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The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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The Daily Utah Chronicle

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The Red Herring: FDA brings foreign food restaurants under one roof

By Orion Archibald

The correct and honest labeling of food products is one of the main concerns of the federal Food & Drug Administration, a body established in 1906 in the wake of scandalous exposés which revealed shocking conduct on the part of America’s food-manufacturing companies. Although the days of rats being tossed into the sausage and encrusted filth on the bean-making machinery have long since passed, the quest to find and root out dishonest and destructive practices in the food industry has not ended.

Several years ago, when organic foodstuffs first emerged in the market as a significant force, the FDA established strict rules to determine which food could be labeled “organic” and which food could not. Now the FDA is looking to expand its label-arbitration powers far wider, to encompass the thousands upon thousands of ethnic-food restaurants across the nation and bring them all under a single, legal standard. Starting next month, according to a press release issued by the FDA last week, restaurants wishing to identify themselves as Chinese, Mexican, Italian, Indian, English, Middle Eastern or Greek will have to submit to a thorough inspection and agree to abide by a series of regulations governing spices, vegetables, meats, fruits and preparation methods.

The response from the nation’s ethnic-food restaurateurs has been immediate and fierce. From New York to Seattle to San Francisco and Austin, Texas, food-service employees and restaurant owners have taken to the streets in protest of what they see as an unfair and arbitrary crackdown.

“We are going to fight this outrageous ruling with every resource we can muster,” said Doug Malone, spokesman for the National Mexican Restaurant Owner’s Association, at a press conference Wednesday. “Something this harmful to honest businessmen cannot be allowed to stand in this country.”

The main point of contention between the FDA and the restaurants seems to be that the government is now requiring ethnic-food restaurants to serve food that in some way resembles the cuisine of their respective native countries.

“This means Italian food is going to suck, basically,” said Joseph Meier, owner of an Italian restaurant in Manassas Park, Va. “Have you actually been to Italy? Their food is all olive oil and noodles and butter. Their sauces are weak as hell. It’s all nuance and fizzy water. Americans do Italian food better than Italians, in my opinion.”

Across the United States, the story was the same.

“Chinese food is disgusting trash,” said Jim Brown, owner of Three Kingdoms Chinese restaurant in Hillsdale, N.J. “It really is. We pump spices and MSG into it, because if we didn’t, nobody could stand to shove it down the hatch. Americans want something they think is from another country. They don’t actually want what people in another country consume, unless it’s alcohol.”

The issue has grown so large that it’s been brought up in the presidential primary contests. On Wednesday, at a campaign stop in Ohio, Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, a contestant for the Democratic nomination, was asked about her support for the FDA’s ruling.

“You don’t get food just by asking for it,” she said. “You have to make it yourself. Unless you go to a restaurant, in which case I guess food does actually come if you ask for it. Regardless, I’ve been eating American food for 35 years, and I have the experience and tenacity to continue eating food as president.”

“I’ve warned over and over again about the dangers of eating the same old food with the same old ingredients, in a time as crucial as this,” Sen. Obama said. “This country is howling for change, and I have a feeling they’ll get it, and that they should get it. Eight years of Tex-Mex is enough!”

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