Some of the reaction to New York Nanny-Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s portion-size Prohibition for soda (for now) involved people fortunate enough to live beyond Hizzoner’s jurisdiction breathing a sigh of relief. However, new developments from Cambridge, Massachusetts—home of Harvard, MIT, and over 100,000 people—should serve as a warning. Citing Bloomberg’s precedent, the city council of the Boston suburb yesterday issued the following order:
That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to refer the matter of a ban on soda and sugar-sweetened beverages in restaurants to the Cambridge Public Health Department for a recommendation.
Of course, the mayor told the media that she’s only interested in Bloomberg-esque portion-size Prohibition, not the real McCoy. (Still, last time we checked, Prohibition failed.) As she told a local television station: “When people are served these gigantic portions of soda in bottomless cups, sometimes it’s just more than people are able to resist.”
Call us crazy, but we don’t think a 16.9 ounce (500 mL) bottle of soda — included under the Bloomberg ban — is a “bottomless cup.” And people “resist” drinking sodas and sweetened fruit-flavored drinks all the time. According to the National Cancer Institute, sweetened beverages only account for about seven percent of the average person’s calorie intake — debunking the idea that the populace is sitting around gulping down soda by the barrel. Let’s not forget that those refill stations for the big cups basically always stock diet soda, too.
As long as we whom the Puritan-Epicurean (Epicuritan?) “priest class” of Bloomberg, foodie Mark Bittman, and the Cambridge City Council might deride as soda-swilling rubes still exercise that pesky consumer choice, they must pursue this “thin person’s burden.” It is fundamentally a moral crusade to redeem the weak who can’t “resist” non-existent bottomless soda cups.
Indeed, two researchers from Cornell University whose research Bloomberg cited —incorrectly, in their view — in announcing his ban suspect the decidedly Puritan motivation. (Their work relied on tricking people into reducing their portion size subconsciously, not using government to dictate a pitfall-prone diet.) Writing in The Atlantic, the researchers reported on one of their ongoing projects: “One of our current studies shows that a person’s belief about various food issues is driven more by their preferences than their politics. For instance, the more fast food you eat, the more unfavorably disposed you are to soft drink taxes … You have the exact opposite views the more you cook at home.”
But as the researchers note, “[Universalizing] personal preferences is no way to decide policy.” (Sorry, Mark Bittman.) In pursuing a “tyranny exercised for the good of its victims,” the activists betray the same openly contemptuous mentality of those who say we “can’t be trusted” to make our own food and drink choices. That’s no way to run a free country.