I love NY! I love the crowds, the energy, the theater, the shopping, the opinions offered often and loudly on the street and over table; I even love the all-night sound of angry car horns, the screech of dumpsters being spilled into trash trucks, and the grind of the subway, too, especially now that it smells less like a dirty ash tray soaked with urine, thanks to NYC’s at-the-time courageous ban on smoking and anti-crime campaigns.
But [Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s latest health initiative ]gives me pause: he has proposed a ban on all super-sized sugar-y drinks served and sold in the City.
It takes me back to one of my favorite tales from the City. I am eight months hugely pregnant and headed home to Brooklyn from crib-shopping at B. Altman when, even though it’s 4 p.m., “morning sickness” hits with a vengeance. Reeling, I look for a place to buy a soda fountain Coke (extra-fizzy, with ice) to calm my stomach before venturing into the stench of the subway (see above). I step into the first small bar I see, on 34th Street. I’m 25 and have never been in a bar alone before, much less during the day. It’s dark inside and seems seedy, but it’s mostly empty and even though it’s clear I don’t belong there, I don’t feel threatened. The bartender is classic New York: he ignores me. Then he snarls, “Whaddya’ want?”
“Do you have a Coke please?” I ask carefully, still aware I could feel even more out of place; I could at any moment vomit all over. I must have looked pale -- or green; or perhaps I just looked far too pregnant to be in the guy’s bar. Quickly he pushes a paper take-out cup filled with fountain Coke and ice toward me. It’s gigantic. I panic. I don’t have enough money for a Large. Or maybe I do, but I don’t have enough for a Large plus tax. I fumble with my wallet, counting out coins, and ask “How much is the tax?”
“Forget it,” he says, waving me off. “Just leave.”
I don’t understand. There are taxes on everything in New York. (Except for clothes you send to New Jersey.) He shoos me away again. “Just leave. Now.”
So I do, and outside, in the waning afternoon sunlight, the Coke begins to calm my roiling stomach or uterus or whatever. I relax and feel the baby has been given her first gift: tax forgiveness from a gruff New York City bartender.
What does this have to do with Bloomberg’s proposal? Just this: I don’t think he -- or anyone -- can ever know just why someone might need or want to serve that large-sized Coke. My bartender had only one size take-out cup, and he was as desperate for me to take it out as I was to drink it down that day. I did not need anyone telling me Coke was empty calories and that 65 pounds was too many to gain with your first child; I needed relief. And my bartender did not need a pregnant woman throwing up or, worse, delivering her baby, in his bar.
And then there’s this: Can he really tell me that my super-sized Coke might contribute more to the Obesity problem affecting half of all New Yorkers than a “Double” at any East Side bar, or a magnum of Champagne or Burgundy? I’m afraid he’s talking a literal drop in the bucket here, and a classist one at that.
If one’s weight is of civic concern (and I’m not quite sure it is any moreso than whether one uses birth control or gets an abortion, which is to say *it is not)*, but if it were, purely on the basis of what avoidable deleterious healthcare costs are implicated, banning super-sized soft drinks is as random as my “A pregnant woman walks into a bar. . “ tale. It’s simply not well-thought-out, or good policy; it’s personally invasive; and chances are slim it would be at all effective in reducing obesity and the weight it bears in any measure of health care costs.
Ah, New York. I love you. But this threat is as empty as the calories in my Coke.
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