Last week the New York City Food Policy Center at Hunter College hosted another one of their regular Food Policy for Breakfast Seminars, this topic—Soda Politics: Taking on Big Soda (and Winning). Who was the speaker? The woman who literally wrote the book on it, Marion Nestle! Dr. Nestle is a Paulette Goddard Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University, and her latest book explores the power wielded by the soda industry and what is being done to fight it. (definitely consider this as a last minute holiday gift to friend or even to yourself!)
With the growing global (and domestic) obesity epidemic, soda has become a hot topic in the last few years, as a culprit in contributing to this epidemic. Excess consumption of sugar sweetened beverages have long been associated with obesity, yet why do we still drink them? The answer: Big Soda. Just like any major capitalist industry, they wield exceptional power and money to push aggressive marketing down our throats to influence our purchasing habits.
So what? Well in NYC, soda politics have been at the forefront thanks to Mayor Bloomberg’s push for a “soda cap” (not a soda ban, merely limiting sizes soda could be sold to less than 16 oz), which was not passed and was combatted by enormous effort from Big Soda. Big Soda launched an extensive marketing campaign to shift the focus of the legislature away from policy meant to improve public health of New Yorkers and into another scheme for bureaucrats to dictate consumer choice and Bloomberg’s effort to turn NYC into a “nanny state.”
Obviously anti-soda movement did not succeed here in America. But there is an upside. Dr. Nestle was hopeful, saying “anti-soda advocacy is part of a larger food movement.” While it often feels like once we take one step forward and the next day two steps backward, it is through grassroots food activist movements that we can demand change which can work its way up to change local and eventually federal discourse. She went into successful anti-soda campaigns in Berkeley, California, where the movement framed their efforts as “Berkeley vs. Big Soda.” Almost taking a step away from the public health issue and really mobilizing the community around anti-soda messaging.
While it may seem like a futile battle against a machine like Big Soda, there will always be a movement that demands corporations take responsibility, or even acknowledge their role in the obesity epidemic. We are well aware that Big Soda isn’t holding a gun to the public’s head to drink soda, yet they are molding an culture and environment which encourages and socially (and economically) incentivizes this behavior.
Head over to the NYC Food Policy website here to watch Marion Nestle’s talk about Big Soda!
Professors Nestle and Freudenberg with Nestle’s new book, Soda Politics (Image Source)