If you’re interested in healthy eating – or if you live in the New York City metropolitan area – you’re no doubt aware of the recent controversy surrounding the city’s ban on soda and other sugary drinks. The ban, passed in September, mandates that restaurants and concession stands must sell the beverages in 16-ounce servings or smaller.
My first reaction was overwhelmingly positive. Why would anyone in their right mind feel the need to drink more than 16 ounces of soda in one sitting? And when they make a habit of this, we as a society are negatively impacted by the costs of their hospital bills.
But then I began to reconsider. Is this really that different from the USDA’s ban on raw almonds? In 2007, an outbreak of salmonella in raw almonds caused 33 people to become ill. There were no deaths. As a result, the USDA mandated that all almonds be pasteurized, which of course severely detracts from their nutritional value. Shockingly, many raw almonds are pasteurized using a dangerous chemical known as propylene oxide.
According to the Alliance for Natural Health, the material safety data sheet for propylene oxide warns that the chemical:
“Causes gastrointestinal irritation with nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. May cause central nervous system depression, characterized by excitement, followed by headache, dizziness, drowsiness, and nausea. Advanced stages may cause collapse, unconsciousness, coma and possible death due to respiratory failure. Aspiration of material into the lungs may cause chemical pneumonitis, which may be fatal … May cause reproductive and fetal effects. Laboratory experiments have resulted in mutagenic effects. May cause heritable genetic damage.”
I don’t know about you, but to me that’s pretty scary. Okay, salmonella is no laughing matter. But rather than take a look at why the salmonella outbreak occurred in the first place, the USDA tried to be our nanny by supposedly “protecting” us from the risk of raw almonds. What we really needed was more information. The vast majority of the time, raw almonds are perfectly safe. They are much more nutritious than pasteurized almonds – and I would venture to say they are certainly safer than anything treated with propylene oxide.
Similarly, with sugary beverages, what we need is greater access to the truth. Why do people drink soda? Advertising (at least in large part). What we need is a campaign to promote the truth about what we eat. How do we accomplish this? We need to get corporate interests out of Washington. We need to promote cottage food laws so that small businesses can begin to reintroduce real food into their communities and promote local food systems.
If people are informed – rather than misled – about the health effects of their food and where it comes from and they have access to local, healthy food, they are much more likely to make healthy choices. They will not want to drink more than 16 ounces of soda at one time. Soda bans are not entirely bad, but they are not a real solution, either. They are merely a band-aid fix. What we really need is a societal push to make the truth about our food more transparent and to lower barriers to entry for those who want to start small food businesses.