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The New York City Health Department has urged all the city’s restaurants to stop serving foods that contain trans fats, the component that health experts say increase the likelihood of heart disease, and that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says that there are no safe levels to eat.

"To help combat heart disease, the No. 1 killer in New York City, we are asking restaurants to voluntarily make an oil change and remove artificial trans fat from their kitchens," said city Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas R. Frieden. "We are also urging food suppliers to provide products that are trans-fat free."

The call has no legal authority, and requires voluntary compliance on the part of the city’s thousands of restaurants. It is also, most experts agree, the first time that any major American city has issued such a call – though one effort in Tiburon, California, outside San Francisco, resulted in 18 local restaurants ending the use of trans fats.

The New York Times writes that “a survey by the department's food inspectors found that from 30 to 60 percent of the city's 20,000 restaurants use partially hydrogenated oil in food preparation, meaning that thousands of cooks and chefs might need to change their cooking and purchasing habits to meet the request. Trans fats are particularly prominent in baked goods, frying oils, and breading, and can be hard to replace without raising costs or changing the taste of familiar foods like cookies and French fries.

“While the health department will not seek to ban the ingredient outright, it has begun an educational campaign among restaurateurs, their suppliers and the public denouncing trans fats. In a letter sent to all food suppliers in the city last week, Dr. Frieden wrote: ‘Consumers want healthier choices when eating out. Our campaign will increase consumer demand for meals without trans fat.’”
KC's View:
When did New York become San Francisco?

Okay, that’s a little bit unfair. To both cities.

But somehow, this kind of initiative is the kind that one associates with Northern California, or maybe Oregon, more than with New York. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Our favorite part of the US is everything north of San Francisco. So let’s not send emails accusing us of geographic bias.)

But maybe that’s the point. When trans fats start becoming part of the public consciousness even in places like New York, New York, the place so nice they had to name it twice, maybe that means that nutritional awareness really is taking off in this country.

By the way, some of this health-related enthusiasm may be related to the passions and biases of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who also has been on a very public anti-smoking crusade since he was elected three years ago.

Interestingly, the New York Times has a sidebar to its story about the call by city health officials, noting that there are a whole bunch of city specialties that would be affected if trans fats were to be banned. “The classic cake-cookie hybrid will never taste the same,” the NYT writes. “That goes for that plate of steaming diner fries, birthday cake from the Italian bakery on the corner and most versions of the Jamaican meat patty. Even the hot dog bun and some knishes could be at risk.”

And, the Times reports, “For the average eater winding through a day's worth of New York City food, trans fats can be hard to avoid. The fryers at fast-food chains bubble with it. Margarine slathered on morning bagels can be loaded with it. Griddles at diners from the Bronx to Staten Island are slicked with it.”

It’s like the old joke.

You’ll live forever. And it’ll feel like forever.