Thursday, September 24, 2009

Does it matter how much salt Mayor Bloomberg puts on his food?

The New York Times reported yesterday:

HE dumps salt on almost everything, even saltine crackers. He devours burnt bacon and peanut butter sandwiches. He has a weakness for hot dogs, cheeseburgers, and fried chicken, washing them down with a glass of merlot. ...

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has become New York City’s nutritional nag, banning the use of trans fats, forcing chain restaurants to post calorie counts and exhorting diners to consume less salt. Now he is at it again, directing his wrath at sugary drinks in a new series of arresting advertisements that ask subway riders: “Are you pouring on the pounds?”

But an examination of what enters the mayoral mouth reveals that Mr. Bloomberg is an omnivore with his own glaring indulgences, many of them at odds with his own policies. And he struggles mightily to restrain his appetite. ...

[H]e is obsessed with his weight — so much so that the sight of an unflattering photo of himself can trigger weeks of intense dieting and crankiness, according to friends and aides. ...

Under his watch, the city has declared sodium an enemy, asking restaurants and food manufacturers to voluntarily cut the salt in their dishes by 20 percent or more, and encouraging diners to “shake the habit” by asking waiters for food without added salt.

But Mr. Bloomberg, 67, likes his popcorn so salty that it burns others’ lips. (At Gracie Mansion, the cooks deliver it to him with a salt shaker.) He sprinkles so much salt on his morning bagel “that it’s like a pretzel,” said the manager at Viand, a Greek diner near Mr. Bloomberg’s Upper East Side town house.

Not even pizza is spared a coat of sodium. When the mayor sat down to eat a slice at Denino’s Pizzeria Tavern on Staten Island recently, this reporter spotted him applying six dashes of salt to it.

A health tip sheet from the mayor’s office tells New Yorkers to “drink smart” by choosing water, even though Mr. Bloomberg has a three- to four-cup-a-day coffee habit.

“I can count on two hands the number of times I have seen him drink water,” said one dining companion ...
This does seem to support Megan McArdle's theory that elites who profess concern over the supposed obesity epidemic are really just projecting their own eating disorders onto the masses.

On the other hand, I find it a little disturbing that the Bloomberg piece is even considered a news story. It reminds me of how people love to point out that Al Gore and Thomas Friedman don't do the best job of minimizing their own carbon emissions. But how does that undermine their ideas about what's in store for the planet? Whether you agree or disagree with their views on climate change, their personal habits are a distraction from the real issues.

We have clashing expectations for politicians. It's politically poisonous for them to show any enthusiasm for arugula, endives, or dijon mustard, yet they're not supposed to eat too much fast food. The article is illustrated with a photo of Bloomberg eating a slice of cheese pizza (part of a whole "slideshow" of Bloomberg eating food), but people would be more critical if the mayor of NYC didn't go around eating pizza. If he had an impeccably healthy diet, people would criticize him for being a fanatical health nut trying to impose his personal regimen on the whole city.

The Bloomberg article is currently one of the "most blogged" and "most emailed" NYT articles. Of course, part of why so many people are talking about it is that it's just funny, and it lets bloggers use headings like: "Bloomberg to NYC: 'Stop Eating All My Salt.'" But are people truly concerned about Bloomberg's hypocrisy?

I suspect we're quietly gleeful at the chance to see our elected officials show that they're flawed, human, impetuous. It might not be far off from what happened to Bill Clinton, John Edwards, Mark Sanford, et al. For some reason, we're vaguely titillated by the idea of a politician who's unable to resist temptation.

30 comments:

Hoosier Daddy said...

It reminds me of how people love to point out that Al Gore and Thomas Friedman don't do the best job of minimizing their own carbon emissions. But how does that undermine their ideas about what's in store for the planet?

I think its called leading by example? If you're trying to convince me that the planet is in mortal danger from carbon emissions it stands to reason you should be making a serious attempt to minimize your own emissions before demanding the same from others?

MadisonMan said...

I relish the idea of politicians being exposed as hypocrites. Nevertheless, you raise a good point: Should politicians all be leading by example, as Hoosier Daddy says? Does the message get lost in the conflicting message when someone doesn't do as they say? I think it does. It's unfortunate that we expect all politicians to rise to the level of Gandhi in the pursuit of a goal, but I think that's Human Nature. What kid hasn't thought their parent a hypocrite for doing something they forbid the kid from doing?

AJ Lynch said...

At one time, the masses were not aware of the hypocrisy of their betters. Now, the masses can easily learn and see what frauds some of them are [Gore, Friedman and Bloomberg being the chosen examples].

Also, you can't sell climate change to me when you contradict it in your own life. Who should decide who gets to decide how I live and eat and drive?

Anonymous said...

I believe it's the Instapundit who points out that if a leader is going to tell us how dire the effects of carbon or salt or transfats are, they should show us they mean it by avoiding said "dangerous" activities or products. Particularly when they plan to introduce legislation to make *us* avoid those activities or products - with, I believe, a wink and a nod to the exemptions they already plan to build in for people such as they.

In any case, by their continuing the "dangerous" activities and products, they show that the urgency they talk about in their rhetoric is really just that - scary rhetoric. Unfortunately, the legislation that springs from that rhetoric has a very real impact.

John Althouse Cohen said...

Hoosier Daddy: OK, but the question is how much force that "should" has. There are many things I think people "should" do that they're not going to do. I happen to believe that climate-change activists like Al Gore should stop eating beef because of the huge resulting carbon emissions. But, of course, most of them aren't going to do that. Does it follow that Al Gore and a slew of other people shouldn't be taken seriously on climate change? No, I just don't think their hypocrisy is a serious enough concern to be worth watering down the public debate. I wish that hypocrisy were rare enough that we could afford to ostracize those who are guilty of it, but unfortunately very few of us do a great job of practicing what we preach.

Meade said...

My favorite hypocrite: George W.

John Althouse Cohen said...

I should add that the story about Bloomberg is, of course, really embarrassing, and it did give me a more skeptical perspective on his food policies (see the Megan McArdle link in the post).

Meade said...

And speaking of Gandhi-like integrity...

John Althouse Cohen said...

Funny story about Gandhi. Of course, it supports my point: his advice wasn't any better two weeks later.

J said...

I agree that hypocrisy is normal, natural human behavior. Accusing someone of hypocrisy is like accusing them of breathing, or blinking their eyes.

But there's a different standard when someone leaves the realm of persuasion and wants to legally compel me to behave in a certain way. If their own behavior indicates they clearly don't believe the behavior they're trying to compel is necessary, that is a powerful and entirely legitimate argument against their position.

"What kid hasn't thought their parent a hypocrite for doing something they forbid the kid from doing?"

Do as I say, not as I do is hypocrisy; do as I say, not as I did, is the voice of experience.

craig said...

I would only throw a penalty flag for political hypocrisy if the public figure in question uses/advocates using the power of the state to deny others what he indulges in himself.

Bloomberg: dunno, did he set out to ban salt in NYC?
Gore, Friedman, et al.: hypocrites all.
Spitzer: double-plus hypocrite.
Sanford: definitely a hypocrite in his personal morality, but not politically. Now if he had proposed public laws against adultery, then it would be political hypocrisy.

John Althouse Cohen said...

"What kid hasn't thought their parent a hypocrite for doing something they forbid the kid from doing?"

Do as I say, not as I do is hypocrisy; do as I say, not as I did, is the voice of experience.


So, should parents who are current smokers or alcoholics refrain from advising their kids about the dangers of cigarettes or alcohol?

Defenseman Emeritus said...

Does it follow that Al Gore and a slew of other people shouldn't be taken seriously on climate change?

Yes. If Gore can't be bothered cutting down his own environmental impact, he must not truly believe it's that important. If I tell you how crucial it is to recycle while you watch me throw Diet Coke cans in the trash, do my words have any credibility? Would you believe that I truly think recycling is important?

craig said...

If the parent is visibly trying to stop indulging in the habit, then his admonition is the voice of experience; if he is not, then it's hypocrisy. If a single mom tells her teenage daughter not to sleep around, but daughter is used to waking up Saturday mornings and finding mom's boyfriend du jour in the kitchen, she's right to think mom a hypocrite.

Jennifer said...

Actually, I think it's all rather logical. Of course someone who isn't capable of following their own advice would turn to the law to compel everyone's cooperation. If they found their own advice easy to follow, wouldn't they assume others would as well? It's not hypocrisy, it's a belief that the desired behavior must be compulsory or no one would do it.

It can, however, be very easily interpreted as a disbelief in one's own position. Which makes it stupid for a self-proclaimed leader of a movement to indulge themselves.

Defenseman Emeritus said...

So, should parents who are current smokers or alcoholics refrain from advising their kids about the dangers of cigarettes or alcohol?

It's not that they shouldn't give such advice, it's just that they can't expect to be taken seriously.

Most analogies are imperfect, but this one fails in that smoking and alcohol use have been proven to be harmful. Carbon emissions due to human activities have not, despite what Al Gore would have us believe.

Diamondhead said...

Good point. Maybe I'll go check out what Larry Craig is saying about gay marriage these days.

Schorsch said...

It's just a preview of things to come. Once they've passed laws restricting the plebes' use of carbon or salt, they will find special little ways to exempt themselves from the laws.

I know several climate researchers who live as they think everyone should. With a little sacrifice, it's easy. Similarly, my cardiologist is a healthy dude who wants me to be healthy. Of course neither of them are megalomaniacs like Gore, Friedman or Blomberg.

Hoosier Daddy said...

Does it follow that Al Gore and a slew of other people shouldn't be taken seriously on climate change? No, I just don't think their hypocrisy is a serious enough concern to be worth watering down the public debate.

Well I don't take Gore seriously for starters because I don't believe in man-made global warming. My belief is that climate changes as its wont to do, mankind notwithstanding. If that wasn't the case Indiana would still be under a glacier. It seems as if you adhere to man made global warming as written in stone so Gore's hypocrisy means little so I can see where you coming from, I just happen to think differently on the subject.

Hoosier Daddy said...

It's unfortunate that we expect all politicians to rise to the level of Gandhi in the pursuit of a goal, but I think that's Human Nature.

Well I for one don't. I don't want a saint running the country but rather someone who at least adheres to the same principles that they expect the rest of us to follow. I may not agree with them but I'd at least have some respect for him/her if they practiced what they preached. I have a lot more respect fro Ed Begely than I do for Al Gore. The former walks the walk while the other simply walks to the bank.

What kid hasn't thought their parent a hypocrite for doing something they forbid the kid from doing?

Most but then again, it depends on what is being forbidden. A parent telling a 15 year old they can't have a beer while knocking back
a Budweiser isn't being hypocritical.

John Thacker said...

The reason we make a big deal about it is simple. It's the one charge that can always be made to stick.

Other charges can always be deflected by the accused arguing that he or she doesn't personally agree with the premise underlying the accusation. Hypocrisy cannot, because the accused has already endorsed the premises.

Meade said...

"Of course, it supports my point: his advice wasn't any better two weeks later."

Same good advise; two different messages; opposite predictable results.

Anonymous said...

In an ideal world, of course not. But it is of such trivia with which our electorate is preoccupied. Does if matter how George W. Bush pronounced "nuclear" or by whom Obama's biography was ghost-written? Year after year though we preoccupy ourselves with this drek rather than debating and understanding substantive policy issues. But what would one expect from a two-party electoral system? The US is the only democracy where there has been no substantive dialogue on electoral system reform. Not surprisingly, the political debate in other more advanced countries is also much more robust and substantive.

John Althouse Cohen said...

Good point. Maybe I'll go check out what Larry Craig is saying about gay marriage these days.

Oh, I don't think Larry Craig is a hypocrite about gay marriage. He did marry a woman.

Jim S. said...

So, should parents who are current smokers or alcoholics refrain from advising their kids about the dangers of cigarettes or alcohol?

No. But they shouldn't expect to be obeyed, much less taken seriously.

Diamondhead said...

Well, perhaps he has not been a hypocrite on the narrow issue of gay marriage. But I don't think you would take seriously any contribution from him on the issue of sexual morality. I know I wouldn't. And until Gore, Friedman, and Bloomberg make adjustments to their own manner of living, I won't regard them as serious.

Mikee said...

Salt bans? Salt Bans? In a thread that includes a reference to Ghandi in comments?

I strongly recall Ben Kingsley marching to the sea to effing MAKE his own salt in civil disobedience of the British salt tax in India. Let the games begin!

And Anonymous wrote: "The US is the only democracy where there has been no substantive dialogue on electoral system reform." Effing McCain-Feingold was discussed quite a lot, if I recall, by Republican conservatives who decided not to vote for McCain.

dick said...

What is so bad about it is that he is impinging on my ability to have foods made the way I want them. He dictates how the fats in my baked goods are used and that the salt should be lowered. That means that I can no longer buy foods that I want. Then he goes off and has the same things I am not allowed to have and that is just too bad. Hypocrisy in and of itself is one thing. Hypocrisy through force of law is something entirely different.

J said...

"should parents who are current smokers or alcoholics refrain from advising their kids about the dangers of cigarettes or alcohol?"

I'd put "don't become a drug addict like me" in the "do as I say, not as I did" category; your mileage may vary. That said, the fact that someone is a hypocrite doesn't mean they're wrong.

Meade said...

Why do New Yorkers allow Bloomberg to treat them like children?