Tim Whyte | Does the County Really Give a Fork?

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On a family road trip a while back, we ordered food to be delivered to the hotel room. It arrived, hot and ready, an hour or so later — with no utensils. Not a single fork, knife, spoon or chopstick in the bag.

Cursing the restaurant, the delivery driver and the travel gods in general, we ate our dinner caveman-style. That’s a neat trick with kung pao chicken.

If only we’d asked for utensils when we placed the order. 

Fast forward to the COVID era, and we’re ordering a lot more take-out and delivery, even at home. We’ve all had to adjust to pandemic reality, and few business sectors have had to adjust, re-adjust and re-re-adjust more than the restaurant sector, thanks to the wild-eyed willy-nilly approach of L.A. County government.

Restaurants were closed for all but takeout. Then they were allowed to reopen for outdoor dining. They bought or rented canopies, space heaters and more equipment to make it happen. Then all of that expensive gear was rendered useless when they were ordered to close once again, despite a lack of supporting scientific evidence. Again, they were restricted to delivery and takeout — which, as one might imagine, has led to an increased use of plastic utensils.

I appreciate it when a restaurant includes the utensils in an order — it means we are covered whether we need them or not. And I don’t let them go to waste. If we are using our own utensils at home, I save the ones that come with the takeout order for future use. I bring some to the office, for standby use on those days when I forget a fork or a spoon in my lunch bag. I set some aside for our RV, for use when camping. 

Admittedly, plastic utensils can contribute to excess waste and can have a negative impact on the environment. Long-term, over-use of plastic utensils would be a problem and I understand why we would want to be careful about overdoing it with the sporks.

But we’re in a pandemic. To use a restaurant metaphor, we have bigger fish to fry.

You’d never know it by the actions of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. 

The latest nanny-state move by the supes? On Tuesday, they are considering a motion that would require restaurants to only provide plastic utensils if a customer specifically requests them in advance. 

Oh, gag me with a spoon.

Under normal circumstances, I’d be mildly irritated by the proposal because it’s the sort of thing California governments love to do, getting all up in our business when they really don’t need to. (Cripes, remember all the hand-wringing over STRAWS?)

But under COVID-19 circumstances, with an eye toward the many restaurants struggling just to stay afloat thanks to the county government’s over-reach in shutting down even outdoor dining, this is an abomination.

The county is in the midst of a vaccine rollout that has, arguably, been botched. 

Are you confused about where, when and how you might be able to get vaccinated? Have you tried to log on to the county’s vaccine appointment website only to have it crash? Have you found the county’s communication about the rollout to be confusing and, at times, self-contradictory?

Join the club. 

Look, I know these are unprecedented times. And I haven’t walked 50 feet, much less a mile, in the shoes of those in government who are trying to deal with the public health impacts of the pandemic, and who are responsible for, somehow, getting two doses of a vaccine injected into the arm of every one of the county’s 10-million-plus residents who want it. It’s a tall order.

But this is a time when our county leaders should be solely focused on what’s really important, right here, right now, to a pandemic-stricken populace and business community — not clutching their pearls over plastic forks.

To borrow a line from Peanuts: Of all the California things L.A. County has done, this might be the Californiest.

If the spoon-fork-knife motion gets passed, every restaurant offering take-out and delivery in L.A. County will have to modify its procedures. Menus and online ordering apps will have to be amended. They’ll need a new checkbox to put the onus on the customer: “Do you want utensils? Check yes or no.”

Then, when a customer fails to see or check the box, and the order comes sans utensils, the customer won’t be irritated at the county. The customer will be irritated at the hapless delivery driver, the restaurant and, maybe, the take-out gods.

The restaurants’ impacts, I’m sure, will fall somewhere on a continuum ranging from “none” to “mild irritation” to “this is the last straw… er, fork. I’m ignoring the county.”

It will be one more in a seemingly endless roster of regulations with which restaurants must comply. 

It’s another hassle courtesy of the government, when our restaurants really don’t need another hassle from the government. It’s a hassle that should be saved for another day, when things are back to some semblance of “normal” and we’ve all gotten those two precious injections via Pfizer or Moderna and can afford to give a rat’s patoot about plastic forks.

And if it passes, mark my words: Somewhere, in L.A. County, sometime soon, some poor utensil-less soul will be pondering a cardboard container of kung pao chicken and wondering:

How? 

Tim Whyte is editor of The Signal.

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