So, earlier this week, the top honcho at Coca Cola urged the beverage industry to rage, rage against the unfair claims that soda bears any blame for the nation’s rising obesity problem. It is time, claimed Muhtar Kent — who took the helm at the Coca Cola company in July — to return to “responsible discourse” about obesity.
His speech, by the way — a keynote address to the InterBev 2008 conference, delivered Monday —followed a talk by a representative from those beacons of responsible discourse, the Corn Refiners Association.
"People need to understand that obesity is not about a beverage or a candy bar or a restaurant meal or a PlayStation game or about working longer hours," said Kent (left). "It's a systematic lifestyle issue that we must address individually and collectively as a society."
And of course, in a way, he’s correct. It never is any one thing. It’s not the beverage, or the candy bar that is almost always consumed with the beverage, or the restaurant meal that comes with free refills of the beverage, or the Playstation game that is played while drinking the beverage, or the long working hours that are fueled by the beverage. Of course it’s not any one of those things. It never will be.
It is the American lifestyle. And thanks to Coca-Cola’s nearly $2 billion annual advertising budget, Coke and other sodas are now an integral part of that American lifestyle.
I read Kent’s comments here, then immediately shot off an email to our Ethicurean list-serv, noting that deflection like this makes me want to bang my head against the wall.
“Don’t bang your head against the wall,” wrote Bonnie, the editor of this blog. “Write a post about it.”
“Can I use the word ‘dumbass’?” I shot back.
“Of course,” she replied. Then — because she is, like, my favorite editor ever — she added, “you can even use my favorite word: ‘fuckwad.’”
So here goes:
Mr. Kent, with all due respect, those are some dumbass words you uttered. They even appear to be, in the phrasing of the illustrious editor of the Ethicurean, words of a fuckwad. Your logic — the problem is not us, it’s simply this thing of which we are a major part, and from which we profit heavily — is semantic parsing on a level unseen since the proud Clintonian days when we debated what “is” is.
It’s not us. It’s this other thing. We just happen to be a big part of this other thing. Think about that, Mr. Kent. Just think about what you’re saying there. It will never be any one thing, Mr. Kent. It will always be you plus the other factors that conspire together to make Americans the fattest, least healthy, most diabetic population on earth.
Like, the young child I saw on the playground the other day, Mr. Kent? The one who was literally too fat to climb the stairs to the slide? Betcha anything she’s a soda drinker, Mr. Kent. What’s your guess? Or the 8-year-old who was just diagnosed this morning with Type 2 diabetes, Mr. Kent: want to place odds on soda being a regular part of his diet? Of course it's not just the soda, but it is partially the soda, and that's where you come in. And don’t — oh, do not dare — condescend to me by using the words 'parental responsibility'. I know all about parental responsibility, and I fight to maintain it every single day. Unfortunately, for decades your company, and all your junk-food buddies, have done everything in your collective power to undermine the authority of parents. As long as you are undermining parental authority, you forfeit the right to fall back on the “parental responsibility” excuse.
By the way, Mr. Kent, thanks to companies like yours, it’s not simply the “American lifestyle” that results in obesity. Turkey, your native country, now has huge rates of obesity and metabolic syndrome, as well. How 'bout that "lifestyle" that we export around the globe, often in bottles with familiar red-and-white labels?
It’s not us. It’s this other thing of which we just happen to be a huge part. That's funny logic, Mr. Kent. It’s not a starting place for "responsible dialogue." It’s not a path to start "addressing the problem individually and collectively."
It just sounds like another tired-ass deflection.
By the way, Mr. Kent is paid over $13 million for his worthy efforts in identifying that it’s not soda, it’s the American lifestyle. Way to add shareholder value, Muhtar. No wonder the economy’s in the crapper.
Illustration from iStockphoto