If you’re a fan of good food, you probably already know that the legendary Sriracha hot sauce made by Huy Fong Foods is the nectar of the gods. Late last year a controversy arose that sent waves of panic through the gourmet community when the city of Irwindale, Carlifornia, where the sauce is manufactured, ordered part of the Huy Fong plant closed because the powerful chili odors emanating from it were becoming a nuisance to its neighbors. This threatened to create a nationwide shortage of Sriracha, which, again, if you care anything at all about food, just would not do.
The plant is still up and running for the most part, largely because the season in which jalapeño chili peppers can be harvested and crushed to make the sauce has passed. But there can be little doubt the Huy Fong Foods company is weighing its options moving forward.
Enter Texas State Rep. Jason Villalba. He’s now reaching out to Huy Fong owner David Tran in an attempt to entice him into moving his Sriracha empire from Southern California to the browner pastures of the Dallas area. He sent Tran a personal letter which actually manages to read like a form letter, in that it proudly preaches every article of faith you’d expect from a Republican state senator from Texas. In part, Villalba says:
“As a public official and a corporate attorney for small businesses, I am extremely troubled by excessive government interference in the operations of private, job-creating businesses like Huy Fong Foods. You have worked too hard and have helped too many people to let government bureaucrats shut down your thriving business… The great state of Texas would welcome you and your employees with open arms if you would consider moving… Texas could provide you with exactly what you need to continue to grow, build and maximize the opportunities of Huy Fong Foods.”
The immediate problem of course is that the Huy Fong Foods company has been buying its peppers fresh from the same California farm for decades and there’s a strong possibility it won’t want to end that relationship. But here’s the thing about Villalba’s predictable “pro-business”/anti-government screed: It isn’t really the government that’s threatening to impede the production of Huy Fong Foods’ Sriracha — it’s the residents around the plant with the watering eyes and the sore throats that the local government leaders answer to. It’s the locals who are having an issue with the Huy Fong plant — the government is simply doing their bidding. If you think any local politician wants to put him or herself on bad terms with a backyard cash cow like Huy Fong Foods, you’re fucking crazy.
Now there’s part of me that thinks the residents of Irwindale need to suck it up and take one for the team on this; Sriracha’s on the line and some things are just more important than the health of a few thousand pissy people. But the fact that the plant is a problem and Villalba is willing to overlook that speaks volumes about Texas. If you’ve never been to Texas — and to Dallas in particular — let me spell it out for you. The prevailing philosophy there really does, as Villalba implies, revolve around a slavish worship of the ultimate good of unfettered capitalism; concerns like zoning, the environment, safety, beauty and so on are all incidental when money is on the line. With the exception of Austin, the populated areas of Texas are some of the most garish, haphazardly arranged, and carelessly managed urban centers in America, with local politicians gleefully spreading their legs for big business at every turn, regardless of the negative impact on the community or the fact that it just makes living there feel like you actually chose to move into a Wal Mart.
California’s as enthralled with big business as any other state, mostly because its politicians love money; that’s the one thing all politicians have in common, no matter which part of the country they happen to represent. Anyone who’s driven the length of the state is probably familiar with Harris Ranch along the 5 freeway near Visalia, affectionately known by its critics as “Cowschwitz.” The place can be smelled literally for miles in all directions. The thing is, its at least somewhat isolated; there aren’t homes, churches, youth centers, and other businesses within a couple block radius. I don’t live next to the Huy Fong Foods plant in Irwindale, so I have no idea what the residents there have experienced; I know that some say it’s like living near a tear gas factory.
Obviously, a guy like Rep. Jason Villalba isn’t too worried about the potential impact on the people he represents. Granted, he almost certainly has more sprawl to work with than a town like Irwindale, but a quick visit to Dallas — a town that looks it was thrown together by a four-year-old playing with Legos — will make it clear that its leaders are willing to pervert the spirit of the city’s zoning regulations when the mood strikes or the right offer comes along. All because, you know, jobs — and money. All other considerations — like, say, livability in the surrounding areas — are incidental. That’s sometimes what being excessively “business-friendly” is all about. You’ve gotta break a few eggs, or crush a few hundred-thousand peppers, as it were.
Although there’s a very good possibility that Villalba’s offer is all for nothing anyway. David Tran has yet to respond and likely won’t seriously consider it. Huy Fong was born in Southern California and it’s doubtful it’s going to leave the region anytime soon. Tran’s going to put into place the health and environmental requirements his neighbors are asking for and that’ll be the end of that. Because removing all other high-minded considerations, that will cost less money than moving would.
Chez Pazienza was the beating heart of The Daily Banter, sadly passing away on February 25, 2017. His voice remains ever present at the Banter, and his influence as powerful as ever.