The Fizz is Gone
Jun 8th, '12
Mayor Bloomberg’s recent ban of oversized soft drinks in the Big Apple has added fuel to the already fiery debate about how to curb the nation’s obesity problem. It follows in the wake of other seismic moments in obesity’s public affairs saga, which include the HBO documentary “The Weight of the Nation”; Disney’s self-imposed ban on taking ad money from companies marketing unhealthy food to kids; and First Lady Michelle Obama’s public notice that milk and water are the only beverages served to her children in the White House.
Food companies and soda makers have never been more in the spotlight. What now?
First, there must be some public acknowledgement on the part of the industry that some of their products contribute to obesity. This kind of brazen honesty would be refreshing to see, and would help rebuild public trust. The problem, however, is that the public trust may not yet be that broken. As a nation, we are still assigning the blame for the obesity problem to a crisis of personal will and choice.
The whistle-blowing on the food industry’s role in all of this, however, continues to appear everywhere. Todd Putman, the former top marketing executive at Coke, revealed some gut-wrenching truths about how the company once spoke of expanding its business. The campaign for their “share of stomach” and talk of “how to drive more ounces into more bodies more often” turns the narrative away from a crisis of personal choice and toward one that more resembles the behavior of the cigarette industry in the 1980s.
I don’t know if Big Soda is the new nicotine or the next Big Oil. There is a Jekyll-and-Hyde problem, though, that the industry must resolve. The article hyperlinked above ran in today’s edition of The Washington Post, which carried a large ad by Coke in the back of the paper that encouraged people to embrace moderation and exercise. These are nice sentiments and messages for the public good. But how exactly do we reconcile this Confucian food morality with a marketing ethos intent on invading our stomachs?
Big Food has some big decisions to make. If it truly embraces the notion of wellness and health, it must recognize that reduced consumption of its products as currently formulated would be a big step forward. It also must adhere to the maxim that you cannot have it all – our stomachs and our unwavering trust – for much longer.