April 20, 2010

Thanks for the health boost, San Francisco!


After a whirlwind self-guided gastronomic tour around San Francisco, I have to say, I don't think there's a better way to experience a city than by eating through it. A conversation I had on my last day there went something like this:

"Is there anywhere else I should go on my last day?"
"Where have you already been?"
"Well, I've hit up most of the places I wanted to eat at."
"What else have you seen or done besides eat?"
"I thought eating was sightseeing."

....isn't it?

I did come away from my trip with certain thoughts. There's a long-standing debate about which U.S. coast's approach to food reigns supreme. San Francisco is proud of its local, organic, sustainable, fresh, farmer-approved produce as much as New York is happy to offer exuberant fine dining and encourage molecular gastronomy. But it's not so much apples to oranges as it is that even though both coasts see the benefits of each argument, there is just a preference and emphasis on one over the other. I don't think Californians really would "serve a [carrot] on a plate with nothing on it" (-D.C) , just as one would hope that New York is not serving up deconstructed week-old carrots.

There's also an interesting use of food as a way to support the community. Apparently there is an increasing pressure on restaurant owners to provide adequate health care and worker benefits to their staff in the face of rising costs. This extra cost is reflected onto the customer in an popular solution of adding a surcharge onto diners' checks.

I first noticed this "SF Health Care Ordinance" as an extra $1/person to all checks during brunch at Zazie, then the "Healthy San Francisco Initiative" in the form of a 4% surcharge onto the final bill at Boulevard. This is touchy territory to discuss, especially from an non-local perspective, but my inclination is to agree with the opinions expressed on SF Gate: Enough with the surcharges, just add in the costs to the menu prices. A justification for rising menu prices would make it easier to swallow than a salient, clear, printed reminder of an inescapable surcharge before you even order. Plus, if it's optional or at least less rigidly defined, there is the choice of giving more or less as desired.

Then there are these new compost receptacles next to each apartment's garbage and recyclable cans. According to the Sacramento Bee, even though composting and environmentally friendly practices have existed for awhile, there is an increasing alert and attention to this issue now there is a threat that residents can be fined for not sorting out their biodegradable and food composts into the right bins. I can't help but wonder, who and where are the Compost Police?


So although that's great for San Francisco and all the residents who support and are willing to go along with these acts, the question that interest me is whether or not New York or other major cities would be so eager to adopt such policies. I think that when comparing the population size of Manhattan's 2+ million versus San Francisco's roughly 700K, excluding other boroughs, there are simply too many people and not enough space and time to enforce these rules without backlash from a vast yet divided community that is less likely to share similar values.

But that's just my take on it. What do you think? Could a common surcharge ever fly in New York? Would you also compost if you already had recycle and trash bins? Speak your mind in the comments section.

Oh, but I wouldn't argue against getting some of these:


Looking back on all my travels,  my most memorable experiences have always involved food. Either this or that landmark or event was sandwiched by a great meal, or permanently bookmarked by a particular food's taste. The freshly caught and fried fish I had in Elephant Trunk Mountain in China, the wine tasting event on the steps of the Palazzo Pitti in Florence, or the Flushing dumpling tour to bid farewell to 2009, are ingrained in my mind by food. And so, I'll remember San Francisco, with all its beautiful scenery and the wonderful people that I met, by the food I shared when I was there.

All in all,  this pretty much sums up what I thought of San Francisco:


Now back to our regularly scheduled New York food news.


  1. Healthy San Francisco and the City Option are just one way for San Francisco employers to comply with the Health Care Security Ordinance. Many employers and their employees would actually be better off looking at private alternatives. San Francisco employers are just starting to realize that they have options and that those options don't cost any more than they mandated health care expenditure rate. They can provide a much more comprehensive solution just by doing a quick comparison at a website like www.sanfranplan.com.

    Employers can provide mini medical plans that provide great preventative benefits and allow employees to visit the doctor of their choice (not just facilities in San Francisco like Healthy SF), they can provide Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRA) to employees that allows the employees to take control of those health care dollars, or they can provide full insurance plans from major insurance companies without exceeding the health care expenditure set by the City. Even the Healthy San Francisco website states that "Insurance is always a better choice because Healthy San Francisco has limited services and places you can go to get medical care. The program does not include vision or dental care, and services are confined to San Francisco only. If you receive medical care outside of San Francisco for any reason, Healthy San Francisco will not pay for it."

    Dennis Carlson

  2. I feel like it's more of a marketing thing than anything. A rise in prices with the initiatives reflected already is a harder sell than extra charges accounted in the size of the party. I assume it's psychological as well, since for some reason I'd prefer to pay 'less for a meal' and gripe more about 'additional charges.'

    Plus there's the gray area of if a single person wants multiple things from a menu...

    As for the composting, I'm pretty sure that would fail hard in NYC. We have recycling bins in our suite, and we can't even manage to hold true to that (yes we're bad people) haha.

  3. Agreed with Nicholas, I composting would so fail in NYC (and since I'm from NJ, I'll toss my state in there too). Look at what people throw in in our rivers and lakes, imagine that stuff in a compost bin? used condoms, crack pipes, heroin needles? Ugh! And you KNOW there would be no one policing it. :op

    As for the surcharge deal, I'd agree with you - just raise the price of the meal by some cents. No one would really notice and when you're glancing over the check you won't have that "pause" when you come to the surcharge, wondering what the hell the surcharge is for.

  4. @Dennis - Thanks for bringing up those differences, even though I'm loathe to weigh in too heavily as a non-participant. I'm skeptical about how disjointed it feels when there's no cohesive approach to spreading these costs. It seems like a genuinely proactive initiative, but one that still has a few kinks to work out.

    @Nicholas - Haha, that's a good psych point. I'm also not sure which is more effective, the fixed surcharge or the % one. That's what I mean by "disjointed"; there's just not much of a cohesive pattern of action that people take, even if it's the same driving force.

    When I was little, I accepted what my parents told me about the recycling bin being a rabbit pen. I should put that on Urban Dictionary or something.

    @Valkor - It just seems like a constant flashing sign reminder that I'm "doing good", but against my own free will. Maybe it's just my personal paranoia, but I just don't feel like New Yorkers would comply without raising their voices. I mean, I'm still as much of a sodium sponge as I ever was. Just sayin'