Just for tradition's sake, trans fat might stay

A Council committee backed exempting neighborhood bakeries from a ban.

Artificial trans fats, the new dietary demon and subject of a ban in Philadelphia, found friends yesterday in generations of neighborhood bakers who convinced a City Council committee that it should keep their tradition alive.

The Committee on Public Health yesterday endorsed a bill, sponsored by Councilwoman Joan Krajewski, that would exempt neighborhood bakeries from the citywide trans-fats ban, which was to begin for them in January. The full Council could vote on it in two weeks.

Over the protests of the city's Health Department and testimony from younger bakers from Center City and Chestnut Hill, bakers from South Philadelphia, Port Richmond, North Philadelphia and elsewhere said they could not reproduce their delicacies without the partially hydrogenated vegetable oils and shortenings.

"In the event that this would have gone through, we would be looking to go elsewhere," said Richard Haegele, born 75 years ago over Haegele's Bakery in Mayfair. He inherited the bakery from his father, and runs it with his son, Glen.

The Haegeles and other bakers said they had unsuccessfully tried to reproduce their delicacies - such as Polish chrusciki from Szypula's in Port Richmond, cannoli from Termini Bros., and pound cake from Stock's. Some bakers brought versions of their specialties with and without trans fats so officials could compare.

Kenneth D. Smith, who runs the city Health Department's division of chronic-disease prevention, called trans fats a "dangerous substance," adding that non-trans-fat options were available for bakers.

Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, said, "Eliminating trans fat from most baked goods is not rocket science, and the law provides ample time to comply."

Bakeries would have had until September to comply fully.

The hearing showed a divide between two upscale bakeries that use butter and the bakeries that go back three and four generations for which the artificially hydrogenated oils have become tradition. (Crisco shortening became the first commercially available trans fat in 1911, according to the American Heart Association.)

"It is altogether possible to avoid using these products," said Rebecca Michaels, owner of Flying Monkey Patisserie at the Reading Terminal Market. She and Amy Beth Edelman of the Night Kitchen Bakery in Chestnut Hill said while baking without trans fats significantly increased costs, people were willing to pay.

But Augustine "Gus" Sarno, the third-generation owner of Isgro Paticceria in South Philadelphia, called the cannoli he tried to make with a non-trans-fat shortening "a complete disaster."

Connie Jesiolowska, owner of Szypula's, said she represented "the blue-collar bakeries" whose customers could not afford higher prices.

Councilman Juan Ramos offered a compromise amendment - that bakeries be exempt but be required to post signs letting customers know they were eating trans fats. The amendment failed.

The committee also yesterday approved a menu-labeling ordinance that would require restaurants to make available nutritional information for all their menu items.

Contact staff writer Jeff Shields at 215-854-4565 or jshields@phillynews.com.

Inquirer staff writer Monica Yant Kinney contributed to this article.