My research these days is related to soda consumption in Providence, Rhode Island, and I spend much of my time reading and thinking about soda taxes and policies to reduce consumption across the country. So I was particularly interested in this week's story about New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's proposal to ban the sale of soft drinks larger than 16 ounces in food-service operations across the city. The ban would apply to restaurants, movie theaters, and the like, but would exempt alcoholic and dairy-based drinks (mmm, 30-oz milkshake!), fruit juices, and diet beverages.
NYC has recently been a hot spot for food reform, particularly in the form of top-down policies implemented by the Bloomberg administration. Among those policies are a ban on the use of trans-fats in restaurants, a letter-grading system for eateries, and a requirement that chain restaurants publicly post calorie content beside menu items. By and large, these policies have been somewhat successful and somewhat popular (which is generally about as far as you can get with a New Yorker).
But this new soda proposal has been scorned, shrugged off, shunned, and scoffed at by talking heads across the political spectrum. Here, I'll address the two largest concerns of the New York Times, the New Yorker, the Huffington Post, and even the Daily Show, and share some of my (still being formulated) thoughts on the issue.
Limiting consumer options. Not-so-subtle implication: Bloomberg is restricting my personal liberties!! Reality: I can't drink 24 ounces of soda while I watch the latest Kristen Stewart movie. Okay...what are we really talking about here?
"Nanny Bloomberg," as he's been dubbed by less level-headed members of the press than myself, has become known for health-related policies that attempt to make New Yorkers eat healthier against their wills. The New Yorker has an interesting argument as to why Bloomberg exercises his arrogance in this manner - he's not up for re-election, he's too rich to care about corporate power, and he has huge political influence in his city. So he uses his power in the most devious way possible - he tries to make you eat better, and maybe even live longer as a consequence. The devil!
I won't dismiss the consumer-choice argument, because it's obviously a valuable one. The government's role is not to control our everyday decisions - it is to serve us, protect us, and hopefully fix the potholes on Williams Street in the near future. But at the same time, the government has played a huge role in allowing corporate power of our food system to grow as it has. Corn wasn't always cheap (and it wasn't always available as a syrup, either). To suggest that taking away 10 or so ounces of our soda is a terrible affront to our personal liberties is to be incredibly blind to the realities of American food production. Surely we should be more angered about the huge profit Coca-Cola rakes in on our expanding waistlines than the consequences of drinking less soda. Which brings me to the next bulletpoint...
It's a slippery slope! I find this argument kind of hilarious. I mean, what's at the end of this slope? A hell of vegetables and grains, grown organically and on sustainable farms? Okay, maybe I'm the only one who thinks that image is funny. But really - what exactly are we afraid of?
Some policies really do imply a slippery slope dilemma - national security programs come to mind, or allowing corporations the same rights as citizens. But reducing how much soda you can drink in one sitting? That seems like a one-off to me. And honestly, it's not even that strong of a policy. Have you people ever read some of those crazy liberal food blogs?! (Full disclosure: you may be reading one right now.)
Here are my honest thoughts: We have already lost control of what we eat. Corporations run our food system, and so our diversity of options has decreased significantly over time, even as the number of food items on grocery stores shelves has skyrocketed. And in order for the word "sustainability" to gain any traction in our culture or kitchens, the government has to get more involved. City, state, federal - all parties need to act on behalf of their citizens and figure out how the hell to feed us all better. There are a million problems and (a million)^2 questions along the way. Let's stop wringing our hands about the Nanny and start wondering why our government has let so many of us down for so long.
Writer, eater, feminist, musician. Let's talk.