A state judge has struck down New York City’s large-soda ban, which was set to take effect today. Judge Milton Tingling of the New York Supreme Court called Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s public health measure “arbitrary and capricious.” I agree, though not necessarily for the same reasons.
Here’s what I jotted down last year, when Bloomberg first announced the ban. It’s my perspective as a recovering binge eater…
NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg has generated lots of noise with his ban on uber-sized sodas. Supporters say the fight against American obesity needs to start somewhere. Opponents accuse him of leading a nanny state. Both sides are barking up the wrong tree.
I look at this as an addict. My most destructive addiction involved binge eating on junk rich in flour and sugar. I had to eliminate both ingredients from my diet to regain control over my mental and physical health. If that battle has taught me anything, it’s that government can’t do a damn thing to save you from yourself.
Those who have no problem with a soda ban raise some interesting points, including Gawker’s Drew Magary, who wrote that people should “quit complaining” about the ban. He writes:
If you think that a ban on large sodas is somehow an affront to America freedom, I have news for you: You don’t live in a free country. You never have and you never will. That’s an illusion. You are not free to murder people in America. You are not free to stand in the middle of an intersection and block traffic like an asshole. You do not have the absolute freedom to do anything you want in America, and that’s a good thing, because living somewhere with absolute freedom means you live in fucking Deadwood.
New York city residents were already fully aware that Bloomberg was prone to implementing drastic public health measures, like the 2003 ban on smoking in bars. And yet, they re-elected him. In other words, New Yorkers were FREE to vote for the man who installed laws that they apparently considered both sane and reasonable. That’s how democracy works.
He’s right about the freedom part. People keep re-electing Bloomberg knowing full well that he has a track record on this stuff. And no, we’re not free to murder, steal and destroy without consequences. But I’m with those who say the laws we live by should not extend to what we do with our own bodies. The government has no business telling us what we can eat and drink.
But that’s beside the bigger point here: Regulating addictive substances does little to keep addicts from using. That’s true of heroin and coke users. It’s all the more true with alcohol and tobacco. If controlling the use of those things is so difficult, then controlling the use of perfectly legal and freely available junk food is fruitless.
We’ve been down this road before. I’m reminded of a book called The End of Overeating by David A. Kessler, MD, a former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration under presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Kessler makes a compelling argument: Foods high in fat, salt and sugar alter the brain’s chemistry in ways that compel people to overeat. “Much of the scientific research around overeating has been physiology — what’s going on in our body,” The Washington Post quoted him as saying in “David Kessler: Fat, Salt and Sugar Alter Brain Chemistry, Make Us Eat Junk Food.”
For the true addict, regulation is a joke, especially if the drug is junk food. Knowing what’s in junk food won’t keep the addict away. I always read the labels after binging on the item in the package. And the labels have done nothing to curb the child obesity pandemic.
That’s the real problem with Bloomberg’s soda ban.
I liken it to recent efforts to punish McDonald’s for contributing to child obesity. As one McDonald’s restaurant put on its outdoor sign recently:
Saying your kids are fat because of us is like saying it’s Hooter’s fault your husband likes big tits.
McDonald’s is where I binged again and again when my compulsive overeating was at its zenith. But I’ve never blamed the fast-food chain. Buying its food — my heroin — was my choice and responsibility.
When you have young children, you have far more control over what they put in their bodies. If you’re an overeater yourself and you’re always stressed and on the run, you probably let your child eat this stuff all the time. If your child is fat as a result, that’s your fault, not McDonald’s.
We all have choices. When we make the bad calls, we have to own it.
If the bad choice is too many large sodas, Bloomberg can’t help us by banning the beverage, no matter how pure his intentions are.