Living with teens is a constant reminder that I might possibly be out of touch. Friday was no different, as I chatted with my stepdaughter who works at a local movie theater. She regaled me with stories of her nightmare customers and our conversation eventually turned to popcorn habits. I was floored when Alex told me that people still order large popcorn buckets with extra butter. “But don’t they know it contains over 20 cups of popcorn and 1500 calories? Haven’t they read what the “butter” is made of?” I asked. (find out here if you really want to know). The real kicker came when she told me how some customers will come back for second applications of butter once they get through the first layer of popcorn, because “it didn’t sink in.” How poetic…no, Popcorn Lover, it certainly has not sunk in.
It didn’t end there. Alex went on to tell me how some customers ask her to fill up side cups of butter so they can add it to their popcorn later. “Don’t they realize there are 250 calories in every 2 tablespoons of butter?” Sadly, this isn’t a rarity either. In the few months Alex has worked there, roughly 50 people have come back for seconds on the butter and about 15 have done the cups of butter. Dumbfounded and humbled, I realized that I might just be out of touch with what many American’s are still eating.
I believe in freedom of choice. Naively, I’ve always thought that if people are given information, they will make the right/healthy/intelligent choice. Hmmm, after that chat with Alex, I’m not so sure.
Our chat came on the heels of all the hubbub in NYC about Mayor Bloomberg’s soda ban, which is really a misnomer. I’d call it more of a “limit” since it only puts a 16 ounce cap on drinks with more than 25 calories per 8 ounce serving. The ban would not include 100% fruit juice or beverages with 50% milk. But whatever it is a called, it is moot because a judge blocked it.
Many believe that this is another example of Bloomberg’s overstepping his bounds as mayor. This NY Daily News writer says “the leaders of a vibrant city that is home to some of the most diverse and creative people on Earth no longer have faith in the decision-making abilities of their fellow citizens.“ Even Sarah Palin got in on the act, pulling out a Big Gulp at her recent CPAC appearance to illustrate what an idiot, I mean, rebel she is.
I agree with Bloomberg’s past public health initiatives. Ban public smoking – YAY! Ban trans fats – YAY! Post calorie counts on menus – YAY! The first two have been wildly successful at improving public health and have been implemented in many other major metropolitan areas. However, the third’s effectiveness is still debatable. When compared with neighboring cities where calorie counts are not posted, customer choices in NYC were not all that different or healthier. So, contradicting my fundamental assumption about people, if they are given the information, they will not necessarily make the right choice.
At what point should the government step in? It is a no-brainer when an individual’s choice impacts those around them, like with smoking. But someone’s 32oz, 300 calorie Big Gulp doesn’t really directly affect me…at least not today. Yet, some day that person will likely develop a health condition brought on in part by their soda habit and will start draining the health care system. Then it is the public’s problem and it’s too late. So there is a point where personal choice is outweighed by the overall good…and Bloomberg is likely just a little bit ahead of his time. In the meantime, maybe we should start requiring warning labels on popcorn buckets and Big Gulps. Just like the graphic cigarette labels seen in Europe, plaster pictures of obese people on the side with a warning: “Eating/drinking this entire container can lead to obesity, heart disease and Type II Diabetes.” Customer retains the choice, but can’t claim ignorance. Yes, Popcorn Lover, you have the right to eat popcorn with extra butter, but at least now I know that you know.
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