NYT food guru Mark Bittman makes a good point about Mayor Mike Bloomberg‘s plan to ban large sodas in some New York City venues. Soda isn’t food:

What, exactly, is food? My dictionary calls it “any nutritious substance that people or animals eat or drink, or that plants absorb, in order to maintain life and growth.” That doesn’t help so much unless you define nutritious. Nutritious food, it says here, “provides those substances necessary for growth, health, and good condition.”

Sugar-sweetened beverages don’t meet this description any more than do beer and tobacco and, for that matter, heroin, and they have more in common with these things than they do with carrots. They promote growth all right — in precisely the wrong way — and they do the opposite of promoting health and good condition. They are not food.

This is true. But any number of food-like products also fail to meet Bittman’s definition. The most obvious example is candy. And the same could go for any number of popular processed (and delicious) snacks like cookies or Hot Cheetos. While advocates point to evidence that sugary soda is uniquely bad, the plan is catching heat because it seems so arbitrary (for example, it doesn’t affect all large sodas, like the ever-popular Big Gulp or heavily caloric bottled iced coffees).

So what’s going to happen in New York? My guess: People will get used to it. Plus, most of Bloomberg’s other food social policies haven’t caught on elsewhere—though some, like calorie labeling or a trans fats ban, I’d welcome here in D.C. But most likely, even in New York, the ban won’t actually make much of a difference.

Obviously what should be happening here is a federal move to end sugar subsidies. If Bittman wants to argue against added sugar in food—which he does effectively—then it’s silly to neglect the point that sugar is cheap because the government makes it cheap. Make it expensive and people will consume less.

Photo bu Uwe Hermann via Flickr/Creative Commons Attribution Generic 2.0 License