Bittman, Buzzfeed, and the Ban

Palin / Big Gulp ticket in 2016!

There was a great piece from Mark Bittman in the NYTimes yesterday on the Soda Ban ruling. Best things about this article: 1) the quote below and 2) the Buzzfeed citation.

“Research shows that we’ll consume pretty much whatever quantity we’re served, and be satisfied with it. If 16 ounces of soda isn’t enough for you, the ban would not, of course, have prohibited your purchase of two 16-ounce containers; the idea was to make you think twice before doing so.

What, exactly, makes that capricious? The Board of Health was operating entirely within its mission; it could not apply the ban in every place where soda is sold because it doesn’t have jurisdiction everywhere. But it does have jurisdiction over more than 20,000 restaurants and 5,000 mobile food vendors.”

Why is this quote important? Because it highlights what I think is the most important argument in this debate: We need to start somewhere. Sure, 20,000 restaurants and 5,000 mobile food vendors isn’t completely comprehensive coverage, but it’s still impressive reach and way better than doing nothing.

The more I think about this issue, the more I believe that the Soda Ban is the best possible option for NYC, more than half of whose residents are overweight. I believe that it is important for a government to clearly state through rule-making when it condemns a certain kind of behavior because it helps change public opinion over time. The government has made these statements about driving without a seatbelt and smoking, and you don’t have to watch more than a few episodes of Mad Men to figure out that the general population’s opinion about letting kids in a car without a seatbelt and smoking in literally every room you enter throughout the day have changed significantly over time. I think the national conversation about our obesity epidemic would get catapulted forward if the NYC Board of Health was permitted to make a similarly credible statement about the dangers of consuming 2-4 servings of high-sugar and low-nutrient beverages regularly. We will see what happens on appeal.

A few people have argued to me recently that a soda tax would be much more effective and equitable. True, but don’t forget that in 2010, Bloomberg urged state legislators to pass a soda tax that would have brought an additional penny per ounce of sugared soda sold to the state. It failed to pass.

Others (I’m looking at you Jon Stewart) argue that the Soda Ban represents an uncomfortable constraint on individual rights. This baffles me. You know what is an uncomfortable constraint on individual rights? The unmitigated clout of the processed food and soda lobbies on our legislative process. Sugar and corn shouldn’t cost what they do, the products that rely on these cheap inputs shouldn’t be allowed to make health and wellness claims without oversight, and that marketing doesn’t need to take place, unrestricted, in every airport, hospital, office and school in the nation.

If you want a little more insight into the sinister influence of the beverage industry in our country, today the Center for Science in the Public Interest released a new report titled “Selfish Giving: How the Soda Industry Uses Philanthropy to Sweeten its Profits.” The report sheds light on the numerous self-serving motives behind the beverage-industry’s charity and the impact of this charity on efforts to reduce sugar sweetened beverage consumption in the United States. If you look at this report and the Buzzfeed piece and still feel like the real villain in this soda story is Nanny Bloomberg, then I want to hear about it.


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