I get it.
I get why the NYC soda ban (I hate calling it that though, no one’s ‘right’ to a coke was being revoked here) was so controversial and intuitively despised. It feels like an insult. An admonishment by Mommy to put down the two-liter and start putting on a pair of running shoes like we don’t know any better. It’s our choice to stuff whatever we’d like down our throats so long as it doesn’t hurt others, and who is the City of New York to tell us otherwise!? It’s why there won’t be any tears shed over Judge Tingling’s decision to strike down the law restricting certain food establishments from selling sugary beverages over 16 ounces before it came into effect today. I do get it, but I’m also disappointed and angered at the self-imposed ignorance we refuse to confront when it comes to modern food today. That it may be our choice, but it’s certainly not a fair one we’ve been canoodled into making.
It’s not enough to say that the obesity rate is at an all-time high. Or that the increase in soft drink size and consumption since the 70′s is directly correlated to the increase of diabetes and heart disease in Americans; diseases which undoubtedly do hurt our economy and shorten the lives of our friends and family. What’s really important to get is how manipulative companies like Coca Cola have been in getting us to accept unhealthy food as the norm, all for the sake of generating profit through addictive products.
Locked within the vault of their research labs are mounds of data on the perfect color of soda to entice customers with, the acceptable amount of corn syrup to get kids hooked, and the right marketing campaigns needed to distance themselves from the known but delayed side effects of an oversaturated sugar diet (all coupled with underfunded programs to ‘promote’ physical activity) Let’s not forget the loads of money spent denying links to poor health they know exist, or fighting off any attempts at regulations lest they cut into the potential market for new customers. These are decades worth of calculated and expertly researched decisions intended to leverage our biological desire into dollar signs while avoiding the consequences of doing so.
Read through any of the comments of news articles covering the regulation, and you’ll be inundated with screeds railing against the government trying to decide what’s good for us, yet completely comfortable with the hijacking of our food supply to create an rigged environment of cheap overabundance. I certainly don’t remember deciding to give Coke the right to lie to me about how healthy and needed their products are. While I’ve never been the biggest government fan, isn’t it their job to protect us from that exact thing? To keep our roads and streets safe and try to keep us from sinking our ship too fast?
And again, it wasn’t even a ban, it was an attempt to rein in the excessive overconsumption directly driven by the food industry. We recognize there are limits and regulations needed to keep driving safe, our homes secure and our drinking safe, but this is where it’s too much? Returning our soda size to the same amount it was thirty years ago? When did we stop wanting our elected officials to step in and try to effectively promote good health? Especially when the companies who helped put us in this quagmire are busy washing their hands clean of the whole mess?
Is that to say that the large soda ban was going to bring us back from the brink of chronic disease? Not at all. There’s plenty to critique* about how obtuse the city was in actually implementing the ban. How uneven the restrictions were going to be, the city unable to prevent growing chains like 7-11 from ignoring the new limits. And how rushed it seemed to be, Bloomberg coming off like an out-of-touch school principal belittling us from staying past curfew. The problem was, and might always be, that it was never going to be enough. I don’t think the ban would have led to a dramatic falloff in the obesity crisis, but I do think it could have been a visible one. One that would have provoked a serious discussion about the role we need to play in making ourselves healthier by making our environment healthier.
Living a lifelong (and currently successful) battle with my own weight, I’ve grown to despise the argument of personal responsibility when it comes to food. Not just because it ignores the biology and psychology of how and why we eat, but because it ignores the purposeful ripples set off by companies eager to drive profits and able to distance themselves from the long-term health problems it’s brought on. Which is exactly what they get to do yet again, cheering on politicians in other states like Mississippi (the state with the highest obesity rate) who are trying to outright stop any public health measures from being enacted, even popular ones like listing the calorie counts of menu items.
Like I said, I get it. I get why a lot of us were angry. Because we like to think food is something we consciously decide on our own terms, and so too the risks and benefits that come with it. But that’s not entirely true, and most of us know it.
It’s the fear of admitting that to ourselves that makes us all the more too prideful to do something about it.
*The one argument I don’t agree with is the “People will just buy two bottles instead!” one. If only because us common folk are about as lazy as we can effectively be. Two bottles of a 16 oz. Coke are twice the size, twice the bill and twice the inconvenience. Sure some might be willing to foot the nonmonetary cost for who knows how long, but most of us would grumpily accept the new status quo and even appreciate the lighter price tag. We’re adaptable like that. They used to be the norm. Why can’t they be again? And as I find myself repeating time and time again, if you make the healthier choice the easier choice, some of us will take you up on it.