Wednesday, June 06, 2012

On the new cola wars

Okay, so in an effort to combat super-sized New Yorkers, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is combating super-sized sodas.
Gas guzzlers, McMansions, Walmart, Costco: If one thing is certain about American consumer culture is that bigger is better, especially if it is cheaper.

So more than a few New Yorkers took it especially hard Thursday when they learned that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg wanted to take away their plus-size sodas in restaurants, movie theaters, stadiums, arenas and mobile food carts, as a way, he said, of fighting obesity.

Under the new rule, grocery stores and convenience stores will still be able to carry large-quantity sodas, but places that serve food (rather than just selling it) are restricted to 16 ounces at a time. It doesn't restrict a person's ability to chug down those same 32 ounces in one sitting--it just makes costs the person more money and more hassle. And it also doesn't restrict the size of diet drinks (which can reduce satiation), fruit juices (which can have as much sugar as sodas), or alcohol (which can pickle your liver and make you kill someone with your car or call your ex at 3:00 a.m. and beg him to take you back), because apparently those aren't public health risks.

Melissa at Shakesville has a good response to the ban's role in the War on Obesity--namely, the assumption that all fat people are fat because they lack self-control and gorge themselves in a gluttonous frenzy on sugary sodas, and that all sugary sodas are gorged on by fat people. And the thread discussing the topic on Feministe has some great comments on the subject from a low-income perspective--for instance, that a person would pay less for a 32-ounce soda to split four ways than she would for two 16-ounce sodas to split two ways. Or that a person sitting through a four-hour baseball game is going to get a lot more refreshment for her money paying for an extra-large drink, rather than doubling up on mediums or paying out the ass for bottled water.

So here's my perspective: If I'm not hurting anyone but myself, let me hurt myself. My policy is to always err on the side of not restricting one's freedom. Unless there is a richly compelling reason to prevent someone from doing (or compel them to do) anything, no matter how minor, it should be recognized as an assertion against our liberties and treated as such. Here, I'll borrow from Feministe commenter Ens:
Regulations that I'm in favor of are generally things where:

- Unregulated, it would or could directly affect individuals or groups of people who didn't choose freely to be affected (so being economically coerced is grounds for regulation).
- Unregulated, people would not understand how it is harming them (eg. labeling laws).

If I walk through a public area, and someone is smoking, I'm going to end up smelling gross, I've increased my risk of lung cancer, and I might even have an asthma attack. There, someone else's smoking affects me. When that person smokes in his own home, I'm not affected--and so I don't have any right to try to restrict his actions. Is it gross? Yup. Is it stupid to engage in an activity that is well known to cause cancer--so much that they write it right on the side of the box? I think so. But if he's grown, and if he's doing it voluntarily, and if his secondhand smoke isn't reaching me, it's his call.

If I want to go into the movie theatre and sit through a showing of Battleship with a 32-ounce Dr. Pepper in my lap, that's my call. It's a bad idea, from a health standpoint and a standpoint of having to get up in the middle of the movie to go pee. But if I want to, it's my right. My 32-ounce drink doesn't overpower you with secondhand high-fructose corn syrup. If the theatre offered a 64-ounce Soda Jug with purchase of a large popcorn, I'd get to consume that, as long as it doesn't obscure your view of the screen.

Saying "It doesn't matter! You can still get two 16-ounce drinks if you want to drink that much soda!" doesn't matter. What matters is that I want to drink it all in one sitting, the theatre has been kind enough to offer it in one big cup, and you don't have any compelling reason to keep it from me, either by preventing me from buying it or by preventing the theatre from selling it to me.

"It's bad for you!" So? My weekly Chick-fil-A chicken biscuit habit is hardly health food, but it's my choice if I want to put it in my body. "You don't need to drink that much at once! If you had a smaller bottle, you'd probably find you'd be satisfied with less!" So? "HFCS contributes to obesity and cancer and stuff!" That sucks! Maybe you should be trying to regulate the cancer-causing (and government-subsidized) agents that are added to our foods, or starting a public-awareness campaign to educate me about the dangers of HFCS so I can make informed decisions, rather than trying to control my behavior when you have no good excuse for doing so.

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