For every law they pass that bans something, we should get a law that lets us do something previously forbidden.
New proposals would prohibit smoking if there are kids in the car, for example. Why people want to burn a nail with tots in the jalopy in the first place, I've no idea -- but if it becomes law, how about a law that lets someone open a smokers-only bar? No? Well, surely they can find some ridiculous archaic law, like a 1894 statue that forbids the sale of horseshoe wax to Chinese and repeal that. Just so we're not constantly moving toward regulating every human action that doesn't involve the autonomous nervous system.
The latest: Some local park systems -- including Minneapolis -- are reconsidering the sale of soda, or "pop" as all right-thinking Minnesotans know it, in concession stands and pop machines. Reasons: it makes kids fat, the bottles are wasteful and, by sheer coincidence, Coca-Cola just jacked up the price. Do we drink too much of the stuff? Sure. We overdo everything. It's human nature, for the most part. Moderation in all things, except moderation. Americans used to drink much less of the stuff; we had other alternatives, such as "water, " or cutting open a cactus leaf, or using a forked stick to find our way to a spring. Now, it's ubiquitous, and when people look at chubby kids they wonder whether the parks shouldn't send a better message.
Before you wonder whether your correspondent is one of those guys always suckling from a liter bottle: no. When I grew up, pop was a treat. I still remember those giant thrumming red chests, bottles hanging from their caps like Lincoln conspirators. All boomers recall the coolers packed with Shasta, dragged to the lake, cans bobbing in the melted water. We drank less soda back then for two reasons: 1) It Cost Money, and 2) the cans were harder to open. If someone forgot the opener, Dad had to stab the can with an awl. You can probably trace the uptick in consumption to the pop-top, just as you can find the roots of soda's demonization in the shift from cane sugar to (cue the "Psycho" strings) high-fructose corn syrup.
The park boards don't like HFCS. It's the Devil's Plasma! It caused the Obesity Epidemic! (I'd prefer another word, since no one catches obesity; in most cases, it's like a promotion -- you have to earn it.) Maybe. A 2004 report to the American Dietetic Association Food and Nutrition Conference said it couldn't "single out" HFCS as "a unique contributor to obesity." Perhaps. The Corn-Industrial Complex insists that it gets a bad rap and points out that HFCS meets the definition of "natural." So does the bubonic plague, but a little HFCS won't kill you,
Why not sell juice? Kids love juice. Because it's pop with a halo. If you look at the ingredients, HFCS shows up frequently -- and let's not even talk about Healthy Orchard's Apple Cocktail With Vitamin B Plus Lead. You could use only artificial sweeteners, but I'm sure there's a study that links Splenda to hyperactivity in hummingbirds, and people would protest. Water from a paper cup is about the only thing that passes muster these days -- if the cup isn't made of bleached paper.
Here's a compromise: The city can sell what it wants. The parks are under no obligation to provide you with pop. But private organizations could set up their own stalls and compete. Imposing a Volstead Act for Coke in the park will just lead to bootlegging, anyway.
The park boards' bans might be well-intentioned, but you know what they say about the road to Hell: it's a great place to set up a soft-drink stand! The ban would have symbolic impact, no more, and would reduce obesity or the amount of trash not a whit. Unless they keep going, of course. Our neighborhood has an ice cream social in the park every June. Cotton candy, pizza, hot dogs, root beer floats -- the full range of gustatory horrors we love so much. You could replace everything with bean curd and herbal tea, and that would send a message.
The message would be: stay home.