasn’t a blood test, as is apparently standard there.  She was also frustrated that we had to wait a week and a half for the result.

The tests came back negative.

Next time, unless I wake up barfing up a lung, I think I’ll tough it out, even though the rules expressly forbid that.

*          *          *

We’ve gotten through all four phases of Uncle Andy’s Four-Phase Plan in New York City.  Some things, like mass entertainments, were never in the plan, perhaps to be resumed when the public perception of the danger, rather than the danger itself, had passed.

Other things got tossed over the side, including:

  • Gyms:  I’ve worked around this by ditching the subway and taking a Citi Bike most of the way to and from the office (as far as I can get in 45 minutes) and walking the rest.  I’ve managed to resist what in some quarters has been called the ‘quarantine fifteen.’  The gym owners in New York State have filed a class-action lawsuit against the state; we’ll see how they prevail against Uncle Andy.
  • Indoor dining:  This may seem a bit of an extravagance, but ‘dining’ in this context also refers to places like McDonald’s.  You can get a bite there, but sitting in the air-conditioned dining room to eat it is not an option.  Restaurants have set up temporary seating areas in the sidewalks and curb lanes, and it’s really nice if the weather holds, but November is coming.
  • Movie theaters:  Perhaps it’s just as well, as there haven’t been any movies that I’ve really wanted to see in years.  (In the 1990s, there were a couple of worthwhile movies every month.)  But it’s a downer not to be able to duck out of the heat of the day for a bit.
  • Museums:  I don’t wake up in the morning thinking, ‘let’s go to the museum today.’  But it’s a pleasant, contemplative alternative for an afternoon’s leisure.  I do miss it.  The Metropolitan Museum is planning to reopen on 29 August… if Uncle Andy says it’s OK, which seems unlikely.

At least one can escape the heat by going shopping, although my wife has remarked that Macy’s hasn’t updated their stock in the month or so since they’ve reopened.  I guess springtime clothing will still work in the late summer and early fall.

Finally, a Federal Jobs Program

Food Label Updates

The Food and Drug Administration announced this week that they were seeking to update the standard nutrition label found on most food products sold in the United States.  It is expected that this effort will cost the manufacturers of food products some $2 billion, as well as a couple of hundred million more for the government’s costs.

My first thought was, ‘what’s the point?’ The changes are incremental, although some of them (like using larger type for the number of calories) are obvious enhancements.  But why couldn’t manufacturers make tweaks like that for themselves?

Because it’s a Federally-required label, you idiot, and it has to fit the Federally-required format.  Tweaks are illegal, resulting in fines, and maybe criminal prosecution.

And why is the Federal government formatting food labels?

I don’t specifically recall.  The news reports on this noted that the standard nutrition label has been around for about 20 years.  What did we have before then?

Well… we had nutrition labels that generally provided the same information, perhaps not to the same detail, but covered the basics.  Formats varied from one manufacturer to another, but were generally consistent (how many ways can you list calories and nutrients?).

Somehow, we survived: I don’t recall any sort of crisis that led to the FDA mandating formats for food labels.  They just sort of appeared, quietly, in the 1990s.

But maybe I shouldn’t rail at this latest bureaucratic exercise.  $2 billion will provide tens of thousands of jobs, and most of the cost will be covered by the private sector.  And those people will spend on goods and services, creating still more jobs and stimulating growth.

Yeah, right.

*          *          *

Some of the reports on the new nutrition labels noted that for a cost of $2 billion, a benefit of $20 billion will accrue to consumers, or about $65 per capita.

OK: where do I go to collect my $65?  Because I can’t see how a reformatted label is going to actually save me anything.

Soda Pop and Apartment Leases

Today, the NYC Board of Health voted to outlaw ‘sugary drinks’ larger than 16 ounces from being sold by restaurants and other businesses regulated by the Board of Health.  Six months hence, my preferred warm weather wakeup of a large iced coffee with milk and sugar will be illegal, unless it has no more than 25 calories (a packet and a half of sugar) per eight ounces.

Large diet sodas will still be legal, but I can’t imagine a fast-food chain trusting its employees to obey the law and use the big cups only for diet drinks, so we’ll all be stuck with smaller portions even if we don’t drink the sugary stuff.  However, 7-Elevens, and the self-service soda fountain in the Walgreens in Times Square, will not be subject to the law as they are not considered restaurants and not regulated by the Board of Health.

For the last six months, I’ve been meaning to send in the renewal of my apartment lease.  It’s not that I have anything against my landlord: it’s that the renewal lease is a pile of papers to be signed in duplicate, requiring eleven signatures and three initials in each copy covering:

  • Indication of the new rent, with an acknowledgement that I’m renewing the lease and choosing to renew it for one or two years;
  • An addendum to the lease, which is in fact unchanged since we moved in back in 2003;
  • A second form indicating the new rent for the renewal lease;
  • A second form in which I select whether I’m renewing for one or two years;
  • An advisory about window guards, in which I indicate whether or not children under ten years old live in the apartment;
  • An advisory about lead paint;
  • A form to indicate whether I have children under six years old, so that the landlord can inspect for lead paint (seems pointless: the building was converted from other uses about 2000, long after lead paint was outlawed);
  • And advisory that the landlord is not responsible for air conditioners, Venetian blinds, or the dishwasher (our apartment has one, but we never use it);
  • An advisory that we are not to keep a dog or other animal without the landlord’s written permission;
  • An advisory that the apartment rent is regulated because the building owner took advantage of a tax abatement, and that when the abatement runs out (in 2015) the rent will no longer be regulated (which, again, I knew back in 2003);
  • Finally, an advisory that there have been no bedbugs in the building.

Reading and signing the papers takes a half-hour; I’ve been putting it off over and over again.  Last week, I got a nasty note from the landlord giving me 10 days to send in the lease renewal or else, so tonight my wife and I sat down and confronted the pile.

Many of the pages of the renewal waste paper have their origins in city law.  The city is looking out for me, making sure I’m informed.  But the result is a giant pain in the neck.  If the landlord had sent me a one page form, requiring one signature and eleven boxes to tick, the renewal would have been back on his desk the next day.  OK, maybe the next week.

I don’t need the city telling me how much I can drink, and I don’t need fifteen pages of waste paper to renew a simple apartment lease.

Mayor Bloomberg: can you please, please just BACK OFF??

Nanny State (2 of 2)

Yesterday, I woke up cranky, and I had to show up early at a job site.  So I did what I usually do in such circumstances:  I left the house on an empty stomach, stopped at a Dunkin’ Donuts near the job site, and purchased my favorite breakfast for such occasions: a large iced coffee with milk and sugar, and two coffee rolls (Dunkin’s name for cinnamon rolls).  It’s just the right combination of caffeine, sugar, and cold water for me to face a morning of icky technical problems and pompous troublemakers.

Our Fearless City Leader, Mayor Bloomberg, is proposing to outlaw sales of sugary beverages larger than 16 ounces.   So my large iced coffee would become illegal.  Delis and fast-food places would not even be able to sell bottled non-diet beverages larger than 16 ounces.  And while one could buy a 20-ounce bottle of diet soda, you couldn’t get it as a fountain drink, because drink cups larger than 16 ounces would be outlawed.

The rules apply to locations where food is prepared for consumption on the spot: restaurants, delis, fast-food places, movie theaters, stadiums, even pushcarts.  Supermarkets, drugstores, and other places where beverages are sold for consumption elsewhere are not subject to the law.

Since the rules would represent a change to existing regulations, no actual legislation is required: the Mayor can simply direct the Health Department to make it so.

C’mon, guys: I get THIRSTY!  And while I usually drink diet soda, sometimes, when I’ve had a long night, I need the energy.

OK, I know, I know: I’ll have to get two drinks.  Or maybe three.