First they came for the cigarettes, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a cigarette. Then they came for the artificial transfats and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t an artificial transfat. Now they’re coming for sugary drinks over 16 fluid ounces, and, really, even if there were anyone left, I’d still be pretty indefensible, wouldn’t I?
Mike Bloomberg, the mayor, dear leader, and prince-bishop of New York City, has proposed banning the sale of sugary soft drinks over 16 oz. in his realm. (The ban extends only to restaurants, fast food joints, ballparks, and the like, where a regulation Coke can would be ok; the standard plastic Coke bottle, not. You could still buy giant sodas at the grocery store, though.)
If in fact an attack on freedom, the reaction has been closer to bemusement than outrage. How does a (hypothetically) totalitarian regime lay the popular groundwork for prohibiting an entire class of residents, declaring them, in effect, soda non grata?
Slowly, with skillful use of Photoshop. Since 2009, fresh off its transfat victory, the Bloomberg health department has meticulously rolled out a campaign meant to turn full-sugar soft drinks into figures of disgust, ridicule, and insidious danger—a grotesque class to be ghettoized in those supermarket aisles and bodega fridge-cases where no healthy, self- respecting citizen would dare tread. The highlights.
August 2009. Dear Subway Rider: Think you’re drinking a cool, refreshing cola? Try ten pounds of human fat!
December 2009. Now in motion picture! Man thinks he’s drinking cool refreshing cola; in fact downing ten pounds of abdominal fat.
January 2011. Man drinks five refreshing drinks a day, which is in fact 93 packs of sugar. He gets to ride around in a scooter for a while, then loses toes to diabetes.
Enero 2011. Señor drinks cinco refreshing drinks a dio, which is in fact 93 packs of azúcar. He gets to ride around in a scooter for a while, then loses toes to diabetes.
January 2012. More gulps, fewer limbs. Drink too much soda, commuters, and the City of New York may photoshop a leg off you.
This spring, after the city doubled down on its soda=sugar=fat=death approach in transit cars and over the air, the soft drink bottlers and barons have finally decided to fight back, with its own transit ads—buys which, of course, go straight into city coffers. According to Chris Gindlesperger of the American Beverage Association (ABA), the city’s campaign (which, incidentally, seems oddly intent on pushing seltzer) is “discriminatory and singles out one product out of an array of foods and beverages, all of which contribute equally to this very complex issue.” He said this to Bloomberg News, a coincidence which probably makes the Big Apple sound like a more sinister medieval/post-modern patriarchy than it actually is.
Thus, the mayor forced the beveragists into a corner. How to defend the indefensible? It’s rare that a corporate-lobby production seems amateurish in direct comparison to shoestring PSAs, but there it is: The NYC Health Department apparently employs a phalanx of budding Tom Sixes and against their gonzo gross-outs, the ABA could only offer a campaign around fuzzy platitudes of responsibility and choice:
Note the central claim: America’s beverage makers have actually been making people less fat by offering their fattening wares in a variety of fun new sizes. Choice! Mayor Mike’s coup de grâce is inevitable and delicious: Fine then, we won’t come for you, just your biggest sizes. Against such a skilled propaganda outfit, one wonders whether the drink-makers would be better off taking a less principled line.