…it’s going to want an even broader set of regulations to go with it.

As I wrote in a previous piece, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg had recently proposed a ban on the sale of non-diet sodas and sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces in the City of New York. Citing New York City’s high obesity rate of over 50%, city officials believed it a necessary step in the city’s ever-expanding war on waistlines.  As I argued, it will likely not work due to several potential loopholes and in consideration of research suggesting that such policies have not worked in other settings, such as public schools.

Instead of considering the policy’s downsides or contrasting evidence, the board voted unanimously to approve the proposal and scheduled a public hearing for June 24. The board then immediately moved into a discussion about other possible policy targets. From the AP’s story on the subject (via KYPost):

“A formal vote whether to approve the measure isn’t scheduled to take place until Sept. 13, but several board members spoke strongly in favor of the proposed restriction. Some even wondered aloud why the city wasn’t going further, and limiting portion sizes of other popular high-calorie foods.

One raised an objection to a proposed exemption for milk products, which would leave people free to continue enjoying big milkshakes. Another said he didn’t like the idea that some restaurants could continue to offer people bottomless cups of soda, with free refills.

Board member Bruce Vladeck, a former administrator of the federal agency responsible for Medicare and Medicaid, asked why the city wasn’t considering portion-size limits for buttery, movie theater popcorn.

‘The popcorn isn’t a whole lot better, from the nutritional point of view,’ he said.”

The Wall Street Journal also noted a few important details:

“Another member, Michael Phillips, asked about the possibility of banning large-size food portions. “What about the size of a hamburger or jumbo fries?”

As part of a series of skeptical questions, he asked whether all businesses are being treated equally under the proposal. A 7-11 store, for example, would still be able to sell a “Big Gulp” drink because convenience stores are regulated by the state, not the city.

‘Is that fair?’ he asked at one point.”

It it hadn’t been said before, I’ll say it now: this is getting ridiculous.

If there is ever a better example of what a “progressive” policy model looks like, Bloomberg has given us an ace of an example. Consider the path of New York City’s nutritional guidelines thus far: First, we had Bloomberg’s known aggressive campaigns in New York against salts, trans-fats, sugars, and the like – specific nutritional factors in food. These have even resulted in bans on food donations to the homeless because the city cannot guarantee the nutritional content of the donations. Second, we see regulations suggested not against a nutrition component, but against an actual food item because of its arguably poor health content.

Each of the common-sense loopholes and exemptions inherent in Bloomberg’s law (refillability, grocery and convenience store exemptions, and the exclusion of dairy-based products) was criticized, and they discussed whether or not those should be closed. Then the scope and reach of the policy is further expanded toward other arguably unhealthy foods like movie popcorn, burgers, and fries.

Each time a new item is brought forward, the policy is scaled up in a way that “makes sense” given the prior steps and is just a bit more troublesome than before: from particular nutritional elements like salt or sugar, to foods containing those things, to other associated food items that may also be considered unhealthy, and so on. The target becomes the next problem in the aggregated list of issues. It is a textbook model of a progressive policy program in action.

I’m almost surprised a bit that the city council did not discuss the next logical step: the point where restaurants known to sell “unhealthy” items like the aforementioned fries would no longer be welcome to do business in the city without serious menu overhaul. However, this would arguably be too far for the current political climate. After all, New Yorkers disfavor the policy 53% to 42%, according to data collected in a June 4th Marist Poll.

Further, Bloomberg’s approval rating is only 45% (with 29% rating him as “fair” and 20% as “poor”) among New Yorkers. This may be a result of the hypocrisy of his policies: while on the one hand pushing for bans on drinks larger than 16 ounces, he still finds time to celebrate donuts. While it is not new for there to be some hypocrisy in government, the immediacy of SodaGate has definitely brought this particular issue home for many New Yorkers and Americans across the country.

Perhaps Bloomberg should reconsider his position on the SodaGate issue. I would suggest he consider a position that he himself gave to Matt Lauer in defense of his decision to celebrate donuts: “In moderation, most things are okay.”

David Giffin | Emory University | @D_Giffin