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Posts Tagged ‘Sigismund Goldwater

“God loveth the clean”*…

The history of ordinary things can be fascinating while offering insight into our immediate future. We’ve previously noted how artificial ice and assorted refrigeration/cooling technologies helped change demographics in the American South. Recent news from the Census Bureau confirms this trend as northern states like Michigan and New York lost population while the south, Texas and Florida in particular, gained. But the history of the ordinary can be hidden by ubiquity, tedium, and general disinterest. Unnoticed until they cry out for attention. Today’s Tedium is looking at the history of New York City restaurant inspections and the variety of ways restaurants cope. (And yes, the pandemic has certainly had an impact.)

There is no shortage of great New Yorkers, the people that helped shape the city and its culture. How one measures impact can vary. The wealthy and influential find their names on street signs, convention centers, and airports. A year into the COVID-19 pandemic, however, there is a renewed appreciation for those that helped lay the foundation for the city’s hospitals and medical care. In this regard, there are few New Yorkers greater than Dr. Sigismund Goldwater. 

A graduate of Columbia University and NYU medical school, Dr. Goldwater was a recognized authority in hospital construction. Among the numerous posts he held over a distinguished career included Superintendent at Mount Sinai Hospital, president of the American Conference on Hospital Service, and vice president of the New York Academy of Medicine. In recognition of his career and experience, he was appointed City Commissioner of Hospitals from 1934 to 1940. During his administration, Dr. Goldwater oversaw the construction of 25 new hospital buildings. His Times obituary credits him with adding more than 5,000 hospital beds to city capacity.

While his work in hospital administration and construction helped lay the foundation for New York City as a world-class center for health care, Dr. Goldwater has a legacy a bit more meaningful to modern restaurateurs. In 1914, Mayor John Purroy Mitchel was newly elected and in need of a health commissioner. His first choice, Dr. Goldwater, didn’t really want the job but finally acquiesced on the strong insistence of his predecessor. 

About six months after taking over the role, now Health Commissioner Goldwater announced a couple of general initiatives in public transportation and dining to ensure general cleanliness, pointing out to the Times that, “…the Sanitary Code at present did not call for regular inspection as in the case of bakeries and meat markets.” His solution was to require permits and require commercial restaurants to be inspected on an annual basis.

Public health, especially regarding sanitary food handling practices, had grabbed media attention in the early 20th century in part to Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. Sinclair, an investigative journalist, went undercover to detail the working conditions in meat packing facilities. His account of rat infested factories and spoiled meat products shipped to consumers provoked outrage. Unfortunately for Sinclair, who was trying to shed light on the conditions of workers, readers were incensed to learn what was in their food. By 1905, the federal government had passed legislation to create what would become the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Another unique circumstance that kept food safety in the minds of New Yorkers was the terrible tale of Mary Mallon, better known as Typhoid Mary. A private cook that was also an asymptomatic carrier of typhoid, Mary Mallon became infamous for her condition, the number of people she infected, and her refusal to cooperate with safety guidelines. [See here]

There was another reason for the attention Mary Mallon received, explains Claire Stewart, a chef and hospitality management professor at the New York City College of Technology. “Typhoid was considered a disease of the poor and associated with immigrants and overcrowded tenements,” she said. “Mary Mallon spent a lot of her career cooking for wealthy people, so her bringing typhoid to the upper classes caused a lot of alarm.”

Still, by the time Dr. Goldwater became health commissioner, New York City had yet to regulate restaurants, creating a range of dining experiences and anxiety about the status of any given kitchen.

One concerned citizen wrote to the Times in a letter titled, “We Need Dainty Waiters.”, “In these days of pure food laws and Boards of Health… I would like to ask what assurance, if any, has the public that in our hotels, restaurants, and clubs proper supervision over their employes is exercised so as to insure us a fair degree of cleanliness on the part of those who handle the food we are to eat? This inquiry is prompted by occurrences coming under the personal observation of the writer, showing that employes in so-called high-class hotels, clubs, and restaurants are often guilty of practices which would not be tolerated in our own homes. One large restaurant in this city requires its waiters to pass an inspection by a manicure before they are allowed to handle food for its patrons.”

After Dr. Goldwater noted that other cities had also adopted regular restaurant inspections, and noting the potential for additional revenue via fines and permit fees, the city agreed. Now they just had to get some 15,000 owners and operators to comply. Should be easy, right?…

The wacky and surprising history of NYC restaurant inspections (and by extension, that same system in other cities). That letter grade is a lot more effective than you might think: “The Letter in the Window.” By Andrew Egan, in Ernie Smith’s (@ShortFormErnie) ever-illuminating newsletter Tedium (@readtedium).

* Francis Bacon

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As we wash our hands, we might recall that it was on this date in 1913 that Gideon Sundback was granted a patent on the first modern zipper. While he did well with his invention for several decades, he and his western competitors were overtaken in the mid-20th century by YKK.

Most checked chefs pants still have buttons.

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