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New York, Food Laws & Transparency

July 24, 2014

Did you hear the one about… There are lots of stories floating around the Interwebs about food. These days it seems like it would take a thousand monkeys a thousand years to read even a month’s worth of content. It’s staggering.

Every day things come across my radar that are interesting. And mostly they stay open on some tab or get filed away as some bookmark never to be heard from again.

Periodically, I’ll take a moment, share what’s on my screen, and clear my cache of content. Today seems like as good a day as any, especially given the prominence of the Capital Region in something from earlier this week.

The 13 Best New York Restaurants Not in NYC –

Right up there with Blue Hill at Stone Barns and Hudson’s Fish & Game, this story places Saratoga Springs newcomer 15 Church and Ric Orlando’s Albany outpost New World Bistro Bar. It even cites the Saratoga Food Fanatic and Capital Region Dining Blog. Sure, there is always nitpicking that can be done in click-bait stories like these, but I’m glad that our little corner of the state is staying on the radar. Congratulations to all for the well deserved recognition.

New York Law Thinks a Burrito is a Sandwich –

Man, this state kills me sometimes. If it’s not people queuing up to spend $20 for a burrito down in Hudson, it’s our legislature that categorizes one of my favorite foods as a sandwich. It’s not a sandwich. As the article points out, and as I would also argue, a Mexican sandwich is a torta. Really, I shouldn’t be surprised at the lack of cultural awareness. Folks in the northeast clearly haven’t been exposed to enough good Mexican food.

From Scratch Or Not? French Restaurant Law Stirs Controversy –

Speaking of laws, this is one I can get behind. In France there is a new effort to highlight those restaurants that make their own food in house instead of simply reheating pre-made dishes. The dirty little secret of French restaurants is that many of them cut corners by buying frozen food in bags and cooking them “sous vide”. Sous vide can be a great cooking technique, but in this case it’s used loosely. Many eaters would never suspect their meals weren’t cooked in house when eating at a small independent French restaurant in France. But now they will know. It’s heartwarming to hear people fighting the good fight.

Some Food Companies Are Quietly Dumping GMO Ingredients –

Speaking of the lack of transparency in food production, I found this story to be interesting too. Post Grape Nuts and General Mills Cheerios have both gone GMO free. It’s a bigger deal for the Cheerios given their high percentage of corn starch. But both were surprising moves coming from big food companies that are deeply tied into the world grain markets. It was even more surprising given how strongly big brands like these have been fighting GMO labeling initiatives. If they are starting to hedge their bets, it would seem like the tide is turning. Anyhow, NPR has an interesting overview of what’s going on in this shift.

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By the way, there is also a fascinating and free event happening tonight at Brown’s Malt Room. It has something to do with Scotland, ghosts, music, storytelling, whisky and food. All the information can be found here.

That’s all I’ve got for now. See you tomorrow.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. -R. permalink
    July 24, 2014 10:53 am

    No need to queue in Hudson – you can now enjoy a trip to Schenectady for that $20 burrito. We checked out Mexican Radio a couple of weeks ago on a Wednesday night. The place was busy, but the vastness of the space made it seem somewhat empty. They really have done a splendid job of restoring the building. As far as the food was concerned, I’d say they still have some growing pains to sort out – one of our party had the pulled pork flautas that were painfully dry – our delightful server brought every condiment in the house over to our table, but nothing could rescue the parched pork. I had the pollo azteca which was well executed but suffered from a lack of spice overall. Everyone else seemed mostly pleased with their meal, but nothing had any true boldness of flavor – perfect for the cautious American palate. I will say their margaritas were excellent – fresh squeezed lime juice and top shelf tequila; they offer daily specials of various flavors – someone else had the blood orange which was delightful as well. We tried to order a couple of slices of tres leches cake, but someone in the kitchen dropped the entire thing face-down on the floor so nobody was having any of it that particular evening. Also – sweaty, soiled kitchen staff smoking butts around the corner isn’t particularly appetizing nor professional – hide those people away somewhere while they’re on their breaks – god knows the building is large enough.

    Overall was it worth it? If I were to entertain somebody’s whimsy for a decent Mexican-American meal in a pleasant space with a great waitstaff, then I would go again especially if they wanted to do some drinking. They’re obviously doing something right (at least in the court of public opinion). But for the authentic goods, drive over to La Mexicana and gorge for half the price – they recently got their liquor license, so now have a bar as well – and – I believe a move is afoot to expand their menu. Some good food going on in Schenectady these days.

  2. July 24, 2014 11:25 am

    Oh, the burrito/sandwich fracas.

    I know it makes a cute story, and it tickles all the right notes of “government gone amok” and “clueless legislators”, but it’s really kind of a silly debate. It’s not like the State has decreed that a burrito (hot dog, wrap, etc.) IS a sandwich – they’re just saying that for the purposes of determining whether a food item is taxable, all these things are included in the tax rules that apply to sandwiches.

    In fact, the form of the food really has nothing to do with whether it’s taxable. Groceries (ingredients that you use to prepare food on your own) are exempted from sales tax, but prepared foods are not – and in some cases the line gets kind of blurry so the State has to clarify. (The example that Vox includes, of a deli sandwich and a bag of chips, shows the strange corners of the definition.) It’s just a matter of regulatory convenience to create one category of things that are roughly similar and apply one set of rules to the entire category – would it be better if there was a “sandwich rule” and a “burrito rule” and a “wrap rule” and a “hot dog rule” and a new rule for every variation of hand-held food? Then, there would be a Vox article about the unnecessary proliferation of tax regulations.

    Or maybe the State should have made up a nonsense word for the category? “For the purposes of sales tax, all of the following hand-held prepared food items are considered Frisnaxes and are therefore subject to sales tax: sandwiches, wraps, burritos, hot dogs, hamburgers…” And then you would have endless debates about whether every food item not mentioned fit the definition.

    And you have to give the State credit – although the quote didn’t make it to the Vox article, the original Gothamist article showed that the Tax & Finance spokesperson did have a bit of a sense of humor about the whole thing.

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