Friday, August 24, 2012

The Soda Ban = Apartheid

I saw something pretty strange the other day on my bike ride home: an ad on the back of a Pepsi-Cola delivery truck depicting, in silhouette, a man triumphantly raising a cup, as an Olympian might hold his torch or a gladiator might hold up the severed head of his vanquished foe: in a pose of defiant triumph.


This refers, of course, to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's proposal to ban the sale of sodapop and other sweetened beverages in sizes larger than 16 ounces. in an effort to slow the avalanche of childhood obesity.

How dare he!

There has been a surprisingly strong public outcry in opposition of this move here in the city -- there was a hearing about it the other day, and the hearing was attended by activists with signs and everything. Yesterday the New York Times reported on a citywide poll that found two-thirds of city residents not in favor of the motion -- most of those quoted in the piece framed it as a civil rights issue, as in "who is the government to tell me how much soda I can drink?"

Well, a couple things about that: one, the government is not telling you how much soda you can drink. They are telling you that if you want to drink more than 16 ounces, you'll have to buy two. It is an effort at portion control, which studies I have not read have been said to show is one of the most effective tools we have against obesity.

People are not necessarily wrong to feel that this is a government overreach. It kind of is. I'm not sure I want to see it pass, even though I'm certain that I will sleep just fine at night if it does pass. I don't care at all one way or the other. What I find interesting about the debate on the matter is that a debate at all. Not because it's not debateable -- there are strong cases for and against, if you ask me. The fact that anyone cares enough about how much soda they're allowed to drink through one straw to protest it, to make a sign about it and carry that sign on the subway and then wave it around and shout when they get to where they're going is absolutely insane to me. 

Don't let the government take away our right 
to sell you sugared water at a 700% markup!
The country's economy is supposedly terrible (though I must say I would have no idea of that if I didn't read or watch the news). There is a presidential campaign happening, and its results are likely to have a substantial impact on the social contract between the government and its citizens. The nation's banks collapsed as a result of their own greed and recklessness, and no one (no one) has been prosecuted. There have been three firearm massacres in public places in the last six weeks. Government officials are showing shocking ignorance to the rights and basic functions of women's bodies.

And this is what people want to demonstrate about? This is what gets people off the sofa: ironically, the idea that they might have to get off the sofa more than once to slake their unquenchable thirst for demonstrably, obviously fattening beverages? I'm sure there's a perfect Woody Guthrie protest song for this occasion, it's just too bad poor Pete Seeger isn't here to sing it.

Having said that: Look. If you are an adult, and you feel like you need 32 ounces of Co-Cola to get through a movie -- and if you are such a person, I would be interested to hear your bathroom strategy -- I don't begrudge you that right. But this is not about you. It's about the kids. I spend a lot of time with a 5-year-old boy these days, and I have learned a thing or two (and been reminded of a thing or two) about the way kids are with sodas and sugary things in general.

Put simply: they are like junkies. Once they've had a taste of a Coke or a Sprite or a Dr. Pepper, they will lie, cheat, or steal to get more. Kids don't drink beer or booze, they drink sugar, and sugar, as my good friend Colin told me when his son was my son's age, is the gateway drug.

When she burps it smells like Freedom

This morning at breakfast we had an argument that we have a lot: My son protested that I hadn't poured enough milk in his cereal. He had not eaten any cereal yet; he hadn't even put his spoon in the bowl. He just looked at it and felt it didn't look like enough milk. I stood my ground and told him it was enough milk, and after a little more back-and-forth he went ahead and started eating. A few minutes later, after he'd eaten most of his Cheerios, I pointed out that there was still a good bit of milk left in the bowl.

Here's the point: kids don't do portion control. If they know they like it, there is no such thing as too much of it. My wife jokingly suggested that we fill a mixing bowl with Cheerios and milk, and the boy readily agreed to that plan.

And this is just plain Cheerios, a food he's lukewarm on at best. If I offered him a 64-ounce Coke, which would be more Coke than he has blood in his body, he wouldn't just take it, he'd run off with it and hide it somewhere. He gets this look in his eyes, when he gets a little taste of something sugary and knows there's more to be had in the vicinity: it's like a crazed raccoon or a dude on a (small-c) coke jag.


So if a kid walks up to the snack counter at the movies, or at the mall, or wherever, chances are that kid is going to order the biggest soda he can carry. As the rise of giant soda options seems to have coincided with the rise in childhood obesity in this country, it doesn't seem like a terrible idea to me to restrict that kid's portion to 120% of his actual stomach capacity.  If that seems an inconvenience to those of us who like our beverages big enough to have an undertow, well, buy a second one and slurp away with my gravest sympathies for this awful infringement on your personal rights.

One more time, to be clear: I don't care if this law passes. My relationship to it is the same as my relationship with the Mets: I'm not rooting for it, and I'm not rooting against it. I can see the logic of it, but that's as far as it goes. But if you are really upset about it, I would suggest that you a) closely examine your relationship with soda, because nothing sold in such bright-colored packaging should inspire such passion, and b) redirect your efforts to something a little more substantial, like getting Caprica uncanceled or making sure the fat guy doesn't win The Voice

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