Friday, June 1, 2012

Going Crazy about New York

When I recently heard about New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s effort to ban the sale of sugared soft drinks of more than 16 ounces in certain venues, I was irritated that something so ridiculous as regulating soda intake could not only waste people’s time and energy, but also require the rest of us to talk about the subject as though it deserved being talked about in the first place. I was convinced that the world had, indeed, gone insane.

However, I then heard a psychologist on the radio talk about the other side of things. He pointed out that the world of marketing tends to continually reset the standard of normalcy for consumers. At one time, an 8-ounce glass bottle of soda would have been considered a reasonable serving. Today, 32-ounces in a large, plastic, refillable cup is the baseline for consumption. If a small plate of food at one time satisfied human hunger and provided sufficient nutrition, food marketers then reset the standard to a plate twice the size with more fat, salt, and MSG. We consumers tend to accept those new standards without question.

It occurs to me that we often find ourselves living between two external forces. On one side is the formation that we experience through marketing. We are told that we need soda, chips, electronics, luxury cars, etc., and we allow our standards to be set for us, often without reflection, critique, or resistance. On the other side is legislation that seeks to limit the seemingly boundless power of marketing by requiring the printing of nutrition facts, hidden costs, estimated gas mileage, or limits on purchasing (as in the New York proposal). We live between those forces and let them have their way with us.

Do we really have no choice here? Must we succumb to the siren song of marketing over here, and then trust that legislation will save us from ourselves over there? Please, say it ain’t so, Joe.

For we who, in particular, are interested in the possibility that our lives might actually be formed by the ongoing life of God, can we not learn some new disciplines of critique and reflection? If we are told that we must drink this drink, or watch this show, or drive that car, or eat certain foods in certain volumes, can we not stop and reflect on the potential effects on both our inward and outward lives, and then act in ways that resist the promises of marketing and then render the machinery of consumer legislation unnecessary? If people had resisted the intake of massive amounts of sugary soda, then Mr. Bloomberg’s proposal would have been irrelevant and probably never offered in the first place.

We are not batteries that fuel a giant profit-making machine. We are humans, made in the image of God, called to care for and participate in the world that God loves and intends for his good. That includes caring for ourselves.

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