Ok, Mayor Bloomberg, you’ve gotten me to react. Over my city’s mayor’s past three terms, I’ve largely been able to ignore most of the things he’s put in place. Can’t smoke in city parks? I’m not a smoker anyway. Weird picnic tables in the middle of Times Square? I don’t work near there. Stop-and-frisk policy? I’m not a black male. Not that I don’t care about these sorts of things, but they have never affected me on a personal level.
Bloomberg’s proposed “soda ban” (if it can even be called that) doesn’t really affect me either. I’m not a huge soda drinker, and I don’t think I’ve ever ordered a soda over 16oz in my life. But the ridiculousness of the proposed ban is so apparent that even this generally apathetic writer needs to say something.
The biggest problem is that I believe the government’s role is to protect people from outside forces, not themselves. And even though I think Bloomberg has a long history of overreaching, it’s not hard to see how he could reason out his past enactments. Smoking in bars and restaurants and parks does affect those sitting around you. In the best possible world, stop-and-frisk would reduce crime without infringing on anyone’s rights. Hell, even putting calorie counts on menus keeps restaurants from falsely advertising something as a “light” option when it’s really loaded with calories. That’s a good thing. People should have as much information about a given subject as they can. But that’s when the legislation needs to stop, because we can’t control what anyone does with that information.
Bloomberg argues that this ban – which would prohibit movie theaters, restaurants, street carts and other places serving food from serving full-calorie sodas and sweetened drinks in cups over 16oz – will not keep anyone from ordering as much soda as they want. People can order refills, he says. But who are these people? According to various surveys on New York City and State health, soda and sugared beverage consumption is higher among consumers who “are male, are younger, identify themselves as Hispanic or racially black, and have less education.” Again proving that this is something a college-educated mixed-race girl who grew up in a middle to upper-middle class background really has nothing to worry about.
When I was in college, I earned some money by tutoring second graders in writing and grammar. The kids would be bussed to our campus from impoverished areas in New Orleans, and I’d sit for an hour or two with one of the kids, going over sentence structures. But we were also instructed to begin talking to these kids about education and college, and get them to understand that furthering their education should be their biggest priority. It usually wasn’t, because of what the program directors called the “cycle of poverty.”
The CoP is not something I like to adhere to. It’s where liberals get that “hand-out” stereotype, and however false of a stereotype it is, it’s still there. The basic idea is that the longer your family has been poor, the harder it will be for you to stop being poor without some sort of outside help. And the harder it will be for you to even find that help. For example, let’s say no one in your family has ever saved for retirement. None of your friends families have either. Would it dawn on you on your own to start saving? Odds are low.
This ties closely to diet trends. According to the NYC Health Department (hardly unbiased, but it’s the only information I could find), “Residents of East and Central Harlem, North and Central Brooklyn, and the South Bronx are more likely to drink sugary drinks, and to drink 4 or more sugary drinks daily, than are residents of the Upper West Side and Flatbush.” For those of you that don’t live in New York City, that means that people who live in traditionally poorer neighborhoods drink more sugary drinks than those in richer ones. Children also start drinking soda earlier in those neighborhoods. It could end there, and we could all say that these poor people just don’t take care of their kids and that’s not our responsibility. But that’s not the whole story.
According to the same study, the “majority of adult residents across all neighborhoods do not think it is an acceptable practice” to give young kids soda. So why does it happen? “More than 1 in 4 respondents reported that they would not drink New York City tap water,” says the Health Department. There’s also cost to consider. At my local grocery store, two liters of soda costs about $1.50. A half gallon of milk costs twice that, and that’s not even the organic kind. Fruit juice (hardly calorie-free, but still having some vitamins and nutrients that soda doesn’t) can be even more expensive.
I can’t speak to why these populations are buying full-calorie soda instead of diet or water. Maybe there’s some sort of machismo subtext for these 18-24 year old black and latino men that has now lead to the existence of Dr. Pepper 10. However, there is a problem when we get to the Health Department’s “solutions.” At the bottom of this report they suggest things like “switch from juice to whole fruit,” “don’t drink fruit-flavored drinks” and “choose fat-free milk instead of whole milk.”
This advice is great for me because I’ve been trained my whole life to understand the concept of thinking ahead. If I studied hard in high school, I would get into college. If I did well in college, I would get a good job. If I put money away now, I would be able to spend it later. So it’s not hard for me to think that if I eat some fruit instead of drink soda, I won’t get diabetes down the line. This probably isn’t the case for most victims of the CoP.
When I was tutoring, I learned that most of the kids spent an average of 90 days at any given house. That’s because 90 days is as long as you can stay in a house you’ve signed a lease on before you have to pay rent. So when your main concern is where you’re going to sleep next week, who has time to think about studying? Or college? Or eating right? There are more pressing matters. If your family is on food stamps, why waste money on expensive produce when the haul has to last everyone two weeks? Why would you switch to drinking water when everyone in your family is drinking soda?
It’s hard to argue that drinking four sugary drinks a day is what’s good for you. But Bloomberg and other rich people/people in authoritative positions have a long history of telling poor people what’s best for them without understanding what’s going on. Just drink milk and eat more fruit, they say. Drink your water, it’s free! But if you’re on food stamps, don’t trust your tap water and your kid is thirsty, two liters of soda might make your $3 last a whole lot longer than a half gallon of milk.
This ban is one-sided. If it goes into effect, I could afford to buy two 16oz sodas at the movies and life would be as it was before. For many others that wouldn’t be the case. So the rich get what they want and the poor settle for less. If Bloomberg, the state, and the country really cared about our health, they would start planning ahead. Instead of effectively making soda more expensive, why not find a way to bring the price of milk down? Instead of making local produce only available at green markets (most of which are a $5 round-trip subway ride from the city’s poor and obese neighborhoods), why not encourage state farms to stock their produce at local grocery stores?
The ban isn’t an attack on anyone’s constitutional freedoms. Nowhere in the Bill of Rights does it say you should have access to a Big Gulp. I actually think it’s a great idea to encourage restaurants to curb portion sizes. But this is addressing a mild symptom of a massive problem that does not address the core of the obesity problem and mistrusts the poor in making good decisions. Even if you’re not a college graduate, you know that milk is healthier than soda. You know fruit is good for you. You know burgers aren’t. But while I could afford to eat a $9 salad for lunch today (ok, I did cringe at that price), in other places that $9 is being used to feed four with a KFC Variety Bucket. It’s time to stop thinking that these diet “choices” are really choices, and work so that everyone has access to the foods that will keep them out of the hospital down the line. And if they still decide to drink four sodas a day? Then that's really their choice.