Since I was out of town last week, I didn’t get around to reading the June 25th edition of City Pulse until today.
I came right home and wrote this post after reading this article about the street food vendors in Downtown Lansing. The Council has instructed Clinton Tarver, who sells hot dogs in front of city hall, that he must get a peddler’s license at a cost of $90. This is in addition to the other 2 permits he has (that cost $180) and the $200 monthly fee paid to the City’s Principal Shopping District (a government entity, FYI).
Sandy Allen, 2nd Ward City Councilwoman has decided to have her committee, Public Safety, look in to whether all the street vendors are properly licensed. Because, she is quoted as saying “right now we really don’t have much in the way of protecting people healthwise, and we really need to look at what is available and what needs to be done.”
And a piece of paper is going to stop me from getting E. coli or salmonella or listeria or any other nasty bug that sometimes lurks in food? Hot-diggity, where can I get one of those papers? I’ll just carry it around all the time and I’ll be a-okay.
The article goes on to quote Andy Bunnell of the Ingham County Health Department. According to him, all food vendors are required to take classes about food safety and they must be inspected prior to licensing.
Now that, I believe, makes sense. At least the food safety class- again, slapping a sticker on my food cart does not mean I’m the most cautious, cleanest vendor out there. But as a seller, I can only be helped by understanding that foods should be kept at certain temperatures to slow or stop bacterial growth.
The article mentions that Clinton has been selling his dogs and accompaniments for 10 years in the same spot. I venture to guess that if Clinton was selling bad dogs, he’d have gone under a long time ago, license or no license. Think back to the last time you felt a little stomach upset after dining out. I can clearly remember several incidents of food poisioning in my own history.
- Served bad milk in first grade. Result: stopped drinking school milk. I wouldn’t even call this food poisoning, it wasn’t contaminated just soured. Either way, I learned that lesson real quick.
- Entire family fell ill after dining in a Flint coney island. Result: thanked our lucky stars as being sick sent us home instead of to the movies, where a tornado struck that night. Also, didn’t go back to the restaurant for probably 10 years.
- Several family members got sick after eating in a Greektown restaurant in Detroit. Never went back (its since gone under).
- Failed to properly refrigerate dill dip from an East Lansing cafe. This was a bad experience but I correctly blamed myself for eating a dairy-based dip that had been left out on the counter. The restaurant (now gone) was hardly one to inspire confidence when you glimpsed the kitchen but in all the years we ate there, never once did I get sick from their food, directly.
- Ate corn on the cob that had been reheated in its original cooking water, not hot enough. Again, my fault and I paid dearly for this one.
I mention items 4 and 5 to prove a point. Most of the time, if you get food poisoning, its your own fault. Either you didn’t properly clean the cutting board when going from raw meat to fresh veggies or something wasn’t properly stored or reheated. Bet you wish you had the piece of paper promising you won’t get sick now, don’t ya?
My questions then are this:
- If Clinton Tarver and other street food vendors are already meeting the Health Department requirements, why do they need someone else looking over their shoulders?
- Am I and all the other lunchers in downtown too stupid to make up our own minds about what is safe to eat?
- Since when is it the city’s responsibility to take care of me? And if they really want to take care of me, how about doing it in a way that doesn’t punish small business owners but instead provides needed and wanted services to the community as a whole (i.e. shovel/plow the streets and sidewalks quickly in the winter).
- When did Americans become so willing to hand over their freedom of choice to the government? Do you not recognize that by asking the councils and boards and legislatures and congress and president to make laws to protect us, you are simply limiting your choice. How is that Councilperson Sandy Allen is more suited to deciding what is best for me, than me?
Unfortunately, I recently moved outside the city limits of Lansing so my powers of influence as taxpayer are reduced. Not completely gone since I still work in the city and in fact walk by Clinton’s Hot Dog cart on a regular basis. I would note that I didn’t choose Ms. Allen nor did I vote for her opposition, as I never lived in that ward even when I did reside in the city.
I, like Mr. Tarver, am no fool. This peddler’s license is not about protecting the people. Its about money, plain and simple. The city wants to get as much as it can, wherever it can. In the meantime, no one looks beyond today’s check for $90.
The price of food is going up, Clinton may have to raise his prices especially now that his taxes have gone up too (a permit fee is tax with a different name, you know it and I know it). That may put off one or two customers now but in another 3 months, he may lose 10% as less people eat downtown as budget constraints lead downtown businesses (and the government) to lay people off. Pretty soon the restaurants are down 30% and people have to start making decisions about whether or not to continue running their businesses. Next summer, Clinton realizes that after expenses for food and permits, he will not make enough to continue selling his dogs. One more small business owner out, one less person paying income taxes, one more home lost to foreclosure.
Is it going to happen this way? I don’t know. But I do know we are kidding ourselves if we think a permit will protect us from getting sick. And taxing everything to death serves no one.
One last item, the official description of the Public Safety Committee: Reviews service levels and issues related to public safety, including police, fire, ambulance, emergency services, traffic environment and the building inspection program.
Where does it say food police?!?!?