So much for libertine Manhattan. White House reporter turned liberal columnist Frank Bruni supports New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg's overbearing initiative to downsize the sodas New Yorkers will be allowed to purchase in restaurants and movie theaters, in the name of fighting obesity: "Trimming a Fat City."
While Michelle Obama focused on carrots, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg brandished a stick. It’s what we deserve. Cry all you want about a nanny state, but as a city and a nation we’ve gorged and guzzled past the point where a gentle nudge toward roughage suffices. We need a weight watcher willing to mete out some stricter discipline.
Bruni even admitted in his Sunday Review column that "It’s in many senses an absurd and random gesture." But in classic big-government fashion, Bruni used the existence of other infringements on personal freedom to rationalize still more.
The proposed ban is also an act of government control and regulation that makes no small number of people squeamish. Should we not have the liberty to ingest what we elect to ingest, and to decide whether the pleasure is worth any ill effects? Are we not capable stewards of our own welfare? In general, yes, but the government has taxed cigarettes to high heaven, as a means (successful) of steering us away from them, and made it illegal to partake of many recreational drugs. Like those substances, heavily sugared soft drinks are wholly unnecessary and are implicated in health problems that wind up affecting all of us, not just the individual suffering from them. Food ceased to be a frontier too far when the fraction of American adults who qualify as obese climbed above one in three.
Taking the high road, Bruni made some fun of fat strangers ahead of him in line in Iowa.
We’re fat, folks. Seriously, dangerously fat. And you don’t need statistics to tell you that; you just need to look around. All three people ahead of me in line in a food shop in Des Moines last month qualified as morbidly obese; they had 900 pounds -- easy --among them. One of every two people in line with me at a Coney Island concession stand last weekend were carrying at least 25 extra pounds. When this many people are this overweight, you have not only an epidemic. You have a new normal, a context in which each obese person is less likely to recognize and appreciate the magnitude of his or her health problem because it’s entirely unexceptional.
Bruni rationalized Bloomberg's authoritarianism and didn't mention the hypocrisy, pushed by NBC host Matt Lauer, that Bloomberg presided over "NYC Donut Day" the day after announcing the upcoming ban on extra-large sodas.
Bloomberg and Farley aren’t taking anything away from us, not really. They’re just pushing back against the new normal. They’re trying to reroute our expectations and tweak our habits. “The portions that people are served have a big influence on what they consume,” Farley told me. “It doesn’t seem logical, but that’s the observation.” If given a larger measure or enticed to purchase it, many people will upsize their intake without quite recognizing it.
The proposed ban is a step too incremental and contained to be considered a serious challenge to personal freedoms. In fact its greatest potential flaw is its possible futility. And any whiff it gives off of overzealous government intervention must be seen in the context of the billions upon billions of advertising and marketing dollars spent annually by the fast-food industry on exhorting us to pig out.