(The Root) — On Monday, many New Yorkers breathed a heavy sigh of relief when a state Supreme Court judge struck down the city’s impending soda ban. The law, put forth by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and scheduled to go into effect on March 12, prohibited sugary drinks — including soda and fruit drinks that contain less than 70 percent fruit juice — sold in containers larger than 16 ounces (supermarkets and chain convenience stores are exempt). If businesses ran afoul, they risked a $200 fine. Bloomberg has already promised to appeal the judge’s decision, saying that he’ll do what he can to save people’s lives.
Frankly, I agree with him.
What sounds to many like a victory for freedom of choice sounds like a joke to me: New Yorkers fight to keep calorie overloads available, by any means necessary. The local NAACP even complained that it would hurt black and brown businesses disproportionately. Do we want to be unhealthy that badly?
Black folks haven’t coined colloquialisms like “sugar” diabetes for nothing. We are twice as likely to be diagnosed with this disease as our white counterparts are, and it’s linked to our diets.
Obesity is such a problem in America that first lady Michelle Obama has made getting fit her cause. Not minorities overpopulating the prison system, not reforming rape culture — no, Mrs. Obama is entertaining America by battling Late Night host Jimmy Fallon in pushup contests in order to motivate us to exercise. She even recruited Beyoncé to encourage our kids to dance so that they won’t be part of the 1 in 3 U.S. children who are overweight, according to the American Heart Association. And black children are almost twice as likely as white children to be heavy consumers of high-sugar drinks, a habit that has been linked to expanding waistlines.
Back in January, when the New York chapter of the NAACP protested the soda ban, saying that the law would unfairly affect mom-and-pop bodegas, I understood the group’s message, though I didn’t agree with the method. As the feisty NAACP New York Conference President Hazel N. Dukes stated in a press release, “You can’t be serious about banning big sodas when you have a loophole for Big Gulps.”
But consider this: So what if the soda ban did affect mom-and-pop stores and bodegas in urban areas that are filled with chips, cookies and sugary drinks — often disguised as juice — with barely a fresh vegetable in sight? I can’t count the number of times I’ve been hungry or thirsty on the train here in New York and wanted to grab a healthy refreshment from a newsstand or deli, only to find a sea of towering Arizona Iced Teas, and few nutritionally sound options in sight.
What if the soda ban worked like gentrification without the population change and gave these shops no choice but to provide healthier options — like actual juice without all the added sugar, in reasonable portions — in order to maintain their profits? Communities of color are often subjected to food deserts where grocery stores are miles away, leaving these mom-and-pop shops as our main food suppliers. Why not offer healthier options for a community struggling with obesity and the health challenges that stem from that condition?
Healthier options create healthier choices. Come on, you can’t want a Big Gulp that badly.