This past Thursday, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed a ban on sugary drinks in cups larger than 16 ounces at movie theaters, restaurants and parks. The reaction to the restriction could be described as the work of a divine interventionist or what happens when the planets align just so – Democratic and Republican pundits agreed to bash the measure. Fox News called soft drink makers “whipping boys” in our nation’s fight against obesity, and Jon Stewart went as far as to call the proposal “Draconian.” The right fears total market regulation and the left views the soda ban as a stepping stone on a path to a future dystopia.
Should the city’s Board of Health approve the proposal, I don’t believe we’ll be a nation of anti-soda socialists or anti-soda autocrats. Restaurants in New York City were disallowed the right to sell foods containing trans fats as of July 2008. No one hissed or booed. Cigarettes are illegal to minors. No one hisses or boos (other than the ineligible smokers and voters). Clearly in neither philosophy nor deed are we against any attempt for better public health only because it limits our choices. We have conceded that when we know any digestible substance harms us and offers no trace of goodness, the government can and should regulate the production, distribution and marketing of those goods or ingredients. Sugary drinks provide calories but no nutrients to a country of buyers who already consume an excess of calories. To the left, I entreat that this proposal is an offshoot of any social welfare or public health initiative that aids the bodies and lifestyles of its recipients.
The right should be more ashamed. Rather than place the burden on companies to create products free of harm, the right shames our obese population for their own choices. Unlike a smoking addiction that never needs to begin, an addiction to sugar can begin before we have the ability to investigate and choose which companies to support with our buck. If it’s difficult to imagine an addiction to sugar beginning when poor, urban mothers without access to checkups or parenting classes feed their newborns sodas to pacify them, then imagine Happy Meals and bright candy wrappers placed under the registers of a drug store at a kid’s eye level. Sure, a parent can say, “No,” but did you first hold $1.25 at age 18?
Companies should be able to create pink slime, a pasty pink boiled filler created from partial-meat shavings and ammonia. I should be able to eat it in hamburgers or even buy it as its own product. Of course though, I’d make that informed decision once I know its contents and origins. The NYC sugary-drink restriction speaks to the label GMO movement as well as Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and also most of the politicking on Capitol Hill: Voting and spending should be done as we desire once we consciously accept the repercussions of those choices. This requires all the true, unadulterated facts to be available to us. Bloomberg stated New Yorkers would not be limited to a single 16-ounce soda. They may each purchase as many as they choose, and diet sodas will be sold in any size. Larger, family sizes of sugared sodas will still be sold in grocery stores. Knowing how many ounces I’m drinking isn’t as simple as ordering “just one.” Companies intentionally create cups in odd diameters, heights and proportions that are difficult for our brains to register.
I beg you, left and right, to stop worrying. If it works, we’ll be leaner, better-adjusted, informed decision-makers who might even inspire healthy business competition between food producers who consider nutrition. And if the plan fails, we will continue to happily guzzle multiple 16-ounce glasses, just like we continue to eat a whole bag of chips even though the label says it offers two or three servings. Companies might even be able to hike up the cost per ounce and make a larger profit. If we continue to push the scale on our own volition, Republicans, I’m sure it can be spun into a stronger argument for entirely privatized health care.