A couple of months ago in my “Toasts and Spills” edition I gave a Spill to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg for his efforts to ban beverage packages larger than 16 ounces. The topic has significant enough ramifications for the entire U.S. beverage market that we’ve decided to dedicate our cover report to the industry’s efforts to fight back against such regulatory maneuvers. Managing editor Andrew Kaplan does a fantastic job capturing the complexities of this initiative and others like it, beginning on page 40 of this issue.
Now indulge me as I again add my two cents. As I mentioned in my July PourWord, the matter is really one of education. I don’t want to get caught up in the rhetoric of the debate. The term “nanny state” has been thrown around quite a bit. Indeed, there have been extreme phrases used on both sides of the issue and sometimes the cogent components of the argument get lost in such incendiary terminology.
The bottom line is, measures such as these, whether they’re proposed taxes to reduce consumption or outright bans on certain package sizes or even entire products, fail in their mission as public services. They ultimately have the opposite effect and do a disservice to the public by removing the educational aspects of public discourse. They have the effect of labeling something as “bad” and taking it away for the public’s “own good.” Of course, anyone who’s ever been a teenager—or human, for that matter—knows that when you take something away it only makes the person you’re taking it away from want it more.
Obesity is too complex an issue to be resolved by bans and scapegoating. I know I sound like a broken record, but I really need to drive this point home: it’s only going to be combatted through education and choice. Consumers need to be educated about leading healthy lifestyles and pursuing nutritional balance. And once they have a firm grasp of what those entail, they should be able to make their own informed choices about how much or how little of a sweet indulgence they want to incorporate into their healthy, nutritionally sound lifestyle.
Bloomberg took a lot of heat several years back when his administration started requiring local eateries to post calorie information. It didn’t ban certain food items, it just let people know how many calories they were potentially ingesting and let them make the decision themselves. At least that was about informed choice, even if the “informed” part of it was compulsory. It would have been preferable if restaurants had taken the lead and were proactive about posting such information. There’s another industry whose example they could’ve followed, one that’s known for partnering with schools on healthy lifestyle issues, putting calorie information in a prominent spot on its packages and generally self-regulating to be part of the solution. Since you’re reading this magazine, you don’t need me to tell you to which industry I’m referring.
But how does that industry get rewarded for its proactivity? Why don’t you ask Michael Bloomberg.