By Eliska Counce, TSB Columnist
I’m watching with interest this new push by Michael Bloomberg, New York City Mayor, to ban sugary drinks that come in a bucket. Excuse me. I mean, drinks that are 64 ounces-plus. And I’m having mixed feelings, evidently unlike most of America, who can’t get worked up enough to vote but certainly has a clear opinion that Slurpees are next to Godliness. Fascism, supposedly your name is “sin tax.” I couldn’t believe the sturm und drang from the people interviewed by the local news. There was practically garment-rending and teeth-gnashing right there on the street.
I mean, really. The hew and cry put up over the availability of a venti latte. On one hand, I get it: due to my Faulkneresque upbringing, I have an unfortunate knee-jerk reaction to someone telling me I’m not allowed do something. And I may or may not drink a bucket of coffee myself in the morning as the mother of three small children. But tell me I can’t, and all of the sudden I MUST and I’LL SHOW YOU. Which is a terrible character defect. And I’m thinking America, as really an adolescent country in the history of time, is kind of stamping its little feet over using some common sense with me.
But the Texan in me says something like this, too: it’s the thinning of the herd! Modern-day natural selection, right? In the past, I have considered it was only the preservatives keeping me alive anyway. Let Johnny suck on his Coke and eat that triple stack (really, fast food joints? Really? Two patties isn’t enough? Does everything need bacon? ) His heart attack leaves more resources for the rest of us! But in reality, obesity does join the variable of the unavailability of health insurance, and all of the sudden my tax dollars are paying for your obesity-related emergency room visits. LE SIGH. What is the answer? Does America need to be a nanny state? Or are we just a ninny state?
Whether or not the government should step in to protect you from yourself has been a long-running debate (see seat belts, mandatory car insurance, handgun regulation, etcetera). But I think we’re asking the wrong questions here and putting the proverbial cart before our proverbial horse. Here’s the real question we should be asking ourselves: why the heck are we as Americans so attached to GIANT FOOD THAT WILL HURT US?
Seriously! Have you seen some of these passionate defenses of nasty food? Is it your right to kill yourself, albeit systematically? Should someone step in? I honestly thought one of those New Yawkas were going to cry on camera about being denied a 70 ounce serving of fruit punch. It begs the question: WHY? I submit to you that America doesn’t have a junk food problem. Ladies and gentlemen, America has a self-soothing problem.
We want these giant doses of sugar to soothe ourselves, to calm down. Really, sweets and white flour isn’t food. They are actually drugs, and they have powerful mood-altering effects. Corn, sugarcane, sugar beets, and the grain that flour is extracted from have vitamins, fiber, and minerals, sure. But after extraction from their plants, what’s left is a potent crystallized concentrate.
Just like cocaine or opium is extracted from a plant, too, people. And white sugar and flour have the same impact on your brain, releasing feel-good neurotransmitters in a way that can’t be replicated by normal, pleasure-bringing activities like, say, winning a race or having a belly laugh with a loved one. And this brain chemistry disruption takes you back to Starbucks…again, again, and again. As opposed to the crack house, I suppose, but in a creepily similar fashion. The brief soothing effect is a drug-related one.
So I submit to you: America doesn’t have a food or drink problem. And the discussion shouldn’t be about creating new laws. We’re treating the symptom of a larger, pandemic problem in America: we’re stressed out. We work longer and harder and with fewer rewards and breaks than our European counterparts. We don’t nurture our relationships and we’re increasingly isolated. We don’t move. We don’t nurture our spiritual lives. And we’re soothing ourselves inappropriately. Those venti coffees and giant Cokes and Slurpees might as well have nipples on them, folks. We choose to medicate ourselves with huge portions to feel “full” in many ways. But you can’t fix your soul by filling up empty holes, fellow Americans.
So the next time you reach for that giant iced coffee drink topped with whipped cream? You might just ask yourself why you can’t calm down. And maybe, just maybe, hitting a yoga pose in the convenience store parking lot instead might be the most patriotic move you can make for yourself. Cheers!