It’s for your own good, Fattie.
This is the most accurate summary of recent moves by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Cambridge, Massachusetts Mayor Henrietta Davis to limit the maximum size of sodas or other sugary drinks sold within their fiefdoms.
It’s enough to remind you of the book Heather Has Two Mommies except that in Manhattan, your second mother — most unwelcome in your already happy home — is named Michael.
Whether it’s curbing cigarette smoking, salty foods, trans-fats, food donations to the homeless, and now my cherished Mountain Dew Big Gulp, Mayor Bloomberg behaves, if not as your misery-making step-mother then at least as a scolding, self-satisfied Nanny.
Bloomberg’s recent push, specifically, is to ban the sale of sugary soft drinks — but not sugary milk-based drinks with just as many calories — in sizes larger than 16 ounces. Whether he will then try to make it illegal for someone to buy two drinks, or for restaurants to offer two-for-one drink specials, or even try to end the free refills that Americans currently know and love, is as yet unknown.
Cambridge’s Nanny-in-Chief knows an inspirational intrusion on personal decision-making when she sees one, so Ms. Davis has asked her city health department to make a recommendation on just what sweet drinks, and above what size, they should ban.
The smugness of liberal moralizing, of these petty tyrants’ certainty that we need the assistance of their joy-sapping risk-avoidance to get safely through our days, is enough to make me lose my appetite — until I imagine the gastronomic glee of a visit to Five Guys (Bacon Cheeseburger calories: 920, plus another few hundred in deliciously greasy fries…but I’ll have a Diet Coke with that, thank you very much).
One may well ask where these mayors believe they have acquired the authority to limit the size or the amount or the very consumption of otherwise-legal food and drink. The mayors are sometimes signing bills passed by their city councils at Big Nanny’s suggestion, sometimes seeming to assume executive powers, and sometimes relying on their visions of a little Splenda-sweetened angel alighting on a shoulder, whispering sweet but low-cal nothings into their ears.
But when it comes to their claimed authority over my diet, frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.
If there were ever a time for food-based civil disobedience, it is now. It is time to stand up for our right to eat what we want, to be left alone in our private lives. It is time to point out the naked hypocrisy of those who scream that people’s choices regarding what chemicals they ingest to prevent childbirth are private (yet still somehow to be paid for by others) but that what we eat for — or drink with — lunch (which we pay for with our own money) is a matter of public concern.
One standard bit of rhetorical cover for nannyism is that it’s “for the children,” something which the Cambridge mayor has explicitly claimed regarding banning large sugary drinks. But there are two problems with this fig leaf: First, young people are unlikely to comprise more than a small minority of all very-large-size drink sales. Second, and more importantly, several studies point to sugary drinks and junk food being either a minor factor or not a statistically significant factor in childhood obesity — not that different study outcome would justify government involvement in the contents of my gastrointestinal tract.
These study results cannot have gone unnoticed by the Nanny State-ists; it’s just that they are so sure they know better. The data must be wrong since it conflicts with what they believe, what they need, to be true. After all, if they can’t protect us from ourselves, how will they earn the same fulfillment in life that they hope to jam down our throats — as long as that fulfillment comes in a low-calorie, low-salt, trans-fat-free form?
Another usual argument for Nannyism is that the so-called problem is a matter of “public health.” But unlike someone who has a communicable disease, an overweight person cannot transmit weight gain to someone he breathes on, works with, or shares a home with.
And unlike the true public health risks that involve large numbers of people potentially becoming ill or dead due to the actions or inactions of others, the decision regarding what and how much to eat is completely under each individual’s (or, in the case of a child, his parents’) control.
Thus, even though many Americans are overweight, the issue is a series of private health concerns, not a matter of public health calling for government intervention — a term I use with specific intent. And if it is not a matter of public health, Americans — even those leftists in Manhattan and Cambridge who are so fully getting the government they deserve — must throw off the shackles of the gastronomic Grinches who are hell-bent on telling us what we can or can’t eat, drink, or smoke.
The degree to which Mayor Bloomberg envisions himself and his city government as a surrogate parent or nanny is made depressingly clear in the language they use: The bans on smoking, trans-fats, salts, and the proposed ban on large sugary drinks are called “interventions,” as if we, the hapless, helpless, mindless citizenry will eat or drink ourselves into an early grave without the oh-so-caring ruining of our daily dining delights by the bureaucrats of bland and boring.
Lest you think I overstate the nannyist mentality of Bloomberg’s NYC Health Department, I refer you to the department’s “diabetes surveillance program”, implemented in 2005. Wendy Mariner, Professor of Health Law at Boston University School of Law, framed the issue and question well:
The new health code regulations require medical laboratories to submit to the Health Department the results of every patient’s blood sugar tests, together with the patient’s name, date of birth, address, physician, and other information. The report does not require the patient’s consent. The Health Department will review the reports to see which patients are not controlling their blood sugar levels and will contact the physician, or sometimes the patient, to encourage the patient to change his or her behavior by losing weight, eating better, taking medication, and seeing a physician more often. Is this an innovative way to improve the health of several hundred thousand New Yorkers, a presumptuous invasion of privacy, or usurpation of the physician’s role?
If the answer isn’t obvious to you, you should probably move to Manhattan or Cambridge.
Meanwhile, as New Yorkers and Cantabrigians decide whether to allow government to turn them into obedient sheep eating their obedient boring meals and drinking their obedient sugar-free drinks, I echo the sentiments of one Susan Crowell: Give Me a Big Gulp or Give Me Death.