Why Americans Stay Fat

Family lore has it that the first word out of my mouth as a toddler was “Pepsi.”  I loved the dark-colored cola over milk, juice or water, and as soon as my mom would go out I grabbed hold of the apron of our lovely family helper with my plea, “Annie Mae, Pepsi, Pepsi.”

As a consequence of this parental defiance, I have always had to watch my weight.  Drinking a sweetened soda at a young age set my taste buds primed for other things that just weren’t good for my growing body, including candy, hot dogs and chips.

By the time I knew better about what to choose and what to leave out it was almost too late.  Early eating habits stick with you and are hard to break.

Now it’s 2012 and America’s longest running conflict continues.  Of course I’m not referring to Afghanistan but the battle with the bulge.  New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants to ban super-size 64-ounce sodas that are sold in convenience stores like 7-Eleven and limit sugary drinks in restaurants and street carts to 16 ounces.  Many citizens who want to drink what they want in whatever size container have ridiculed his Nanny state approach.  The major soda drink suppliers, Coca-Cola and Pepsi, have also met the proposal with silence.

Until now.

Katie Bayne, with the dazzling title of president of sparkling beverages in North America, is now fighting the good fight for Coca-Cola.

Katie Bayne, Sugar Evangelist

In an exclusive interview with a marketing reporter for USA Today, Bayne said, “There is no scientific evidence that connects sugary beverages to obesity.”  She does not like her company being singled out for expanding waistlines.  In fact, sugary drinks are just fine for the American diet as long as the calories taken in balance with the calories burned.  She goes many steps beyond the call of duty, arguing that sugary drinks offer the key to a vibrant life, sort of like yoga in a can:

A calorie is a calorie.  What our drinks offer is hydration.  That’s essential to the human body.  We offer great taste and benefits whether it’s an uplift or carbohydrates or energy.  We don’t believe in empty calories.  We believe in hydration.

I feel a little guilty that my first word wasn’t Coke but Pepsi.  Little did I know that as a toddler I was receiving nutrition, hydration and an energy source from the caramel-colored sugar water.  Hooray for my precocious mind for knowing that my choice of Pepsi-Cola over water, juice or milk was the right one.

Of course I speak in jest.  Katie Bayne is the modern equivalent of a P.T. Barnum.  Barnum, like Bayne, was the quintessential American huckster.  The huckster believes that most Americans fit into one of two categories: (1) fool or (2) damn fool.  So when it comes to our weight battles, Americans love to believe the hype: that over-expensive sugar water is a suitable replacement for zero calorie H2O, or that a sugary pick-me-up in the afternoon is as good as a short walk or quick nap to reenergize.  Katie Bayne can make her ridiculous claims because it’s what most Americans want to hear.  We want to believe that we don’t overdue it, that our portions aren’t so big, that American freedom is really just freedom of consumer choice as measured by the refrain, “I want my 64 ounce soda and I want it now!”

There is an election going on this year in America.  It’s not the one between Romney and Obama.  It’s between the truth and the hype, the facts and the propaganda.  As long as American media continue to give serious reporting space to paid propagandists like Bayne, I’ll know who’s winning and the rest of us will wobble merrily along sipping our Big Gulps.

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Check out this review of Burger King’s new bacon sundae.  It’s just the thing to eat with that Coca-Cola.  Note this patriotic tone, as if grease and sugar together equal good citizenship:

There is something about the fusion of fatty meats and sugar-enriched ice cream that makes me feel so … American. Halfway through the sundae I was expecting a bald eagle to swoop in, carrying sparklers.

While Burger King claims that they are only offering this dessert for a limited time, part of me believes that the insatiable appetite of our country will have this item become a menu staple faster than you can say “God Bless America.”