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Jun 6, 2012 03:16 AM

Mark Bittman weighs in on the NYC soda ban

This is clearly more his opinion than a strict scientifically based argument - but still interesting.

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  1. I enjoyed Bittman's essay. Policy decisions are normally based upon opinions. The best opinions are normally based on science. To that end, there was also a piece in support of the ban from an evolutionary biologist.

    Personally, time, and the ever-growing power of corporate interests in our nation, have taken their toll on my libertarian leanings. More and more I am coming to accept the notion that governmental actions are going to be necessary to even the playing field between individuals and the food industry.

    1 Reply
    1. re: MGZ

      I completely agree, especially since the food industries and the government have been in bed together for so long, that steps like this become needed. For all the moaning about the "nanny-state", it has to be balanced by Congress voting that pizza counts towards a serving of vegetables due to the spread of tomato paste? That vote was bought for by the food industries lobbying.

      If elected officials can be "convinced" that tomato paste on pizza contributes to healthy eating - then I become more in support of such regulations.

    2. shocked, shocked i say!

      "The difference between genius and stupidity is genius has its limits."--Albert Einstein

      gyaaaahhhh….oh these people know oh-so-much-more-than-you-about-what's-in-your-best-interest.

      bittman, can i have some chocoolate cake? how many ounces? is there too much frosting on that cake, in your opinion?
      must i go to the gym today?
      should i check in with the mayor (or you) on today's intake of food and drink?
      are you coming over to check my fridge and pantry? spot check? or regular appointment?

      are we such stupid morons that we cannot make decisions for ourselves? then why should we dummies be allowed to vote for politicians if we're too stupid to make decisions?


      take a hike bloomberg. and bittman….go with him.

      because hiking is good for you.

      ironic that ray bradbury just died. this stuff is right up his alley.

      8 Replies
      1. re: alkapal

        "[A]re we such stupid morons that we cannot make decisions for ourselves?"

        From much of what I see and hear, I'm beginning to think that may be the case. Looking around, do you think most people make consistently good decisions? I mean, should it be necessary to have laws against texting while driving, or mandating a list of ingredients on a package of food?

        "[T]hen why should we dummies be allowed to vote for politicians if we're too stupid to make decisions?"

        Maybe we shouldn't. Maybe we should return to some modified, modernized, sophisticated version of the original Constitution's oligarchy as a replacement for the plutocracy masquerading as democracy we live with today. On the other hand, perhaps it would be better to simply reform the system to permit some form of "truer" democracy - one where so few couldn't manipulate so few in order to deceive and control so many.

        By the way, what did you think of Lieberman's essay?

        1. re: alkapal

          "are we such stupid morons that we cannot make decisions for ourselves?" - I think if you look at what happened with the obesity numbers of children (let alone adults) from the 1980s until the first ten years of the 2000's - then the answer to that isn't very optimistic. Americans - for the most part - have known for a long time that eating "too much" makes you "fat". But how much is "too much"? That's clearly not an answer that many Americans know.

          If you want to smoke a cigarette in New York City, you can. But there are all sorts of taxes and restrictions that mean you can not smoke wherever and whenever you want and that there's a price. That happened because society and government decided that it was in society's best interest to smoke less/not at all. Same reason why society and government decided it was in society's best interest to have a public fire fighters and not privately owned ones. Best interest of society.

          The point I hear many making who oppose the ban on 16+ oz of sugar soda at restaurants/food trucks/etc. is that it infringes on the consumers choice. However, that consumer can still buy such larger quantities - just at fewer locations. So the issue becomes curbing consumer/vendor choice. But other than that curb on personal freedom - is there any other objection to the ban?

          1. re: cresyd

            "But other than that curb on personal freedom - is there any other objection to the ban?"

            No, because that objection is sufficient in and of itself. More so when absolutely no evidence has been presented that the ban will have any measurable result.

            1. re: cresyd

              I don't really have a dog in the fight, as the saying goes, as I don't drink soda, but I don't see this as a horrible infringement on rights, anymore than health dept regulations that say what one can and can't sell and rules about number of toilets or sinks necessary or whatever. One can call *any* regulation an assault on freedom. I do think that people can scarf down those 32 ounce cups of soda with NO IDEA how many calories are in them.

            2. re: alkapal

              Anybody on this board old enough to remember the controversy that accompanied the publication of Ralph Nader's "Unsafe at Any Speed"? At that time, many people and auto companies protested that car crashes and their results were attributable to poor driving by individuals. Yes, individuals were responsible for the carnage on the roads, but as the numbers grew, it was recognized as a societal problem. Car companies were forced, kicking & screaming, to provide seat belts and replace those pretty, shiny and pointy dashboard knobs, which acted like little daggers in a crash, among other improvements. Yes, they added to the cost of the cars. Yes, seat belt use was forced upon us by the state. Are we better off for it? Unquestionably.

              I don't know if Bloomberg's proposal is the best way to attack what has become an (excuse the pun) enormous problem, but I am happy that it has provoked discussion. He has tried other strategies,but could not get the cooperation of other state agencies. Clearly, if we go along with mainstream American eating habits, it is likely that undesirable health consequences will follow for many. That makes it a societal problem and the solution is going to involve some loss of freedom. But healthy food can be as tasty & enjoyable as the bad stuff. It just takes a little change in mindset.

              1. re: alkapal

                We are not stupid morons, but life is too complicated. How many people can repair their own car, build their own computer from components, grow and cook all of their own food, tailor and repair all of their own clothing, determine their own medical care, etc.?

                A long time ago, you could live on a farm and be mostly self-sufficient. That doesn't work anymore. We need a system of designating specialists who can make decisions that require expertise beyond what we can expect a decent chunk of the general populace to understand. The food analogy would be the adaptation of the French brigade de cuisine system for a more complicated menu serving a larger clientele that can't be executed by a single cook preparing each dish from start to finish.

                There are some decisions that need to be based on science and there needs to be a way to designate people to make those decisions without you or I or the general public having to understand all the science behind the decisions. Some of us are stupid morons who can't make those decisions. Others are capable but are better off being responsible making other decisions to maximize societal efficiency.

                1. re: alkapal

                  Are there any constitutional bases for this ban? The only ones I can come up with are the vague, "promote the general welfare" and the commerce clause. Both have to be stretched beyond the limits of rationality to justify this ban. If one uses them to justify the ban, then regulation of everything can be justified. The basic justification of this ban is: "You're too stupid to know what is good for you, so we will tell you."

                  The Constitution provides for free speech, but we know that some free speech will be repellant to us. Similarly, the Constitution provides for the right to make bad decisions, like drinking too much sugary soda. The capacity for bad, but legal, decisions should not be regulated by the government.

                  Boy, this is the most non-food related (but, yet, intimately food-related) post I have ever done on Chowhound!

                  1. re: gfr1111

                    I would assume whatever constitutional basis that not only allows for restrictions on alcohol and cigarettes (or the Chicago foie gras ban) - but also the basis that allows for certain communities to install various "blue" laws. In Hamilton County, Ohio (where Cincinnati is), it is not legal to have a business that serves alcohol and has nudity. So you can have topless bars with alcohol, and full nude "bars" with no alcohol.

                    Cincinnati and Larry Flint have definitely legally butted heads regarding such issues - and Flint won on some points. But there are other blue laws that have not been changed. So when we're talking about the laws that communities/local government can pass to govern themselves, I think there's a relatively wide latitude.

                2. Bittman doesn't cite the science, but his argument is not merely his opinion. The science behind excessive sugar consumption has been done by others, and has been reported and discussed recently, including on this site.

                  1. Many a softer approach could work. We reduced littering and smoking in the seventies with ad campaigns.

                    Or maybe required labels - large-type calorie counts on the cups.

                    An ad campaign against sugar would really get some good battles going between the sugar lobbiests and the politicians - could be fun watching.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: sandylc

                      I also thought about the idea of huge calorie labels on the cups. I think it's a good idea.

                      1. re: sandylc

                        Imposing a refundable tax on bottles and cans was even more effective than any ad campaign at reducing littering of those items.

                        And calorie counts would have absolutely no impact (think warnings on cigarette packages).

                        Rather than banning supersize drinks, the proposal should have been to tax them at a high rate, like with cigarettes.

                        1. re: racer x

                          That was the initial attempt - to place taxes on sodas/sugar drinks - but State government up in Albany struck that down.

                        2. re: sandylc

                          <...large-type calorie counts on the cups.>

                          Or mirrors. The cups are big enough that you'd be able to see a fair portion of your reflection, and perhaps ask yourself, "should I really drink this massive quantity of carbonated sugar water?"

                          I think the ban is pretty stupid, but not because I'm opposed on principle to setting limits on what people can buy. I just doubt it will have any real effect beyond riling up the portion of the electorate that likes to get riled up about such things. I'd like to see a tax on sugared sodas instead. In fact, I'm a little mystified that Bloomberg was able to impose (what I see as) an insanely high tax on cigarettes, but couldn't do the same with sugared soda. I would think Big Tobacco is at least as powerful as Big Sugar.

                          1. re: small h

                            Tobacco has been getting battered away at for a lot longer and its use results in (more) direct and ugly death.

                            Artificially sweetened sodas should get the same treatment as sugared ones.

                        3. Btw, how does the ban affect those restaurants where you can get unlimited refills?
                          They give you a, say, 12oz cup and you're on your own at the soda station.