- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 7, 2006

Afew Washington restaurants are eliminating unhealthy trans fats from the menu on their own, but that doesn’t mean D.C. establishments will be completely free of the harmful fats any time soon.

On the heels of New York’s requirement that the city’s 24,000 restaurants eliminate trans fats, the Capitol City Brewing Co. and B. Smith’s announced yesterday that trans fats will no longer be included in their foods beginning next year.

Nearly 100 years ago the food-fattening analysts at Procter & Gamble developed a hydrogenation process for plant fats to create a form of shortening called Crisco that snack food companies, fast-food restaurants and bakers everywhere used to make undeniably delicious food.

But it turns out that the product is not good for you. Aiding the rise of “bad” cholesterol and obesity, consuming trans fats can lead to coronary heart disease and diabetes.

Fitness and health guru David von Storch recently opened VIDA Fitness in the Verizon Center. So it shouldn’t come as a shock that Mr. von Storch, also the owner of Capitol City Brewing Co., decided to eliminate trans fats from his restaurants’ menus.

“I know we’re going to take a hit to our bottom line,” Mr. von Storch said. “I’ve seen a critical-mass awareness of how bad these fats are for you, so I saw an opportunity to push this. Unless the regulatory environment changes or I’m able to differentiate myself as a healthy alternative, we’ll have to reassess the situation.”

Tomorrow, the Capitol City Brewing Co. in Shirlington will switch to canola oil, which costs $32 a pound, nearly double the cost of the vegetable oil the restaurant now uses.

The Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, which represents 600 restaurants in the District and Northern Virginia, opposes the New York City regulation and any attempt to restrict restaurants’ autonomy over ingredients.

“We are all about freedom of choice,” said Lynne Breaux, president of the restaurant association. “This is an example of restaurants being proactive without excessive regulation.”

Ms. Breaux noted that before there was ever a smoking ban in the District, many restaurants decided on their own to prohibit smoking in their establishments.

It wasn’t until long after the surgeon general’s 1964 warning that smoking could cause health problems that people started to get the message. Then the anti-smoking wave culminated in a $250 billion multistate settlement and nationwide metropolitan smoking bans.

“If the trans fat movement is anything like the smoking movement, it wouldn’t surprise me if more restaurants decided to, on their own, remove it from their food,” Ms. Breaux said.

B. Smith’s began making the transition away from trans fat months ago when owner B. Smith caught the nation’s mood.

“As people become more aware that trans fat isn’t good for you, a lot more restaurants are going to go that direction,” said Kathy King, spokeswoman for B. Smith’s restaurants.

In addition, trans fat has an edge on smoking when it comes to quitting: There are alternatives. Corporate agricultural giants Monsanto and DuPont are now stepping up production on seeds free of trans fat.

Mr. von Storch said the ban in New York City showed him that the country may be ready to ditch the trans fat, but he is skeptical a voluntary approach will catch on in the District. “People still go out to eat to pamper themselves. We are ahead of the curve, but government bodies will have to act; otherwise, I don’t know if it’s a sustainable business model.”

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