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    Copyright 2008-2015Slow Food Fast. All writing and images on this blog unless otherwise attributed or set in quotes are the sole property of Slow Food Fast. Please contact DebbieN via the comments form for permissions before reprinting or reproducing any of the material on this blog.

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New York big-soda ban, long overdue

All the food behavioral experts on both coasts seem to be whining that New York City’s new ban on oversized sodas “won’t work”. Well, all the experts in New York and LA. Even Michelle Obama has backed off delicately from taking a position on it. Oy. People!

The Washington Post‘s columnists Ruth Marcus and Alexandra Petri have two different takes–one more serious but employing Yiddish to describe the psychology of the whole protest, the second, despite lack of Yiddish, funnier about people who insist on their right to drink a whole tubful of soda at a go. So I’m going to take the middle road–oh, screw it, I’m going to use Yiddish if I feel like it and still be hilarious despite my gravitas. Because it really is hilarious. If only it weren’t so sad.

Jon Stewart is quoted as kvetching that Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed ban is the only thing that can make him agree with conservatives. David Just, partner expert to Brian Wansink, says people “want” their big drinks and will surely just find a way to work around the restrictions.

Well, maybe a few will really want 20+ ounces of soda at a sitting badly enough to go back to the concession stands and wait in line three times to get 3 separate drinks of 8 ounces or so. Or juggle 3 small bottles back to wherever they’re drinking it all. But I’m betting most people won’t.

Why do people supposedly “want” such huge drinks in the first place? The oversized Big Gulp-style cups were a marketing ploy that started about 15-20 years ago at the burger franchises and the 7-Elevens. They were supposed to look like a huge bargain–for an extra however many cents, they’d double the amount of soda they gave you. What a deal! And the ploy worked–created a habit.

Most people don’t really need or even want that much soda, but as many of my coworkers–women especially–used to say, shrugging helplessly, “Well, I don’t really want this much, but this is the only size they sell.” And you really can’t split a 20-ounce with ice back at the office unless you have cups. Everyone will wonder whether you got tempted on the way back and started sipping from it. Eeeewww. You can’t save it in the fridge for later either because it goes flat pretty quickly.

The soda companies got the concessions for school cafeterias–why not brand the captive audience early–in exchange for money the schools have lost from their cities and states anytime those governments wanted to hand out tax relief to corporations–like soda bottling plants. A different version of “eat local”.

By now, people are so used to the soda bloat they’ve started to decide it’s their right to drink bigger than their stomachs–or bladders–can handle. And it is–you’re allowed to be stupid if you want to.  Only problem is, did the soda companies also offer to build more bathrooms to handle the outflow?

So I say Mayor Bloomberg, who’s in charge of the biggest city in America, is doing his city a huge favor by trying to get the soda industry’s claws back out of them. There’s no way the industry will scale back its sizes voluntarily, especially not if they can get experts like David Just to voice their incredible “the-consumer’s-the-one-who-wants-the-elephant-sized-drinks-we’re-just-providing-it-for-them” act.

When you get the big gulp-style Coke, how much of it are you really tasting? Maybe the first third of it? Maybe less. After that, are you drinking it while reading your computer screen? Driving? Watching tv or a movie? Would you really want someone to film–and then post on YouTube–footage of you slurping mindlessly throughout the day?

If you’re not paying attention to what you drink, is it worth drinking just because it’s there? Same for eating. And David Just and Brian Wansink–weren’t these the guys who did all that people-eat-30-percent-more-when-parked-in-front-of-a-tv-screen-than-at-the-table research? I do believe they were.

So getting back to a small Coke that you’ll actually pay enough attention to to taste? That might be worthwhile. Then you can think about what you’re tasting and decide if it’s good enough to keep drinking. Or whether, like me, you’d rather wait until next Passover, when Coke and other big soda manufacturers put out limited editions made with cane sugar instead of corn syrup.

I haven’t been a big soda drinker for years, and I usually don’t miss it at all. It was astoundingly easy to give up, and my teeth have thanked me ever since. On the rare occasion when I have a little at a party, my preferred soda is and always was definitely root beer or ginger ale, not cola, and usually I can only take about half a glass–it’s all way too sweet, even with ice. So I’m not the right person to sympathize with habitual soda drinkers–I just can’t get into it, and diet is gross.

But having tasted the sugar version of both Coke and Pepsi, I can say the difference it makes to both versions is amazing–much cleaner flavor, and a little is enough to be happy with it.

Meanwhile, a better idea would be to drink water instead of the big-3 flavors and save your shekels for small niche sodas with better, realer, more interesting flavors as an occasional treat.

Case in point: a summer soda tasting event in Los Angeles to raise money to reopen exhibitions from the shuttered Southwest Museum in Highland Park. The Southwest museum had wonderful Native American collections–kachinas, headdresses, Bakelite jewelry of the 1930s, photos, and much more. It was taken over by the Autry Museum a couple of years ago, but has remained dormant since then with a lot of its collections in storage and out of the public eye. I was fortunate enough to have taken my husband and daughter there about 10 years ago, before it closed.

Galco’s Soda Pop Stop, an independent soda market run by curator John Nese in Highland Park, is hosting the soda tasting–his second–with something like 500 different small brands, including plenty of nostalgia brands (though no NeHi Grape–don’t know if they’re still around) and imports.

According to a profile of Nese in The Quarterly Magazine, Galco’s motto is “Freedom of Choice”, with flavors like coffee, bananas, spruce, cucumber, mint julep, and many others–check out their huge soda list, which includes ingredients, prices and bottle sizes! Amazing. Maybe that’s the kind of freedom soda fans should be going for. Amazingly enough, most of these flavors don’t come in 20-ounce monstrosities, or even in plastic.

If you’re in Los Angeles on July 22, check it out–tickets are only $12 in advance, $15 the day of the event, and you can get them at Galco’s on York Blvd. or through the Friends of the Southwest Museum web site.

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