Saturday, October 13, 2012

Soft drinks, marketing, and social restrictions

  There's a lot of angst going around right now over the NYC Board of Health enacting a restriction on soda- or sugary drink- sales.

  The current lawsuit rests on the idea that the Board of Health, being an appointed and not elected body, hasn't got the authority to enact rules that are "legislative."

  However, the campaigns to fight this decision, and previous decisions to ban smoking and require calorie counts on menus in NYC, have *not* been about the legislative process. That's just the legal avenue of approach for the companies, trade groups, and unions involved.

  two links out of many, which I will use for analysis:

Quote from Mike LaVorgna (Bloomberg spokesman):

"The Board of Health absolutely has the authority to regulate matters affecting health...."

  Which brings up the debate on whether or not this is, in fact, a public health issue.

  A passel of lawyers have already looked at this and said "aye."

  It is obvious that we have a ongoing health issue related to diet and lifestyle in "westernized" (commercialized and consumerized?) societies. There are many causal and correlative factors, but there has not yet been a reasonable method of combating them. Simply telling people to get healthy cannot compare in force with the advertising, addictions, programming, and lobbying of industry groups.

  And in this case, there isn't even a hint of fighting on nutritional grounds. The industry, trade, and union groups are *not* trying to address health consequences and nutritional data directly in this battle. We've come far enough that they no longer have the ability to pull quite that much of a propaganda campaign off.

  Noted in several articles (and the links I posted above have changed content over the last several hours, removing some of the references) are the campaigns by the industry, trade, and union organizations to put a negative spin on this in terms of freedom, individual choice, and unfair restrictions on struggling small business owners.

 These arguments can be discarded - with the exception, possibly, of the Korean American Grocer's Association, the concern for small business interest isn't really something evidenced in a realistic and consistent manner by industry groups. Individual choice is something that marketing and advertising industries have attempted to remove, limit, or control as much as possible. "freedom of choice" to them means "making people believe they can't live without it." And making- compelling- is operative.

  In terms of broader freedom, almost all consumer based industries (previous examples would include tobacco companies and fast food restaurants, among others) argue in terms of liberty and freedom. While deliberately- and often times dishonestly- slanting the available information, programming people through verifiable advertising and addiction vectors, and reducing individual liberty in favor of increased corporate liberty- these groups have attempted to defend themselves with the idea of individual enlightened self interest in making decisions.

  (So, if Joe Camel and spiked nicotine along with funded movie props get a teen addicted to smoking, it's obviously the teen's knowledgeable and educated choice!)

  So, the freedom argument by industry is a remarkably adept and long standing lie- they have no interest in freedom, and spend a lot of effort finding ways to reduce it.


  The lawsuit offers some interesting comparisons, stating that it will be legal to order a 20 ounce beer, but not a 20 ounce soda, or a large 800 calorie chocolate milkshake instead of a "240 calorie soda."

  Noting that a 12 ounce serving of Coca Cola is 140 calories, and the average observable medium (whatever they call it) size around here is 32 ounces at any fast food or theatre (larges are 44 ounces or MORE), the "240 calorie" statement is disingenuous if not outright dishonest. It is based on the "20 ounce soda" - with the implicit argument that the 16 ounce limit is going to cost a lot of money for a reduction of 4 ounces. Which isn't really the case.

  I'm not sure theatres actually OFFER a soda that small anymore. I recall the smallest size available for an adult at the last chain theatre I went to was 24 ounces.  And fast fooderies and convenience stores push much larger serving sizes. The argument isn't about 20 ounces sodas, it is about 32 through 64 ounce sodas.

  More specifically to the point, the comparison is of what industry has marketed as an all day, every day drink to a *beer* or a *dessert.*

  This is enlightening as is demonstrates that they don't make any sort of reasonable distinction between types of foods and drinks. It's pure consumption and profit.


  The Board of Health, while trying to accomplish *something*, *anything* to stem the tide, is missing the boat.

  In our current political and social environment, it's possible that there *is* no way to catch the boat. While easily verifiable in medical literature and pop-sci chemistry and nutrition, there's a huge resistance to allowing the differences between fructose and other sugars to be discussed- or even mentioned. Everyone seen the "corn syrup is just sugar from a healthy source" ads?

 Any psych graduate can look at the data on marketing instilling preferences and amygdalal happiness responses to certain images, scents, and tastes/textures as early as 6 months. We know we can do this, but the idea that it *is* possible, let alone common, is strongly resisted by the public.

  No one *wants* to be a slave to outside programming. That part is easy to see. I could argue- do argue- that there are influences beyond a simple distaste for the idea, which come from various industry, medical, and governmental (educational) sources.

  This is tougher to tackle than the "corn syrup is sugar" or "enriched wheat flour buns with sugar are healthy grains" arguments. Much tougher.

  Got no answers there. I know it's possible and not event hat difficult to reprogram, if it's socially accepted and promoted. But I'm at a loss for how that's going to happen.

  And so we have the idea that there's a fundamental right for McDonald's to exist. Though much of what they sell isn't food by any reasonable definition and they have a marketing department to die for- there's no way to restrict *their* operation because it somehow reduces *my* freedom. Not sure I buy that. And I'm not sure we can continue to afford to buy into this.

  I have a strong distrust of governmental interference on a regulatory basis- I eat paleo and the current corporate/governmental ideas on the wheat/corn/soy based diet would not be good for me. Certainly don't want to be forced by regulation to endure it!

  And I dislike taxation as a fine. (that's gotten so confused nowadays that a fine is considered a tax by the Supreme Court!!)

  But, perhaps, we do need to offer up some definitions of food. Not necessarily nutrition, but... food.  

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