So, I might not have mentioned this before, but I live in New York City. It’s a fine place, with many attractive features. It does have its drawbacks, though. Our current mayor is a condescending, if hilarious, weenie. One of the things he’s decided to do, like all Jewish grandparents, is pay attention to what we eat. In a striking blow against stereotype, however, he is very concerned about how much we’re eating, rather than how little.
A ban on selling sodas in quantities greater than sixteen ounces, spearheaded by the mayor, was passed today. It will take effect in six months unless struck down by a judge. Since its existence was announced, a ton of people have become very angry about this. VERY angry. Their personal liberties! Their right to freedom of expression, as measured in beverage size! Their freedoms of choice! New York City is turning into Soviet Russia!
Now, bear with me. Technically, this is not a ban on buying soda in quantities greater than 16 ounces in certain outlets. It is a ban on selling soda in quantities greater than 16 ounces in certain outlets. (Specifically movie theaters and restaurants.) If there is a fight here, it is between city government and the outlets that sell beverages. But no. The public has been reeled in by a massive protest led by an industry-financed organization called “New Yorkers for Beverage Choices.” There are so many cognitive dissonances at play here, it’s insane.
(Beverage choice is, of course, a highly important part of any trip to a movie theater. “What kind of fake flavoring am I interested in? Not-at-all-like-an-orange-Fanta? Has-never-been-near-a-lemon-or-a-lime-Sprite? What-the-hell-is-this-shit-Dr. Pepper? Is-only-that-color-because-of-generations-of-pollution-Mountain Dew? How about the classic We-don’t-even-pretend-this-ever-tasted-natural-Coca-Cola?”)
Consumers have always had to operate within the limits that vendors set for them. Vendors in the US have steadily increased portion sizes for years because it boosts revenue, and we are all trained to be obsessed with our culture of choice, with having it our way, with the idea that what we buy is linked to our personal freedoms in some fashion. This is a calculated effort by the vendors who want to sell us things. They’re not giving us choices out of the goodness of their hearts, or because they respect us. They give us choices because the more options we have for what to buy, the more they make. If we don’t want the huge soda, maybe we’ll let ourselves have a smaller one. If we don’t want this piece of plastic crap made in a sweatshop overseas, maybe we’ll want that one. If we have the illusion of control, as measured in options, they will make more money. But the real beauty of this scheme is that we’re so programmed to think that these vendors are on our side, we’ll go to bat for them even when what they want is demonstrably against our better interests. They make their fights our fights, and oh, do we fight them.
This is a perfect example. The restriction would prevent the movie theater from selling you the huge jug of high fructose corn syrup and phosphoric acid at an astronomical markup. The movie theater does not want to do this, because they charge you several dollars more for the jug of soda bigger than your head than they do for the smaller jug, even though the cost increase on the huge jug is pennies, or fractions of pennies, per unit sold. So, seeing that source of revenue decline, they spring into action! Suddenly this is about CHOICE. PERSONAL FREEDOM. APPLE PIE AND THE AMERICAN WAY. THE COMMIES ARE COMING. Except…
Nothing is actually happening to us that we’re going to notice, in the long run. We will quickly get used to the smaller portions. Perhaps we will discover that the two quarts of soda, or even the quart of soda, per person was not really necessary to get us through sitting still for two hours in a movie theater. Maybe we’ll think back and realize we really used to feel gross after the movies. That maybe the sheer quantity of high fructose corn syrup and additives was masking how icky it tasted. Or maybe we’ll really, really miss it, and elect our next mayor based on his very important stance on the beverage-size question. (“Please, sir, may we have some more?”) I don’t know. But I do know that this overreaction is a manipulation by corporations who do not care, based on a mindset that we have been packaged and sold at great cost to our total well-being.
I don’t believe we’re staring down both barrels of a “First they came for the additive-laden, demonstrably unhealthy liquids, and I said nothing” situation. But what I don’t believe even more is that we’re all getting up in arms about large corporations being forced to sell us drinkable chemicals at alarming prices in smaller quantities than they did before. They have so thoroughly taken over the debate over what is right and good in this country it’s really no surprise to me that as a nation we’re overweight, unhealthy, and miserable.
A hundred years ago we needed the Progressives to mandate air shafts in tenement buildings and factory labor laws so that unscrupulous rich people would be forced to stop abusing those who could not protect themselves. Corporations have even fewer scruples than landlords and factory owners did a hundred years ago. And somebody has to make laws restricting how they may or may not fuck us over. Despite the propaganda, that really does have to be the government, as the government’s purpose is to make laws for the benefit of the citizenry.
Argue all you want about whether this ban is going to actually reduce obesity, as our condescending weenie of a mayor would have us believe. I don’t know, one way or another. Maybe the whole thing could have been avoided if Bloomberg had started out banning sodas larger than 32 ounces. Maybe we all would have been reasonable enough to say “Why yes, I don’t need to drink more than a quart of liquid! A cup of soda only as big, not bigger than, my head is quite enough, thank you!” I know. I’m a hopeless idealist.
But people should stop flocking to the sides of corporations against the government without actually thinking about why the government might want to curtail certain actions of corporations as being against the public good. Just accept as an article of faith that a large, money-making corporation is going to do all in its power to keep making money, at your expense, and you have no control. And they are NOT on your side. These are companies that have to be forced, by regulation, to notify us when children’s toys are found to contain known chemical toxins. (This might bring up the question of how the already known chemical toxins got to be in the children’s toys in the first place, but I digress.)
You have a greater degree of control over your elected officials. Keep that in mind when you go to the polls in November.