Life, liberty and the 24 ounce Coke

A trade group called the American Beverage Association is in court trying to prevent a New York City law limiting the size of sugar drinks from going into effect on March 12. Well they would, wouldn’t they. But they have some odd allies.

Opponents also are raising questions of racial fairness alongside other complaints as the novel restriction faces a court test.

The NAACP’s New York state branch and the Hispanic Federation have joined beverage makers and sellers in trying to stop the rule from taking effect March 12. Critics are attacking what they call an inconsistent and undemocratic regulation, while city officials and health experts defend it as a pioneering and proper move to fight obesity.

The issue is complex for the minority advocates, especially given that obesity rates are higher than average among blacks and Hispanics, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The groups say in court papers they’re concerned about the discrepancy, but the soda rule will unduly harm minority businesses and “freedom of choice in low-income communities.”

I wonder what “unduly” means there. I also wonder what on earth the NAACP and the Hispanic Federation are thinking. They want sugar drinks to be extra-special cheap so that blacks and Hispanics can have higher than average rates of Type 2 diabetes? Do they also wish lead-based paint were still legal and readily available? Do they long for the old days when toddlers could munch on paint chips full of lead?

The NAACP and the Hispanic Federation, a network of 100 northeastern groups, say minority-owned delis and corner stores will end up at a disadvantage compared to grocery chains.

“This sweeping regulation will no doubt burden and disproportionally impact minority-owned businesses at a time when these businesses can least afford it,” they said in court papers. They say the city should focus instead on increasing physical education in schools.

So it’s about the businesses but not about the people who shop there. Maybe not the best choice.


  1. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    Sorry, but they do have a point. If chains are exempt this will, in fact, have a disparate impact on minority-owned and small businesses. This is the same thing that happens when cities start modifying the terms of the sale of cigarettes (or ban their sale at XYZ places) but exempt large chains.

    One cannot reasonably expect the local corner grocer to willingly accept being put at an economic disadvantage against big box stores and chains. Why would we expect the corner grocer to say, “Oh, yes, for the health of my community, I’ll take hit even though those who can afford to do so more will not have to”? Why would we look down on that small (maybe owned by, yes, a real honest to goodness mom and pop) business for caring about their livelihood in a rigged system that disadvantages them and gives corporate big boys an unfair advantage?

    This is a serious blind spot (and a moral failing) on the part of well-meaning liberal public policy people. Systemic problems need systemic solutions, but when they fall disproportionately on the backs of those who can least afford it that’s not “liberal” at all. Any more than it’s “liberal” or “kind and compassionate” to tax the fuck out of smokers past the point where people quit and all the way into punitive taxation that only further harms low-income people.

    Please re-think this.

  2. Simon says

    If I had to guess the reasoning, here is my specualation:

    1) Many of these beverages are sold in fast food restaurants with probably the highest profit margins in the store. Less profit for said restaurants, fewer jobs in minority communities

    2) Perhaps Pepsi and Coca-cola have foundations that are large donors.

  3. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    Besides which-the idea of banning the sale of certain sizes of soda as a meaningful fix to obesity is just stupid. Maybe we can instead about ensuring that people have affordable access to healthful foods, the equipment and skills (and time, for working families) to prepare it, things like that?

    Seriously—as someone who grew up in a poor family I have some idea what it means to manage a household economy with very little and also an eye to nutritious and sufficient food for children. Banning super sized sodas is a near-pointless exercise whose major dividend is giving public figures a Meritorious Gold Star of Compassion.

    Arrgh. I’m sorry, but this is where liberals completely go down the rabbit hole, every single time. It’s insulting, and it vexes me no end how few people see it.

  4. Forbidden Snowflake says

    #1: really? Chains are exempt? Well that’s just completely fucking stupid then. No use in even arguing whether banning humongous drinks is productive if they’re only selectively banned.

  5. says

    Ok. I won’t pretend I’ve studied the issue. Is the exemption for the chains just because the chains have bigger lobbyists? If so I’ll agree.

    I don’t understand where the eye to nutritious food for children comes in though. Soda just isn’t in any sense nutritious.

    But sure, trying to curb soda-consumption is far from a magic bullet.

  6. says

    As a card carrying Liberal (I have a card and everything!) I’m with Josh, with the caveat that I don’t see the soda ban in New York as particularly liberal at all. Liberals look at root causes and the 32 oz soda isn’t the root of the obesity problem. This is reactionary band aiding of a complex problem. Liberals should be the last ones on this bandwagon.

    Also, can I have a diet soda that’s bigger than 24oz?

  7. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    What I meant to say about an eye to nutritious food was that solutions to affordable nutrition (in every sense; time, transport, sufficiency, etc.) are so much bigger than the presence or absence of big sodas that I find it ridiculous that such gestures get so much publicity. Nay, I find it offensive.

    I’m certainly not arguing that soda is nutritious. I’m arguing that it’s so far beside the point.

  8. Sercee says

    I think that the important statement isn’t whether banning a ridiculously large serving of sugar water will solve obesity, but that everything is super sized now and it’s a mindset that needs to go away. How many restaurants serve a real portion of food? How many theatres have you gone to where the difference in drink size is completely disproportionate to difference in price? Any time I go to a concession or fast food location and request a small fries or drink they look at me like I’ve got three heads and are actually confused as to how to handle that. Maybe this ban won’t cure obesity, but it will help fight the mentality that bigger is the only way to go. Will it hurt the bottom line of small businesses? Considering the buying habits of the people I know who wander into their neighborhood Quick-E-Mart for a bottle of pop I’m guessing not likely, or not much.

  9. cmasontaylor says

    I don’t know that there’s an exemption for chains generally in this. I think it was just groceries. In other words, grocery stores are selling you 12-packs and 2-liters that you take home before you prepare, and don’t just slug all at once. And banning those isn’t on the table. Whereas cups that are ready to serve are. This does indeed give grocery stores (chain or otherwise) an unfair competitive advantage, but they already have an advantage on pricing; people don’t buy Cokes from Burger King because they’re the best deal.

  10. adriana says

    I think it’s not that big chains are exempt, because fast food restaurants (McDonald’s, Wendy’s etc) for example, are NOT exempt, they won’t be able to have any cup bigger than 16 oz. But the rule will affect only establishments that are subjected to inspection by the heath department, and they are given grades, so it will not affect, for example, 7-eleven or convenience stores in general. The stupidity lies in that ALL these establishments should receive grades from health inspections, this way there would be no loopholes. From the NYT’s article here:

    establishments that receive inspection grades from the health department, including movie theaters and stadium concession stands, will be subject to the rules. Convenience stores, including 7-Eleven and its king-size Big Gulp drinks, would be exempt, along with vending machines and some newsstands. The restrictions would not affect fruit juices, dairy-based drinks like milkshakes, or alcoholic beverages; no-calorie diet sodas would not be affected, but establishments with self-service drink fountains, like many fast-food restaurants, would not be allowed to stock cups larger than 16 ounces.

    I think the NAACP and the Hispanic Federation are making a big mistake by siding with the soda industry. The over-consumption of sugary sodas is a big public health problem, and it needs to be viewed as such.

  11. frog says

    While I object to the policing of what individuals ingest–let them take the soda and they’ll go for the chocolate cake next!–I understand part of the point. Specifically, the part Sercee@9 notes: the tendency for supersizing all this crappy food.

    Back In The Day™, the standard “individual serving” bottle of soda was 8 ounces. It was a big deal when the standard moved to 12oz, and now it’s 20oz. it’s no good saying “Well then only drink half the bottle.” If you think that works, then I advise you come out of your ivory tower and meet actual human beings. We’re fun people, but not so good at the self-control.

    I might object less to 20 oz bottles if I could reliably get 12 oz cans, but those are often omitted in places with limited fridge space…such as your standard corner bodega in NYC. (Also, cans aren’t resealable. I WANT A 12 OUNCE BOTTLE, DAMMIT.)

    With regard to the chains having an exemption: This is shit if the chain in question is 7-11, the only one in NYC that can reasonably be considered the equivalent of a mom-and-pop store. Most of the time, people are buying soda in a bodega because the grocery store is too far away. There is a premium price to buying soda at the corner deli rather than the grocery store.

    I don’t know enough about the exemption and the ban. Can the bodegas still carry 2-liter bottles? If the point is to stop the encroachment of larger “single” serving sizes, then I would think a 2-liter bottle should be permitted, since it’s rare that people get one of those all for themselves. (Yes, some do, but not many. Those are not the people keeping the bodegas in business.)

  12. says

    Sadly, this is an example of mismatched solutions. There’s some evidence that suggests that making larger servings less available, this will reduce actual consumption.

    But the real solution would involve huge, major reforms to the Farm Bill, and would seriously hurt the bottom line of agricultural commodity manufacturers (i.e. the companies that buy subsidized grains at rock bottom prices which they then turn into high-calorie cheap food-like products).

    I agree that the exemptions are stupid, but if it’s true that the exemptions are for businesses that aren’t affected by health inspections, I don’t really see a compelling case that this puts the restrictions disproportionately on the backs of small businesses owned by minorities. Are people of color really more likely to own restaurants than convenience stores?

  13. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    I agree that the exemptions are stupid, but if it’s true that the exemptions are for businesses that aren’t affected by health inspections, I don’t really see a compelling case that this puts the restrictions disproportionately on the backs of small businesses owned by minorities. Are people of color really more likely to own restaurants than convenience stores?

    I think you overlooked something. Chain stores such as 7-11 are exempt. But bodegas (usually locally owned in NY, and often the quintessential mom and pop), which *are* subject to health inspections when they have on-site food prep (like a deli or food bar) would fall under the restrictions.

    Is this likely to be the death knell for any store? Of course not, obviously. But it’s still goddamned stupid. It’s ill-conceived, it does nothing to actually advance citizen health (which is not just weight) or nutrition, it favors exactly the kinds of chain corporations our liberal do-gooder legislators claim take such terrible advantage of people.

    It’s bullshit window-dressing. The reasons for bad nutrition and the health effects thereof are complex and systemic. They’re cultural and economic. They’re lots of things. That we now live in a society where an 8 ounce soda is considered weird is, indeed, regrettable. But it cannot be changed by these sanctimonious gyrations.

    And that’s all this is. Public masturbation.

  14. freemage says

    Josh: More like “political masturbation”–it’s meant to be seen to be ‘doing something’ about a problem, rather than actually doing something about it. (See also: Security Theater, War on [Some] Drugs.) I expect to see a rise in ‘Buy 1, Get 1 Free’ deals, actually, for the largest-allowed drink size, whatever that is. At that point, the only effect will be to increase the amount of litter.

  15. CottonBlimp says

    The fact that carcinogenic diet sodas are exempted from the ban is the biggest indication this ban has fuck-all to do with people’s health.

    It’s just more of a large campaign that pointlessly demonizes fat people and the poor.

  16. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    Also, my apologies to Ophelia for starting off so curtly:( I let my horrible-mood-because-sick get the better of me. Didn’t mean to treat you like a bad-faith interlocutor!

  17. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    You’ve restored my faith in humanity, CottonBlimp. Seriously, *thank you*. I’m so used to doubling down I had to read your post twice!

  18. Suido says

    I think this study creates a pretty strong case for limiting the serving size of drinks.

    However, reading this thread has shown me that the laws that have been passed are not optimal. Sigh. Just when I thought you Americans were getting something right on the nutrition front.

  19. CottonBlimp says

    You’ve restored my faith in humanity, CottonBlimp. Seriously, *thank you*. I’m so used to doubling down I had to read your post twice!

    Haha, no prob! I can at least fail with dignity.

  20. says

    A few months ago, I read this thread from last summer on the topic. Many commenters who are or who have been poor pointed out how little interest Bloomberg has in providing genuine help to the poor; he seems to be all about the fat shaming. Why else would he be opposed to the public schools serving breakfast? Eating a healthy breakfast tends to cut down on snacking later in the day. He doesn’t seem interested in subsidizing healthy foods or regulating HFCS, either.

    They also highlighted the classist hypocrisy of the legislation: Why aren’t drinks such as venti frappuccinos being regulated this strictly? And, as CottonBlimp said, what about diet sodas? They may not be carcinogenic, but they’re not exactly healthy either. And, Adriana, fruit juices contain a lot of sugar, and this has been a health concern w/r/t kids who consume a lot of juice boxes.

    Aside from the cost-effectiveness issue highlighted by Josh — if you’re really poor, the cost difference between a 32-oz. bottle and two 16-oz. bottles is significant — there’s also the environmental issue, which I have yet to see addressed anywhere. More bottles = more plastic manufactured, which means more bottles in landfills or by the side of the road (a lot of people don’t recycle).

    Finally, when you’re poor and stressed out, you can’t afford a long drive in the country or a night at the opera, so you go for the luxuries you can afford. And if you’re fat, especially if you’re a fat woman, you deal with a lot of stress caused by how society treats you.

  21. Unphysicalism says

    I’m against policing personal choices. Make healthy food cheaper and more available. Make school lunches healthy. Encourage proper diet. Remove subsidies on corn, a completely crap “food.” I wouldn’t even be opposed to making sure that food stamps can only buy real food, as long as you make sure that people can actually afford it using these programs.

    But don’t prevent people from consuming unhealthy food. Don’t levy “sin” taxes on unhealthy choices. Don’t ban larger soft drinks. Like it or not, people have the right to make bad decisions for themselves, and it’s no one else’s place to tell them that they cannot. As long as they are willing to pay for it themselves, they should have every right to consume as much garbage as they want. On the same end, as long as their are people willing to eat unhealthy food, I have no objection to businesses catering to that desire.

    As soon as liberals begin to decide they can manage other people’s lives for their own good, I begin to lose interest in adopting the label. I thought paternalism and elitism were supposed to be conservative/traditionalist traits. I’m disturbed that no one else here really made this point.

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