Food Freedom

Andrew Cuomo to Chicken Wings: You're Not Real Food

The New York governor requires bars to sell "substantive" offerings if they'd like to stay open.


New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has a lot on his plate. He's governing a state of more than 19 million people. He's trying to contain a COVID-19 outbreak. He's classifying which foods are substantial enough for a meal.

The Democratic governor insists the three are related. As the state emerges from coronavirus-related closures, which decimated many a business, Cuomo is enacting new regulations on what bars must serve if they want to be open after months of being shuttered.

It can't just be alcohol, and it can't just be finger food. "To be a bar, you had to have food available—soups, sandwiches, etc.," he said in a press conference yesterday. "More than just hors d'oeuvres, chicken wings, you had to have some substantive food. The lowest level of substantive food were sandwiches."

Many establishments initially tried to circumvent the rules with offerings like $1.00 Cuomo Chips or, as another bar put it, "a few chips off your shoulder." The Lafayette, located in Buffalo, epitomized the trend with a makeshift menu whose offering included a "handful o' croutons" and "the smallest piece of cheesecake you'll ever see," as well as one sliver of charcuterie, which could be substituted for a piece of cheese.

No more. The intent of the food mandate, Cuomo says, is to encourage patrons to stay in their seats, so "substantive" selections must be the norm. One wonders what impact, if any, that rule will have on COVID-19 transmissions. (If he wants patrons to be seated, wouldn't it be easier to require that patrons, well, stay seated? Sorry—I don't want to give him any ideas.)

Many bars didn't offer food prior to the pandemic. To fulfill Cuomo's requirements, they must now pour extra money into food supplies and manpower in a time when few people have any extra money to speak of.

"We have one lady who comes in who has high food allergies," Anne Muldoon, the owner of Lowery Bar & Kitchen, told NY1. "She never eats out, but has a couple glasses of wine and it's a little freedom—and now we have to tell her she has to order food. So she walks out our doors."

Cuomo has also zeroed in on outdoor drinking, which he wants everyone to know is not allowed. That mandate is especially devastating to any bar or restaurant in New York City, where indoor dining is still prohibited.

"The state will suspend liquor licenses for businesses in violation of health orders," he said in a subsequent tweet. "Local governments must also enforce these rules. We need compliance to stop the spread and keep New Yorkers safe." He has since made good on that promise.

But who exactly he is keeping safe isn't quite clear, unless we soon find out that one is more likely to contract COVID-19 while intoxicated. COVID-19 transmission is less likely, not more, in an outdoor setting.

Dr. Anthony Fauci recently hailed Cuomo as the one who "did it correctly," with "it" being Cuomo's response to COVID-19. There's room for a healthy debate over whether that's true, considering the state's stratospheric death toll—32,000 fatalities—and the many factors which contributed to it, some of which can be laid at Cuomo's door. Thankfully the state's deaths have dropped off dramatically.

But instead of litigating the past, how about the present? If Cuomo's arbitrary distinction between chicken wings and sandwiches is any indication, he is not, in fact, "doing it correctly."