Over the weekend, we prodded the Big Apple’s Big Brother Michael Bloomberg–last seen ordering others to hold the salt while zealously guarding his own salt shaker–with a humorous advertisement in The New York Times criticizing his ban on sodas and other sweet drinks over 16 ounces. We told New Yorkers: “You only thought you lived in the land of the free.” (In case you missed the ad, you can click the thumbnail at top-left for the full-size version.) In light of the oppressive hand that the mayor and the City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene have wielded against New Yorkers’ taste buds for the past decade, that’s certainly apt enough.
And the ad is making waves from Long Island to Los Angeles—and even as far as London. For whatever it’s worth, Bloomberg apparently doesn’t like the dress we depict him as wearing. Maybe he thinks it makes him look fat.
Unsurprisingly for a city that enjoys arch-snob Mark Bittman enough to justify his continued employment, some are ready to board the railway to culinary serfdom. The Times’ former restaurant critic-turned-commentator Frank Bruni somberly proclaimed, “We need a weight watcher willing to mete out some stricter discipline.” Whatever gives a man who once made his living eating foie gras and drinking wine the right to call for turning his city or the nation into a giant fat camp is unclear.
Bruni parrots Bloomberg’s line that this imposition isn’t an assault on choice. What that claim lacks in factual basis, it makes up for in lip-service to a fundamentally American principle. Others would rather demolish the whole edifice of food liberty: Newsweek’s Michael Tomasky’s defense of Big Brother Bloomberg is—to borrow his word—sickening:
We have this “liberty” business completely backward in this country, and if Bloomberg can start rebalancing individual freedom and the public good, God bless him, I say […]. But might there come a day when the New York City Department of Health mandates that burgers be limited to, say, four ounces? Indeed there might. And why not? Eight- and ten-ounce burgers are sick things.
If anyone says we are fear-mongering by proposing that one day Bloomberg’s minions will come for such New York institutions as the pastrami sandwich, the foot-long hot dog, or even the sacred Manhattan bagel with cream cheese, remember that. There are people out there—some might call them “sick”—whose self-regard demands that they control every morsel we ingest.
So the City’s elite—although even The New York Times editorial page thinks Bloomberg has gone too far this time—might have a soft spot for Dear Nanny’s tuck-in. (Does the soda-size mandate come with a mayoral lullaby? After all, a lack of sleep has been tied to obesity.) But what of America at large? Rasmussen Reports conducted a national poll and found that 65 percent of Americans opposed a ban on large sodas. (The 24 percent support just about edged the 18 percent support the firm found for soda taxes.) The “cold, dead hands” spirit lives on for now, but with Bloomberg’s former health tsar now running the Centers for Disease Control, will the “65 percent” get a choice? Or will we be forced to adopt a New York nanny state of mind?