Against Invasive Puritanism

In a rare case of common sense, the California Assembly’s Health Committee declined to pass through to the full Assembly a bill that would require soda pop – and only soda pop – to carry warning labels that sugar contributes to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay.

I pretty much want to puke at the yellow journalism that one committee member, Lorena Gonzalez, who is a San Diego person, voted against it because her “district includes a Coca-Cola manufacturing and distribution plant,” instead of her stated reason that she didn’t like singling out a single product vs. taking a more holistic approach to public health concerns.

The public policy problem here is exactly what Assemblywoman Gonzalez points out – singling out a single product that is not unique in containing a potentially problematic substance is not advancing public health. Doesn’t it make better sense to label every product that contains refined sugars, if in fact sugar is the actual target of the public health measure?

Of course, this sets us off into the swamp of food regulation because it is “icky” rather than because it offers an objective health threat. This measure has gotten as far as it has because people with money view ordinary sodas as low-class and unpalatable, not because they give a flying fuck about actual fat people. Labels are meant to shame consumers into not buying food the puritans disapprove of.

For example, why does the measure not include a provision to have large signs on all bakeries and dessert shops to warn the public about the dangers of eating doughnuts, cakes, ice cream, pies, pastries, cookies and so forth? How about signs over coffee stands that warn people against adding sweeteners to their coffee drinks? On all dessert menus in swanky restaurants so the diners know how they endangering their health by eating sugar-infused foods? On all fruit juices in super markets, since they are high in sugar? Oh, but that would interfere with enjoyment of foods the food puritans and their foodie friends like to eat.

(Actually, I’m sure there is a contingent who would be 100% in support of forcing everyone in the nation to stop consuming sweeteners of any kind whatsoever and would smugly justify it on public health grounds.)

Please note, objecting to this scare-tactic labeling is not an endorsement of drinking high-calorie, high-sugar beverages of any type, soda or otherwise. It’s pointing out the asshattery of trying to only regulate that portion of the food industry that you object to, and doing so mostly by trying to scare and shame consumers, rather than address the larger food picture, which is the expansion of food availability and changes to food consumption patterns that have kicked into high gear since the 1980s.

I have four family members with Type 2 diabetes. Three others, myself included, are at risk of developing this disease. I take diabetes very fucking seriously, which is why I am so aggravated by the approach of the food puritans. My family developed diabetes without the aid of soda and high-sugar drinks. We all drink water and black coffee, augmented by the occasional diet/low-calorie beverage.

Sodas may be the primary sugar source for many people, but trying to single out this one product from the sea of food we have navigate every day will do nothing, especially given that there is an equally violent war of words going on to try to remove low-/non-calorie sodas from the market as well. People will say “but what else are we supposed to buy?” and the only answer is “You’re fat (you drink sodas, therefore you must be fat), and you shouldn’t be eating/drinking anything as long as you’re fat.”

Treating adults like simple-minded children, with threats and embargoes of food, does not empower them to do what is right for their health as they define it.


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One comment on “Against Invasive Puritanism
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