FOX UNDERCOVER - A looming trans fat ban in Chelsea is leaving one local baker wondering how his turnovers are responsible for the obesity epidemic and wishing the government would keep its hands off his dough
At Katz's Bagel Bakery, a Chelsea fixture since 1938, the bagels have always been the big draw, but owner Richard Katz also does a brisk business with pastries like turnovers and whoopie pies, pastries that he makes with partially hydrogenated vegetable shortening.
That shortening will be banned on Jan. 1, leaving Katz vowing to stop selling pastries rather than peddle what he calls "awful" tasting trans fat-free baked goods.
He's made the pastries the same way for years, starting the dough by mixing flour with a heaping mound of shortening, loaded with two and a half grams of trans fats per serving. In just a few weeks when the ban takes effect, the creamy white shortening will be contraband. And that's when Katz's dilemma begins, because the soon-to-be banned trans fats make his turnover dough taste good.
"No question the other stuff is much healthier for you, but this tastes better," said Katz, who still looks fit and trim for his 70 years. "But I don't expect somebody to buy six turnovers and guzzle them down."
Public health experts from the city and Massachusetts General Hospital have been working with Chelsea restaurants and bakeries to prepare for the ban and help come up with alternatives without artificial trans fats. But Katz tried several kinds and they all came up short.
"I made some dough, and I made it the same way I make everything else. I rested it and made turnovers from it, and they looked pretty good, but when you ate them they were awful," Katz said.
So awful that Katz is refusing to sell them without trans fats. Just what that means, though, is not so clear.
"Are you going to keep using them?" FOX Undercover reporter Mike Beaudet asked.
"That's between me and God. God knows if I'm going to use it" he said with a smile.
Katz later said he'll follow the law, but is thinking about legal action of his own.
"It's very, very aggravating to me, and I don't know what to do. I'm just a small little guy trying to make a living and everything's going up and my product list is going down because of what the city tells me," he said.
But Dr. Dean Xerras, a Chelsea board of health member, says the board took action because city residents have higher than average rates for obesity and associated problems like heart disease and diabetes.
"We actually don't think it goes too far," he said. "Our intention was to help the health of Chelsea and really improve the health outcomes of the residents of Chelsea."
Mass. General is part of a coalition of residents and officials working to improve the health of Chelsea residents, and helped craft the ban that was adopted.
Beaudet asked MGH's Melissa Dimond, "getting rid of the turnovers at Katz's Bagels will solve Chelsea's obesity problem."
"Getting rid of artificial trans fat in all of the restaurant establishments will be absolutely part of the solution," Dimond said.
"Is Mr. Katz going to get hauled off for selling this stuff?" Beaudet asked.
"The intention is not for people to be punished. The intention is to help people comply," she said.
Octavio Restrepo, owner of Mario's Bakery in Chelsea, says the ban is fine with him.
"The taste is good. The taste is not much different than the other one, but for our customers, it's much better. One-hundred percent better," he said.
But back at Katz's bagels, some of his loyal customers don't see it that way.
"The customers want a certain taste, and if it doesn't taste as good, there's no use making it," said Ray McDonald, who sometimes buys from Katz's two or three times a week. "I just think that it's ridiculous that the government believes they should impose whatever rule they want on small businesses."
Inside the bakery, Katz is proud to show off the apple turnovers coming out of the oven, the crust made flaky in a way that only partially hydrogenated shortening can do.
"That's what this type of shortening does," he said, flaking off the cooked dough with a knife. "The other shortening, you can't get this type of crust with it."
Boston, Needham and Lynn have already passed trans fat bans in Massachusetts as has New York City and the state of California. But Chelsea's ban goes farther than many others by banning all trans fats while other bans allow a fraction of a serving.