I've been upset about New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg's proposed ban on sodas larger than 16 ounces. It seems like an irrational thing to be angry about. Why not, say, the violations of civil liberties perpetuated by Ray Kelly's police department, from stop-and-frisk to blasting sound cannons, a literal sonic assault weapon, against Occupy Wall Street?
It's not even like this is a new thing for Mayor Bloomberg. He's banned food donations by restaurants and other private entities to homeless shelters, as it might be too high in fat and salt.. We can't have fat homeless people! He's banned trans fats and public smoking. When I visit towns where smoking is allowed anywhere, I cough and actually feel a little grateful I'm not subjected to second-hand smoke at home. There's even anti-obesity public housing. Bloomberg considers public health his signature issue, and is proud of his bans.
Having talked with others, and thought about it, I have several theories as to why the soda ban is particularly upsetting. First of all, summer's coming up, and that means sometimes we're gonna want cold drinks and lots of them. (The proposed ban wouldn't go into effect until March 2013, but what about next summer?) I've always loved soda, too. I used to fill large cups with diet soda--a possibility nobody seems to discuss--in my teens and early twenties. I usually don't now because the drink gets warm and flat and because that much diet soda isn't great for your kidneys, either. I understand that getting the cheap large drink is a false economy that only benefits businesses, not me. But that's my choice, which I made with information that's readily available to almost any American.
It's my choice. That's the big thing. Tell me not to do something, and I'll want to do it more--that's how I ended up a huge fan of the late, lamented GCB who uses Pinterest. Sure, it's a childish reaction, and one that doesn't always serve me well, but there it is. I had to ignore the urge to buy and drink an entire liter of regular Pepsi. (I think it tastes and feels like breakfast syrup, the cheap kind that insults maple.) It's upsetting that Mayor Bloomberg feels he can make these choices for us and for small business owners.
Those of us who weren't born in New York City arrived for freedom. My wife's family did when they emigrated from the former Soviet Union. Even Americans arrive in pursuit of freedom, in much less dramatic fashion. Gay and bisexual people, people who were the town weirdo, people who don't fit, find their fit in New York City. I came because I knew my wife and I would have a much better life in NYC as two women together than in my native Florida. Frankly, if we wanted people judging us, pressuring us, and micromanaging us, we'd have done the easy thing and stayed in our small towns and suburbs. It doesn't feel like one has room to be whoever and whatever one wants when the size of one's soda has been limited by the government.
I wrote on Twitter that Mayor Bloomberg is like a father who yells at you to change into a longer skirt, but ignores the fact that you've had a hacking cough for weeks. Tolls and MTA fares have increased steadily, for less and less consistent service. Funds have been decreased for the homeless, especially youth. Library branches have closed or significantly reduced hours, staff, and materials, with more cuts planned. So basically, a lot of people in NYC need a lot of real help. But hey, Fatty, put down that Big Gulp! *slap*
Mayor Bloomberg's stated goal is public health. However, bans like this undercut the food reform movement. It confirms peoples' suspicions that food reformers are bullies who want to make them eat nothing but kale with lemon and water all their lives. Tasty food is part of the joy of living, and in a bad economy, it is a relatively cheap joy. Humans have evolved to love fat, salt, and sugar, so adding those to food is a cheap and easy way to please potential customers. Other methods, like herbs and careful cooking, take time and money. For many, a large soda or coffee is a highlight of their day, sometimes even fueling them through the day. And now the mayor wants to take *that* away, when we're doing without so much already?! The large corporations that supply most of us with sodas and junk food are good at ingratiating themselves to us. Bloomberg is good at telling people "no, no, no," with not even a yes to, say, making grocery stores stocked with healthful and inviting food more accessible in low-income neighborhoods. Who looks better?
As some have noted, nobody needs a bucket of high-fructose corn syrup. But in a free society, one may fulfill desires as well as needs, even desires that aren't particularly good for us. Surfing is healthful exercise, but I've gotten injured from it. Perhaps we should all do low-impact aerobics at the same time every day--why should everyone pay so your exercise can be "fun", you selfish bastard? Mayor Bloomberg will send the illustrated instructions to your email, and if you lower-income residents are lucky, the library's printers may have some ink. Some people believe that same-sex marriages like mine are harmful; I'm grateful my wife and I can be married in New York City. We're known for our diversity of people, religions, styles, and tastes, and we don't always approve of what someone else picks. But that's okay, because not everyone approves of us, either. The important thing is that it's our own choice, not someone else's.
I for one look forward to choosing a new mayor in 2013. Now if you'll excuse me, I need another can of Diet Pepsi.