Freedom is really important to Americans.
“Land of the Free“, “Freedom of Speech”, “Freedom of Religion”, “Live Free or Die”, “Let Freedom Ring!”, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty! Free at Last!”, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe Free.”
The Unofficial Motto of the United States: Freedom: We FUCKING LOVE IT!!
And in NYC it seems to many citizens that Freedom is under attack. Evil, vicious, fascist, neo-Nazi attack… because the mayor is taking away Soda!
What… the fuck!?
What the fuck, indeed. It seems Bloomberg hates soda. He’s making stores sell it only in baby-sized bottles for people with baby-sized testicles, ruining our freedom to enjoy some sugary love. Banning large sodas feels like it goes against the American way of life, needlessly taking away a pleasurable drink. Isn’t one of the inalienable rights scribbled on the Declaration of Independence the “pursuit of happiness”? Soda makes me happy! If we’re going to curb our soda-ing, we might as well hand the keys to this place back to the fucking Brits and call it a day, right!?!
Well, freedom lovers, a lone wolf judge has struck a blow for the common man and overturned the laws of the nanny state!
And I think it’s a terrible idea.
What… the fuck!?
What the fuck, indeed.
That’s a still from one of the PSA videos that New York City has put out to dissuade New Yorkers from drinking sugary soda. In case you can’t tell, that man in that picture up there is drinking a big steaming cup of fat. There’s a ton of ads of these nature all over the subway, pointing out the heavy sugar content of soda as well as other printings trying to dissuade NYC from being big ‘ol fatties.
Of course, there’s a big difference between educating and legislating. Many people will draw the line at forcing people to do anything (or refrain from doing anything) against their wishes. It goes against our national identity as a country of freedom. But are we as free as we think we are? There’s hardly been a post where I didn’t drone on about habits, habits, habits. However it seems silly to suggest that because a few people can’t put down their Super Mega Big Gulp that the rest of us should suffer for it.
First off. It’s not a few people. According to the Center for Disease Control, more than one-third of Americans are obese. Look at the person on your left, look at the person on your right. If neither of them are big-boned… it’s you, Fatty McButterpants. It’s you.
Secondly, it’s not a matter of simple self-control. We have a horrible tendency in this country to vilify the overweight, neglecting that the culture in which we live is one that makes it remarkably easy to walk down the Lard-Brick Road to The Cholesterol City. And what’s more, science. The food industry has teams of highly paid food scientists who exist to engineer foods that you will want to eat and eat and eat. There’s a wonderful New York Times Magazine article about it, if you feel like reading something on the subject by a writer who doesn’t rely primarily on puns and poop jokes.
The bottom line is: our brain is a machine. Furthermore, it’s a machine that hasn’t really gotten a sizable upgrade since we had spears and stabbed mammoths in the face for dinner (awesome). The downside of running on mammoth-stabbing hardware (well, there are multiple, but we’ll stick with food) is that we’re geared toward LOVING sugar and fat. Because those high calorie foods would sustain us the longest should it be a while before we find another mammoth to face stab.
Food engineers, through trial and error, can figure out the precise levels of sweet and salt and fat to make the pleasure centers of your brain light up like like da Fourth of Ju-ly (except here the explosions are made of very flavorful fat… instead of explosions). They don’t just dowse things with flavor, they find the correct amounts. Too much flavor and your brain might get overwhelmed, causing you to stop eating.
“The biggest hits — be they Coca-Cola or Doritos — owe their success to complex formulas that pique the taste buds enough to be alluring but don’t have a distinct, overriding single flavor that tells the brain to stop eating.”
-Michael Moss, New York Times –
So what? People like junk food. They love soda. And the food industry tries to make food that people want to eat a lot of. This is not earth-shattering stuff. And it’s not like we’re talking about heroine. It’s a Coke. A lot of people can drink sugary soda without becoming over weight. My roommate drinks roughly her own body weight in Dr. Pepper daily, washing down the block of cheese and stacked plate of french fries she just deep fried on the stove, but she never gains a pound. Granted, she’s probably a robot, but still.
It’s a big jump to start regulating foods as if they’re illicit substances, right?
I bet with a second of googling you’ll find plenty of articles like this one from the NY Times: Is Sugar Toxic?
Like many of you, my brain was set at an early age to start tuning people out when they started going on and on about the dangers of my goddamn awesome candy! When there was talk of removing soda from our high school vending machines I nearly started going to class so I could stop attending in protest. But that sort of mentality is part of the danger. We see food as sustenance. As life giving. As goddamn candy!
With 925 Million hungry people in the world, it seems silly to start banning food. However, health is about equilibrium. Too little is bad and too much is bad. In the incredible land of plenty that is the United States (recession aside, we’re still doing well), we suffer from over availability of food. More importantly, we suffer an over availability of junk food that’ll cause you health problems (like, you guessed it, soda).
Soda costs about 0.2 cents a calorie. By contrast, Broccoli costs 2.1 cents per calorie. Though small per calorie, that less than two cent difference becomes $4.00 (soda) vs. $42.00 (broccoli) when you try to fill up a 2000 calorie diet. Not that people will fill their entire intake with soda OR broccoli, but the pattern is important across the board. Look around. How much is a Big Mac vs. a fresh salad? How much are Cheez-Its vs. actual cheese? The empty, easily consumable calories are cheaper and more accessible (and they usually don’t require refrigeration or preparation).
Don’t get me wrong, I love processed foods. I LOVE Cheez-Its and Kraft Mac & Cheese and Doritos and Pringles. I don’t know an ‘Merican who doesn’t, goddamnit! Aaaaand that’s the problem. These foods, like freedom, are part of our national identity. We don’t want to give up our Coca-cola. Coca-cola gave us Santa.
NANNY STATE!! DAMN THE MAN! Yada yada… caps lock…. hrmm
Well, yeah. Let’s ban the big sizes. Let’s make it less easy for that pre-diabetic to add another 900 calories to their diet. So many are screaming against the abridgment of freedom, but Bloomberg didn’t make soda illegal, he just wants to limit the gargantuan sizes available. Sure, if a customer really wants to they can purchase a second small drink, but that is an extra mental hurdle for them to cross to get to the junk food. And for many consumers, the act of having to return again and again (or purchase more and more individual bottles) will click something in their head as to the amount they may be over-drinking.
Portion sizes really do have an effect on diet. Check out this infographic from the CDC.
In fact, the supersize concept is entirely based around making you consume more. David Wallerstein, a McDonald’s executive, had found that it was incredibly difficult to persuade customers to buy more than one soda or one bag of popcorn when he worked at his previous job at a movie theater. Ray Kroc (Mickey D’s founder) thought the idea to increase portion size, allowing consumers to pay more up front for more, was silly. If they wanted more they’d just buy another bag. But Kroc tried out the idea. The sales results of McDonald’s experiment can largely be blamed for the portion increase in the last sixty years.
Isn’t this a blog about self-betterment?
Oh fine. You caught me skirting the edge of my philosophical target on this post, but betterment of the individual and the whole is more related than you might think. While I do think my sudden upturn in attempts to live healthy has been a growing experience for me, I think it might have been better if perhaps my bad habits hadn’t been started in the first place when it comes to eating. People look down on the obese, but we need to start realizing that those who are overweight have the cards stacked against them. The number of unhealthy Americans has grown steadily in this country, but it would be a mistake to believe that more and more people have been getting lazier and lazier (or have been sapped of their will power).
We’re obese because horrible (delicious) food is more readily available in vaster quantities for cheaper rates than ever before. Which is great, but I think we need to check our egos. Are we all really so able to contain our urges, urges built over hundreds of thousands of years, to stuff our faces with sweet and fatty foods? We might not be. And that’s ok. But we need to be willing to put some safeguards on ourselves.
I hate wearing a helmet because it makes me look less super sweet when I ride my hog, but as awesome as I am, there’s an ever so small chance I might fall off said sweet hog. Brain damage, unfortunately, would impede my ability to sex up hot women more than helmet head.
But wait you say! I’m not obese. I’m not unhealthy. I exercise daily and eat all my servings of vegetables, but when I want a soda I want a goddamn big ONE!
I understand. And hey: Take one for the team.
It’ll be good for you, too. I imagine much of my readership are also hippie liberal socialists like me who support Universal Health Care. Let me appeal to the selfish money-grubber in all of us… Here’s the thing about taxes paying for health care… it means that we have to pay for people’s bad choices. If a larger and larger proportion of U.S. citizens are dying from excessive soda intake (heart attack, diabetes, nasty tooth face…) then that leaves less money to treat things that aren’t as preventable. Like cancer.
You’re not pro-Cancer are you?*Special thanks to Geoff and Alli for proofreading this post for me. Apparently I don’t understand parenthetical phrases, tenses, plural vs. singular, spelling, words, sentence structure, the alphabet, English or common human dignity. They bettermented the shit out of my writing. In other words, many Bothans died to bring you this post. **Special thanks to Adam for proofreading my sentence about proofreading. It had a typo.