The July 23 Taste section article "Some like it hot!" reports on the surging popularity of spicy dishes among the general blandness of Minnesota cookery.

It's been obvious to anyone who visits restaurants that this has been the case for some time. Spicy food is everywhere. I have no beef with that. I didn't mind a little of the heat when I was younger. But I've gotten to the age where culinary heat is not a matter of taste, but a matter of health. If I eat a spicy dish at dinner time, the heartburn keeps me awake most of the night.

My problem is that restaurants often don't let me make an informed decision on what to order. I get ambushed by heat where I least expect it — in a tuna salad sandwich, a plate of risotto, a candied pecan atop a muffin or a pork chop doused in black pepper. Young servers especially cannot be trusted to help choose nonspicy dishes. I can't tell you how many times I've been assured "no heat," and it still comes on the plate.

My plea to restaurant owners is this: Make an objective assay of dishes that are spicy. Let some heat-hater specify what's hot and what's not. Then provide the information to heat-hating customers, so that they can avoid that unpleasant burning sensation in their mouths and throats — and a sleepless night.

D.R. MARTIN, Minneapolis

Not the elected officials but the staff who are the problem

I have been a Golden Valley resident for 25 years and read with interest the article "Survey says: All is not golden" (July 22). I do not know our mayor but have had communications with him and our City Council representative on two occasions: once regarding a transformer that was hanging in front of our house by an electrical line after a storm cracked the telephone pole in half, and once regarding an issue of city property that abuts our property. On both occasions the mayor and City Council member promptly returned my e-mails, showed real concern and were very engaged.

When I contacted senior staffers at the city to follow up on one of the issues, I did not get my calls returned and heard indirectly that there was nothing they could do to help. Although non-senior staff at the city seem engaged and concerned, "no" seems to be some senior staff's automatic response.

I am not the only one to have these experiences in my neighborhood. If my experience and the article are reflective of the attitude of certain senior staff at the city, it seems that changes need to be made at the senior staff level, not at the City Council. At the very least, some senior staff members could learn about good customer service from the mayor and our council representative.

David Cossi, Golden Valley

• • •

I am not surprised at all by the negative comments aimed at the Golden Valley City Council. In my opinion, the council lost its soul when it chased away a day school for mentally ill children (LifeSpan) that wanted to locate here ("Golden Valley vote turns away mentally ill kids," Feb. 12, 2014).

To make matters worse, the mayor allowed a neighborhood bully and political supporter to harangue the proponent of LifeSpan and to denigrate mentally ill children for most of the City Council meeting, which was broadcast live for all to see. No attempt was made to stop the cringe-worthy discourse against the school and those suffering from mental illness.

No wonder our staff is unhappy with our elected leadership. Brooklyn Park has since welcomed LifeSpan into its community, making our council look even worse.

Nancy Azzam, Golden Valley

How Southwest LRT today is like the airport issue in the '90s

Regarding the featured letter of July 22 ("1990s decision to keep MSP in place was regrettable"): I live just west of Lake Harriet, and I think about that missed opportunity every single day. The airport issue in 1990 is analogous to the Southwest light-rail one we are debating today. Moving the airport would have been many times more contentious and problematic than building the rail line, and the taxpayers unaffected by the noise at that time would have objected to the cost, no matter the future regional value. (I wonder how the new airport design and its ultimate value would have been compromised in order to address rising costs?)

Light-rail naysayers don't see transit as an alternative to their specific needs, despite the fact that they are regularly inconvenienced by always-necessary road-repair delays. They fail to see that transit presents alternatives for population growth and prosperity with fewer added cars. The gnawing fact remains that while we demurred, Denver did relocate its airport. Denver and others are also passing us in transit. Regional infrastructure changes do seem less feasible over time, and regrets more pronounced.

David Craig Smith, Minneapolis

Understanding requires attention to secular inadequacies

Congratulations to the Star Tribune for the courage to publish David Pence's thoughtful commentary about our secular myopia regarding religion as a key and real factor in public life ("These wars — they're religious. Will the West take a side?" July 19).

Our increasingly secular society seems to have left many unwilling or unable to talk about religion, or from an overtly religious perspective, in the public square. And the void has left us vulnerable, dating to the first Iranian hostage crises in 1979. Moorhead Kennedy, one of those original hostages, has said publicly that he and other State Department officials who first wrote about the rising Islamic revival in Iran as a matter of concern were told to "take that religious stuff out of your reports." Tell us the real stuff, the implication was — tell us about power and money trails and political rivalries. A genuinely secular framework seems to be largely unable to deal with religion as being about real stuff, except in a sociological sense. We were "surprised" and overtaken by events back in 1979 because the "religious" things were in fact the real things.

So many of the commentaries now talk about jobs and employment and other economic and political issues as if these were the solutions, but in fact they miss what is at the heart of things: a spiritual void, a disillusionment with an affluent secular culture, seen rightly or wrongly as morally corrupt.

This is not an easy or comfortable conversation for a secular America that has itself "radicalized" the separation of church and state to a place that the founding fathers and mothers probably would not recognize. (Just look at the heavily theological content of Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address to touch the difference.) Until we start to talk about the real stuff of religion as operative in our individual and collective psyches, we will continue to be "surprised," and inarticulately unable to deal with, intelligent souls who understand the limitations and failures of a strictly secular worldview.

The Rev. Leonard Freeman, Long Lake

A memorable solution from those who lived amid violence

I substitute-taught at the Hennepin County Home School, a school and housing facility for juvenile felons in Eden Prairie. These kids had been surrounded by violence and crime their entire short lives.

There were about 15 or 20 teenage boys in the class. An open-ended question was asked after we talked about all of the killings: "What's the answer to ending this?"

First one boy said it, and then almost in unison, the entire class began to chant, "CLOSE THE GUN STORES! CLOSE THE GUN STORES!"

That was in 1992 — I'll never forget it.

David Beardsley, Bloomington