The Sweet Spot for Protest

Dissent is one of American’s most dearly valued constitutional rights. And protest is one of the most common spectator sports. The latest protest to make its mark in New York City is aimed at Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s fight against sugar-laced drinks—the kind that foster obesity when regularly consumed. The city’s health committee hearing to approve or reject Bloomberg’s ban on large sodas is convened today.

The New York Times writes:

The proposed ban would affect virtually the entire menu of popular sugary drinks found in delis, fast-food franchises and even sports arenas, from energy drinks to pre-sweetened iced teas. The sale of any cup or bottle of sweetened drink larger than 16 fluid ounces — about the size of a medium coffee, and smaller than a common soda bottle — would be prohibited under the first-in-the-nation plan, which could take effect as soon as next March.

The measure would not apply to diet sodas, fruit juices, dairy-based drinks like milkshakes, or alcoholic beverages; it would not extend to beverages sold in grocery stores or convenience stores.

Bloomberg has taken the big gulp. He wants to curtail the right of retailers to sell, and consumers to buy, sugar-laden drinks. So to counter this, New Yorkers for Beverage Choices, made up of individuals, businesses, and community organizations, has taken to the streets and airwaves. “We believe New York City residents and visitors should have the right to buy beverages in any size they choose,” they say. Of course, the bigger the drink, the more is spent. What’s more, sugar begets sugar, which begets fat.

Their campaign poster (above) makes it seem that an unalterable human right—the right to drink from bottles and cups over 16 ounces— is being usurped by a meddling government. But what’s to stop someone from buying three 8-ounce bottles (or other mathematical combinations)? The organization says, “If this now, what next?” Perhaps a ban against all foods that will cause harm? Civil liberties notwithstanding, has anyone really objected to the “sell by” labels on perishable foods and drinks? Or the restriction that minors cannot purchase alcohol? This is a nation of many dos and lots of donts, some of which make perfect sense.

For more Steven Heller, check out the book Design Literacy—one of the many Heller titles available at

8 thoughts on “The Sweet Spot for Protest

  1. Mark

    Graeme – No one is forcing you to buy a large drink, nor should your compulsion to finish what you’ve started hold sway over anyone else’s portion choice.
    This proposal also contains the misguided notion that juice is superior to soda. Ounce for ounce, juice is very close to soda in sugar content.
    I agree with Neal – make it your own choice, but don’t expect me to pay for your bad choices. It should not be the government’s job to play nursemaid to irresponsible people.

  2. Graeme

    I agree Maureen. This is a typical case of business trying to fool people, consumers, into demanding what the business wants. It really irks me that drink containers have grown over the years. Having been indoctrinated by my parents to not waste food, I feel compelled to finish what I’ve started, and larger drink containers just make it hard to stop at a reasonable serving amount. It amuses me that Americans will demand their “rights” to their own detriment in some areas (guns, seatbelts, universal health care), yet seem willing to be curtailed in others (speed limits).

  3. Maureen

    Clearly the soft-drink industry is behind the counter-ban. It reminds me of the cigarette industry, under the guise of freedom and liberty, opposing propositions in California that would restrict promotions and access to tobacco products to children. The soft drink industry is huge and wants to keep making huge profits and thus making us a huge people. 

  4. martha

    How is it different from drink companies going from smaller bottles to offering mostly large quantity sodas so you have to buy more than you need? Why is it ok for them to dictate but not Bloomberg? 

  5. Therese

    If anything, this ban will create a thirst for creativity. (Couldn’t resist.)
    Perhaps large-liquid consumers will be inspired to revisit canteens, water soda bottles, and even the beloved drinking helmet? NYers for BC should view this change- which, let’s be honest, is a small but valid step in combating the failing health/food regulations of America- as an opportunity for entrepreneurship and design.
    Also, food or beverage size as a human right? Many people around the world have access to the minimum amount of sustenance needed daily. Why should we, as privileged 1st-worlders, abuse our resources?
    Finally, are there any thoughts on how this will affect trash production? Will people simply buy more, smaller containers, thus increasing package waste? Or will smaller portions produce a smaller ecological impact?

  6. Neal Haussel

    Yup, I’m all about freedom of choice…whether we’re talking about super-sized sugary drinks or healthcare! As long as we’re all free to choose what we eat and drink, we should comensurately be able to opt out of the healthcare package that subsidizes unhealthy life style choices!!! As a person who takes very good care of himself, excercising regularly and making healthy dietary choices, I sure as hell don’t want to have to pay for the health related consequences of super-sized American freefom of choice! Health care should work like auto insuracne. We should establish an high risk pool. You want to eat McDonald’s, smoke a pack of cigarettes a day and drink a bottle of vodka, the choice should be yours…just not at MY expense, please!