This is one of those points where I know just about every Feministe reader is going to disagree with me, but: I’m glad that NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg has banned the sale of extra-large sugary drinks from some establishments.
It is irritating that the removal of giant-sized sodas from movie theaters, arenas and food trucks is tied to an OMG OBESITY EPIDEMIC campaign? Yes. But the truth is that soda isn’t just mildly unhealthy — it’s really incredibly bad for you, and it’s addictive, and it has no nutritional value whatsoever. And Americans are consuming more of it than at any other point in human history, with disastrous results for our health. Sugary drinks are particularly bad:
And if you take that sugar in liquid form — soda or fruit juices — the fructose and glucose will hit the liver more quickly than if you consume them, say, in an apple (or several apples, to get what researchers would call the equivalent dose of sugar). The speed with which the liver has to do its work will also affect how it metabolizes the fructose and glucose.
In animals, or at least in laboratory rats and mice, it’s clear that if the fructose hits the liver in sufficient quantity and with sufficient speed, the liver will convert much of it to fat. This apparently induces a condition known as insulin resistance, which is now considered the fundamental problem in obesity, and the underlying defect in heart disease and in the type of diabetes, type 2, that is common to obese and overweight individuals. It might also be the underlying defect in many cancers.
If what happens in laboratory rodents also happens in humans, and if we are eating enough sugar to make it happen, then we are in trouble.
New Yorkers can still purchase soda at all of these venues; the sodas just max out at 16 ounces. And New Yorkers can still purchase larger volumes of soda at grocery stores, so if you want to buy a liter of Coke for your whole family, you can do that. The ban just controls the sale of enormous amounts of soda in venues where that soda is being consumed all at once by a single person.
Accusations of nanny-statism abound, but the state regulates food and substances all the time. And it should. Personal choice is important, but in New York we regulate the “personal choice” to buy alcohol before noon on Sundays; to drink in bars after 4am; to buy cigarettes if you’re under 18. One thing I appreciate about many European countries is their insistence on accurate food labels. You can’t call cheese “parmiggiano” or “parmesan” unless it comes from Parma and is produced in a particular way; what Kraft sells in those green containers is “Italian hard cheese” or “table cheese.” You know what you’re getting, at least.
And a big part of the problem is American culture. There’s an entire book in my head about this that will someday get itself written, but Americans love to consume. We love a deal rather than quality — we want bigger faster more. If you’re going to spend $15 on dinner, many Americans will choose a giant plate of pasta and unlimited breadsticks from the Olive Garden rather than a smaller but better-tasting dish from the small Italian joint down the street, because the Olive Garden gives you more, even if the food is terrible for you and not particularly good-tasting. The pleasure comes from the consumption and the perceived value, rather than from the pleasure of taste. It’s a problem. And it’s not one that’s going to be cured by soda bans, but it is one that’s been exacerbated by the “new normal” of 20-oz Pepsis at the movies. Corporate interests have trumped basic health regulations, and are defended by accusations of nanny-statism and infringement on individual liberties. Big food companies have steadily re-set “normal” portion sizes to reach massive volumes so that they’ll move more product and keep more Americans physically addicted to foods that are killing us. They don’t care about “personal choice” — they care about driving us in a particular direction and calling it freedom.
Bloomberg’s soda rules will help to re-set normal. Now go ahead and tell me how wrong I am.