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San Francisco: The Soda Bans Begin

by Erika Nicole Kendall

If there’s one city that has a special place in my heart, its San Francisco. I’ll be honest. I’m partial to places known for their high levels of hippies and military men (and, apparently, naked men, but that’s neither here nor there.) People who “knoooow” what it is right, and are adamant about helping everyone else see it. I get it.

Check the story I saw on Fooducate:

Under an executive order from Mayor Gavin Newsom, Coke, Pepsi and Fanta Orange are no longer allowed in vending machines on city property, although their diet counterparts are – up to a point.

Newsom’s directive, issued in April but whose practical impacts are starting to be felt now, bars calorically sweetened beverages from vending machines on city property.

That includes non-diet sodas, sports drinks and artificially sweetened water. Juice must be 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice with no added sweeteners. Diet sodas can be no more than 25 percent of the items offered, the directive says.


The mayor’s administration points to studies linking soda to obesity, including a UCLA one released last year that found adults who drink at least one soft drink a day are 27 percent more likely to be obese than those who don’t, and that soda consumption is fueling the state’s $41 billion annual obesity problem. The study also found that 41 percent of children and 62 percent of teens drink at least one soda daily.

“There’s a direct link between what people eat and drink and the obesity and health care crises in this country,” Newsom spokesman Tony Winnicker said. “It’s entirely appropriate and not at all intrusive for city government to take steps to discourage the sale of sugary sodas on city property.”


“This is not about the soda police or a crackdown on soda,” Winnicker said. “People absolutely remain free to choose to drink unhealthy sugary sodas anywhere they want.”

Selling them is another matter.

While the mayor’s order contains exceptions for vending machines covered under already negotiated contracts, it directs department heads to have new contracts conform to the new standards. – [source: Sugary Drink Ban Starts To Affect S.F. Sites]

Again, I get it. And as someone who hasn’t had a sip of soda in almost 18 months, I see where they’re coming from. The city absolutely does not have to sell anything on government property that doesn’t fall in line with their policies… or the Mayor’s beliefs.

Something about the entire thing just makes me cringe a little bit. I won’t lie. I cringe at the thought of being held to someone else’s nutrition standard, especially when it’s highly unlikely that they’ve got a sound grasp on this nutrition thing…. like, well, the government.

Take this for example:

What can I say about San Francisco’s ban on vending machines for sugared soft drinks on city property?

I could say that a twelve ounce can of Coca-Cola has fewer calories than twelve ounces of whole milk, because it does — 140 to 216.

I could say that you’ll be even fatter if you substitute whole milk for Coke, ounce for ounce, because you will be.

I could say that the extra nutrients in milk don’t do anything to make it less fattening, because they don’t.

I could say that 12 ounces of soy milk has 198 calories, which is still well above Coke’s 140.

I could even say that switching to skim milk doesn’t help you all that much — if you do the math, you’ll find that there are 124.5 calories in 12oz of skim milk, compared, again, to 140 for Coke.

I could also point out that a tall Starbucks Frappuccino — also 12 ounces, and not covered by the ban — has 190 calories, largely from sugar and fat.

I could ask: Does anyone ever order a plain Frappuccino? A tall mocha Frappuccino has 220 calories.

Finally, I could point out that banning vending-machine drinks while leaving Starbucks untouched is a pretty rank example of class privilege at work — my indulgences are sophisticated and upper-class, while yours are vulgar and prole. – [source: The Calorie Police]

As someone who drinks neither milk nor soft drinks nor Starbucks, I’ma put it to you like this: the fact that someone can reduce this to an issue of calories; the fact that someone thinks that the most important concern regarding a food item is calories, and that that is what’s fueling the Mayor’s legislation (or that this was even the foundation of the UCLA study) furrrrrrrther lets me know that the Mayor’s efforts (or the efforts of any politician) need to be centered around educating the public, not doing it for them.

The bolded, however, is intriguing to me. I agree wholeheartedly with the idea that this smells a little like class privilege, with a giant “but” attached to the end: I don’t think it is intended to be class privilege, but it is absolutely an unintended consequence. If someone were to try to expand his legislation beyond city property, it would definitely – at this point in time – affect lower class families much more than anyone else… another issue that deserves more of the good Mayor’s time than this.

But imagine if Mayor Newsome were as unenlightened as the fella calling him the calorie police? Believing that “the extra nutrients in milk don’t make it less fattening,” and believing that this is a logical argument? Good grief. Any clean eater knows that 500 calories of broccoli – a wholly nutritious food item – looks very different from 500 calories of cheesecake. You’re not going to be able to get 500 calories worth of broccoli down. 500 calories worth of broccoli isn’t going to leave you nutritionally deficient, either. If the Mayor followed this fail-filled logic? We’d be reducing ourselves to unhealthy foods simply because the calorie counts are low.

To me, it’s another band aid on a bullet wound situation – so, instead of teaching people why soft drinks are such a serious issue… we’re simply going to do what we can to restrict their access to them?

Maybe I just have more faith in humanity – I’m too much of a hippie in the sense that I believe people do better when they know better. (I believe this site is proof of such.) Maybe I simply find it laughable that a branch of government would rather make the “rules” for people instead of putting forth the efforts to teach people why they should adopt this “rule” on their own. And while San Fran isn’t going so far as, say, a New York might’ve tried to go, I still find it interesting that concerned politicians take this route instead of something else. Anything else.

I know this is a lot of writing all about a simple choice that the government made (that is well within their rights), but I’m just tired of politicians trying to do it for us (make us give up our vices without educating us why we should leave them behind) instead of teaching us how to do it ourselves (live healthily.) That’s why we are where we are today, but I digress.

What say you? Are you down with the ban? Think it’s too much? Let me hear what you’re thinkin’!

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Naturally Single Mom July 12, 2010 - 10:36 AM

I put this into the same category as banning fast food. If we, as citizens, are trusted to vote for our leaders, but can’t be trusted to make our own decisions about what we put into our bodies, then something is wrong.

I am a registered Libertarian, for the record.

Nobody holds a gun to my head and forces me to drink soda, the same way nobody holds a gun to my head and forces me to eat at McDonald’s. Yes, there is an obesity epidemic, but this isn’t really the way to go about fixing it.

Take a look at the government’s food pyramid. Purported to be the appropriate way to eat, and used as an educational tool. Oddly, emphasis on grains, even though fruits and veggies should actually be on the bottom of the pyramid. But what do most of the farmers in this country grow? Not fruits and veggies. But there are a heck of a lot of processed foods that fall into the grains category, and they have well-paid lobbyists. I don’t trust the government to educate the public, because they are more worried about not biting the hand that feeds them.

What’s next? Banning chocolate in vending machines? Or just chips, because they are fried? Or just fried chips, not baked ones? Mandatory gym time? It’s a slippery slope.

Erika July 12, 2010 - 11:00 AM

These are ALL points that I agree with. As much as I would love to see the government take a more active role in educating the public about how to eat… even still, that’s giving too much power to a party that could easily be swayed by lobbying. Again, it needs t be up to the people to help each other. It’s heartbreaking, because that’s not happening the way it should be… hence why we’re here.

Sounds like another blog post to me, lol.

Starry October 19, 2011 - 11:27 AM

I completely agree with you and, for the record, I’m a Libertarian too.

Madame July 12, 2010 - 1:31 PM

I understand the principles of choice and free will, I just find it difficult at times to take a stance of opposition concerning efforts like these – when diabetes is disabling our nation (and it’s children).

However, I’m quickly reminded that the government continually displays selective morals in regards to American nutrition … while even their standard of an ideal diet (and underlining motives) is misguided, as brought up by ‘Naturally Single Mom’.

This venture does come off as an easy target, like most of the other “bans”. And while it may make some obesity fighters (à la MeMe Roth, lol) grin with pride, pop/soda is but the tip of this iceberg.

Erika July 13, 2010 - 4:58 AM

On your first point, I hear you – heaven knows I do – but what happens when they get it wrong? Ideally, we should be educating ourselves and letting the chips fall where they may for industry. But instead, since the government got involved in trying to make sure food was always available (an admirable feat), they reduced it to cheaply manufactured garbage.

To your second point, you’re right – again, trying to protect the farmers who, I presume, would be fine without being overpaid for the crap they produce.

I guess I’m just left wondering what else would be next. Because as much as I disagree with the second author I quoted, that last line of his paragraph sounds like it’s going to come true:

Finally, I could point out that banning vending-machine drinks while leaving Starbucks untouched is a pretty rank example of class privilege at work — my indulgences are sophisticated and upper-class, while yours are vulgar and prole.

“Have your sugar, fat and salt… long as you can pay a hefty price for it.”

(…which is ironic, because right NOW there’s a pretty glaring example of class privilege going on that no one seems to care too much about: “have your stupid fruits and veggies… long as you can pay a hefty price for it.”)

Fat Sugar Salt July 12, 2010 - 3:58 PM

Great post. What’s next? Classifying sugar a controlled substance?

Erika July 13, 2010 - 5:00 AM

Though I don’t think I’d mind it too much, kidding LOL, I doubt it – the average politician doesn’t know enough about this kind of stuff to see the value in it, and the lobbyists are usually pretty spot on in protecting their commodity, lol.

We shall see. 🙂

Rita July 12, 2010 - 10:57 PM

I agree with not trusting the government with educating the American people about nutrition, I mean let’s be real this is the same government that sponsors the FDA and allow them to pass idiotic regulations and practices like the “natural flavors” being listed as an ingredient on foods with no further explanation.

And yes it is a slippery slope to nowhere nice when the government begins banning soda, so I don’t agree with the San Francisco Mayor’s initiative at all. If you’re going to make a dent in the battle against obesity & diabetes, start by educating your constiuents. Teach them the reason sodas are bad for one’s health,and how not to limit themselves to only worrying about caloric intake
don’t just “half step”. Do something that’s going to really have an affect on your community!

Erika July 13, 2010 - 5:07 AM

I agree! Wholeheartedly!

Tell your constituents, don’t do it for them – at this rate, it’s going to be prohibition for soda! WTF? LOL

Elita @ Blacktating July 14, 2010 - 3:56 PM

I am most interested in the class issues that this raises and I thank you for discussing them. Here’s the thing: although you don’t want Big Brother telling you what to do, if a mom can only afford to give her kid $2 to buy lunch, yet isn’t quite poor enough to qualify for a free or reduced lunch, and the kid is going to the vending machine anyway, it would be nice if they didn’t have the option of only fried chips, sticky bunz and soda. Unfortunately, there are a lot of poor people who eat crappy food because you get more bang for your buck there. I mean, if you only had two dollars, would you go to the grocery store and get a nectarine (I seriously paid $1 for a nectarine at Publix today!!) and some lettuce or would you go to McDonald’s and get a double cheeseburger and a fries?

Anyway, the arbitrary nature of the rules is both annoying and funny. OK, yes, soda is bad for you, but juice really ain’t that great for you either, even if there isn’t any added sugar. You want fruit juice…eat a piece of fruit! And really, is a Diet Coke somehow better than a regular Coke? Again, not really! So why is Diet Coke allowed in the machine but not regular Coke?

Starry October 19, 2011 - 11:34 AM

I’m not so sure about that – as in if you are poor then it is cheaper to buy junky food. I currently work 3 jobs to make ends meet and I can say, hand on my heart, that I am finding it increasingly cheaper (yup, cheaper!) to buy fresh food rather than the processed variety. I can also say that it shocked the heck out me – still does, sometimes. But, I now go to the local street market where I can get seriously cheap but fresh fruit & veg. I get my meat/fish from the supermarket at the end of the day when it is discounted. Also, I regularly go to Indian food shops where I can get really cheap veg and spices. It was changing where I shop, as well as what I buy, that is making this difference for me.

JenG August 3, 2010 - 3:36 PM

Maybe someone can help me! I feel I am addicted to sodas that may seem stupid, but I craze them on a daily basis. I can’t seem to stop. Any suggestions?

Dre'Chelle November 30, 2010 - 1:04 AM

I’m not too sure about how I feel about this one. I think it is a step in the right direction, but as it has been stated, there seems to be a lot of elitism going on here.
It gets under my skin to hear government funded reports about the obesity epedemic, while the same government is the one allowing big business to take to play a huge part in how we eat. Yes I know we have a choice, and I have finally realized that, but there are some who simply are not there yet. Which is why I don’t see the ban as a bad thing to an extent.

I just read a weight watcher’s article that stated that the point system was overhauled to where fresh fruits and veggies were free…this was simply to help members to understand that a 100 calorie apple was healthier than a 100 calorie bag of chips! Wow, seriously, are we that ignorant in nutrition to see this for ourselves?? Just wondering…

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