What the World Wants Today

November 28, 2008 at 8:22 pm 1 comment

For all the progress and momentum of the local food movement, people are still stuck in the 1970s when the solution to the world’s problems seemed to be a bottle of Coca-Cola.  “I’d like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company,” went the jingle in the 1971 hit television commercial.  Young smiling people from around the world sang the song on a hilltop in Italy, each holding a bottle of Coke.  “It’s the real thing,” they crooned, “Coke is what the world wants today.”

And it still is, it seems.  At a food conference held last week at Columbia University, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg talked about the administration’s efforts to bring healthier food to New Yorkers.  He mentioned the ban on cigarette smoking in restaurants, the elimination of trans fats in food and the administration’s new food battles:  reducing salt in packaged foods and listing calories in food menus.  It was music to the ears of the thousand food advocates and locavores assembled in Columbia’s grand Alfred Lerner Hall.

But the music suddenly stopped.  When talking about the need for greater access to good-quality food in low-income neighborhoods, Mayor Bloomberg noted that people couldn’t get fresh fruits and vegetables, or low-fat milk, or he said “diet soda.”  Corner bodegas, he said, only had regular soda.

The crowd was aghast. Mayor Bloomberg — introduced by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer as a man who “gets it” when it comes to food and the environment — didn’t get it all.

Didn’t he know, the startled audience thought, that soda — whether diet or not — had high fructose corn syrup, which not only is unhealthy but soaks up gallons of fossil fuels to produce?  Didn’t he know that?

Apparently not.  Most people don’t.

While Mayor Bloomberg was delivering his remarks, rocker Gene Simmons of KISS was downtown on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange promoting “Gene Simmons Family Jewels”, a reality television series about the musician’s family.  Simmons took the opportunity while on the air with Fox Business News anchor Alexis Glick to make a pitch for the U.S. capital markets.

“Invest in America,” he exhorted viewers, as stock market prices were falling to new depths. “I’m buying.”

The American economy, he said, just needed to go on a diet.  Stop spending “stupid money” on things like cigarettes, he told the viewers, and take the “throw-away money” and invest it in the market.  If you like Coke, buy Coke, he said.  If you like hamburgers, buy MacDonald’s.

The famous guitarist was charming and gracious in a Gene Simmons kind of way.  “Forget about me,” he said.  “What’s around me is what makes America great.”

Yet for all his patriotism, Mr. Simmons like Mayor Bloomberg didn’t get it.  In the same breath that he recommended buying Coke, he noted that the nation needed to “get out of Mideast oil.”

Mr. Simmons didn’t see that Coke is dependent on Mideast oil for the manufacture of fertilizers and pesticides needed to grow mass quantities of industrial corn.  He didn’t see that connection or understand the havoc that industrial agriculture wreaks on the environment.

Every bushel of industrial corn requires the equivalent of between a quarter and a third of a gallon of oil to grow it, or around 50 gallons of oil per acre of corn, according to Michael Pollan’s book “Omnivore’s Dilemma.”

For all their good intentions, Mr. Simmons and Mayor Bloomberg are missing the point. What the world needs to do is wean itself off Coke and other sodas altogether.  They’re bad for people’s health, the environment and long-term even the economy.  What the world wants today hopefully won’t be anything it will want to touch tomorrow.

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Entry filed under: Food Dilemmas, US Food Policy. Tags: , , , , , , , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Green Dollars for Leafy Greens « New York Bounty  |  February 27, 2009 at 3:19 am

    […] report — the outgrowth of a food conference last November — makes several recommendations that would make it easier for local farmers to sell […]

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