Emily B. Cyr
Starting today, menus in New York City are going to get a little more crowded. Along with calorie counts, menus will also indicated which dishes are high in sodium content. The law comes at a precarious time for the man who proposed it, Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Starting December 1st, chain restaurants in New York City who serve dishes with more than 2.3 grams of sodium (the recommended daily dose), must identify these dishes with the image of a salt shaker. The reason for the salt shaker is to notify customers that this dish is not only high in sodium, but has more of it than the daily recommended dose for an entire day. As previously specified, this does not affect all restaurants in New York, only chain restaurants, which the NYC Board of Health defines as having 15 or more locations nationwide. This type of restaurant accounts for a third of all restaurant traffic in New York City.
The reason New York is the first city to enact such a law stems from the fact that heart disease is a top killer in the United States, and the number one cause of death in New York City. Sodium is a well-known cause of heart disease and it appears that New Yorkers are having more than their fair share of it. However, this problem affects certain groups more than others; the NYC Board of Health says that 80% of New Yorkers consume more sodium than recommended, and Black New Yorkers consume on average five times more sodium daily than White New Yorkers.
The way this bill addresses an issue extremely prevalent to minorities reflects the campaign that brought Mayor de Blasio into office. Bill de Blasio won the mayoral election in 2013 with 96% of the black vote, a near absolute majority. Part of his campaign was highlighting the diversity in his immediate family, which translated to him giving attention to minority groups who felt forgotten by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg. However, his support among this group has been drastically dwindling. When he took office in January 2014, there was a mere 6% disapproval rating held by African American voters. By August 2015, this number had grown to 24%, a cause for concern if he wants to be reelected in 2017.
While the salt warnings show great attention to the health of his constituents, it does not address their primary concern: safety. One of the major reasons attributed to his shrinking approval rates is De Blasio’s handling of crime in the city. One of his most recent critics is actually one of his appointees, NYPD Police Commissioner Bill Bratton. Bratton stated that New Yorkers’ concern with increasingly crowded and dangerous streets was something “the administration…was not validating” and called it “a mistake”. While De Blasio’s approval rating has sunk, Bratton’s has risen, with his approval rating up to 52%, when it was at 31% this time last year.
Even if the salt law is intended to help New Yorkers, it might be more headache than its worth. Taking into account the opposition to Bloomberg’s soda ban in 2012 and recent studies showing the ineffectiveness of calorie counts on menus reducing obesity, it is doubtful this will boost the mayor’s approval ratings.
You can take away the salt, Mayor de Blasio, but that does not mean New Yorkers will be less salty.