Mayor Bloomberg's Salty Tooth
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has a salty tooth. According to The New York Times, Bloomberg liberally salts his pizza, throws so much salt on his morning bagel that "it's like a pretzel," and "likes his popcorn so salty that it burns others' lips." In a sane world, no one would care about such trivia. But in a world where paternalistic busybodies like Bloomberg tell people how to live their lives and do not hesitate to use force (in the form of smoking bans, cigarette taxes, and trans fat prohibition, for example) when scolding fails, the mayor's eating habits are newsworthy. The Times rightly perceives a contradiction between the mayor's salty diet and his administration's campaign against salt, which has included "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."
The Times also suggests there's a tension between the city's rule requiring the prominent posting of calorie counts on restaurant menu boards and the mayor's fondness for hot dogs, fried chicken, cheeseburgers, and "burnt bacon and peanut butter sandwiches." The mayor's aides emphasize that he makes up for his overindulgences by cutting back the next day and manages to keep a trim figure. Bloomberg says the calorie-count rule is all about informing consumers, who are then free to make their own choices. "I like a Big Mac like everybody else," he says. "I just want to know how many calories are in it."
Since that information was already available on the McDonald's website and on posters and handouts in the chain's restaurants, Bloomberg's explanation does not ring true. The menu board mandate is not aimed at providing calorie counts to people who want them; it is aimed at changing the behavior of people who prefer to eat in blissful ignorance. The Times reports that the writer Nora Ephron, a pal of Bloomberg's, "hates the new calorie counts." Ephron says the menu board requirement "takes the fun out of everything." But she adds, "The mayor's concerns are larger than mine." Yes, the mayor has to worry about all those poor, benighted souls who, unlike him and his buddy Nora Ephron, cannot be trusted to count their own calories and manage their own salt intake.
I attacked mandatory calorie counts in a 2008 column. In my 2003 Reason article about the Center for Science in the Public Interest, I noted the weak scientific basis for broad appeals to cut back on salt.
[Thanks to Tricky Vic for the tip.]