02 June 2012

Nutrition in the People's Republic of New York; or, Mayor Bloomberg and the New Cola Wars

Mayor Bloomberg of New York has announced his latest bold new initiative this week. If he has his way, the supersize Coke, the Big Gulp and all the other large sugar-sweetened drinks will be banned.

Basically, the mayor’s proposal would prevent retailers from selling cups of cola, etc., greater than 16 ounces which are sweetened by sugar.  (It’s a little more complicated than that - for example, chocolate milk is okay.)

The reason? These drinks contribute to the epidemic of obesity in America.

Let me tell you what this column is not – This is not an apologia for (us) fat people nor even a disagreement with many of the Mayor’s underlying assumptions.

  • Buying a 64 ounce cola/orange drink/whatever is not a good idea.
  • Obesity is in fact epidemic in America. That is costly for healthcare and costly for business.
  • A large proportion of military age youth use cannot pass the minimum physical standards to enter the military.
  • The average calorie consumption by Americans has increased significantly in the past few decades.
  • Being obese is very unpleasant. Getting there almost invariably involves some addiction behavior.  (No, we’re not going into addiction as disease or any of that right now. It is, it isn’t, how the hell do I know?)
So what’s the buzz?

I’m just amazed that Government proposes this step.  I see at least three areas of terminal concern.

This kind of regulation represents an entirely new level of five government intrusion into private lives. Government has been involved in the food chain since at least the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. That Act mandated producers to put only sanitary products into the commerce stream.

For good or for ill, the content of an individual’s diet has never been regulated by the Government.

This is not say that substances for consumption have never been banned. Our current drug policy is a fiasco, but we do have one. We took a gallant stab at banning ethanol in the early 20th Century, and still regulate to some extent the sale of alcohol and the effects of overconsumption.  And yet the Government still hasn’t turned it’s power to consumables based upon their long-term consequences.

Remember tobacco?

Another matter is that the big cola ban simply is not enforceable. Or at least the ban is not enforceable without committing already overcommitted resources to enforce it.

A law which is not enforced is worse than no law at all. By definition, that creates a lawless atmosphere. Perhaps that is a good reason that lawmakers should be a bit conservative before they willy-nilly proscribe common conduct. 

Finally, and most importantly in my view, the whole soda pop flap is political gimmickry and tokenism of the worst sort.

We do have a genuine issue – obesity. We also have an easy target group – fat people  – easy because nobody wants to be one, people who are marginally there deny that they are one, and as a group they are totally unorganized.

This is a recipe for a political touchdown. The unrighteous are vanquished.  Kindly Father Government is protecting us by his warm embrace.  And nobody who matters is going to be pissed off.

And it shows action. It shows initiative. It shows that We the Servants of the People CARE.

Screw drug addiction.  We don’t have time to provide for missing basic medical care.  And drunks are drunks are drunks and nobody will ever get them off the booze.

Maybe Bloomberg and the rest of the Politburo are running a scam showing massive disrespect – assuming they CAN fool all the people all the time.

Or maybe we have a billionaire sugar daddy who is catching the totalitarian bug.

Neither option is very attractive.

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