This week, Casey Neistat posted an Op-Ed video for The New York Times that took on the charge of simplifying the hot-button topic all New Yorkers seem to have an opinion on: the New York City soda ban. As New York geared up for Mayor Bloomberg's proposed ban (which the New York City Board of Health passed today), Neistat wanted to offer a "sort of simple" explanation of the soda ban. The soda ban, reports The New York Times, is expected to take effect in six months.
The Daily Meal spoke to Neistat earlier this week to get more of his perspective on the debated (and often misunderstood) ban: the filmmaker, who considers himself a "fitness-inspired guy," had both personal and objective reasons for needing to understanding the soda ban. We spoke to him about what he learned, what he thinks of Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal, and about his thoughts on the obesity epidemic.
The Daily Meal: What inspired you to dig deeper into the soda ban?
Casey Neistat: My secondary reason for the video is that I’m a fitness-inspired guy, with a 14-year-old son. The obesity epidemic is something I pay attention to. But the primary reason is because around the time of the public hearing in July, I was intrigued by the ban. The more I looked into it, I saw that the proponents and opponents of the ban struggled to articulate what the ban was. As a filmmaker and storyteller, this is something that I wanted to be explained visually, not just verbally… Bloomberg’s and the health commission’s demonstrations of the quantity of sugar [in soda] were these terrible displays of sugar. It’s such a compelling argument to physically see the quantity of sugar in a 32-ounce Coca-Cola, and [they were] failing to convey that. So I thought, honestly, this needs to be a movie. That was the initial motivation, to research through that movie, understand the policy, and form my opinion.
TDM: Were you surprised by what you found? Are there any drinks that you thought would be banned but wouldn’t be, or vice versa?
CN: I was surprised by [the] regulating, and the understanding of what it means for some food-service establishments, and what would be defined as a FSE (food-service establishment.) It’s totally counter-intuitive that a movie theater is a food establishment, but a 7-Eleven is not. When I think of a movie theater, it’s a place to see a movie, and a 7-Eleven, as a place that sells food. I have that wrong.
That was surprising; it had less to do with drinks and more [to do with] the sheer quantity of 7-Elevens. They’re known infamously for their Big Gulps, and they’re the target of a lot of the vilification of large sodas; including, ironically, in the New York City Health Commission demonstrations. One of the cups they have up there is the Big Gulp.
TDM: What do you think are the common misconceptions about the soda ban?
CN: Nuances aside, I think the misconception is that this will greatly affect one’s daily life. What I learned through this process is that it’s the mayor’s ambition to create this checkpoint where you have to stop and think about it before you act. Whether that act is to light a cigarette, or consume 172 grams of sugar, any forced thought of consideration will make an impact. No one can argue it’s responsible to consume 172 grams of sugar, but when it’s so easy to do so, you can do so without having to think about it. To me, it was understanding the ambition of [the soda ban]; that’s the revelation that I had.
TDM: Do you think there’s any chance it won’t be passed tomorrow?
CN: I believe that there’s zero chance that it won’t be passed. I believe in absolute certainty that it will be passed.
TDM: What do you think of the criticisms to Mayor Bloomberg that call him a nanny? Do you think the ban’s gone too far in limiting consumer choice?
CN: I think by far he’s the most ambitious policymaker in my lifetime. But as far as affecting consumer choice, it’s hard to find where the altruism stops and the responsibility begins. I look at naysayers who say it sounds like conspiracy theory, but there’s a finite differentiation between the soda ban and the ambitions behind it. It’s kind of a ridiculous rhetoric being thrown around by detractors — "What’s next, a tooth brush ban? Forced to eat broccoli?" That’s ridiculous; the mayor is trying to get people to think. As far as the legality of it, I don’t know; but the idea and ambition behind it, it’s an important first step.
I don’t think soda alone is to blame for the obesity epidemic, and I don’t think the soda ban is the solution to the epidemic. But Mayor Bloomberg is the only person willing to take a hard first step. Personally, I feel like an increased effort in educating kids in physical fitness is a far more important and far more relevant step. And I say that as a marathon runner, who’s done 16 marathons and is doing the New York City Marathon for the third time this year. My 14-year-old, who’s a student athlete, he’s a freshman on the cross country team and track team — and he’s not allowed to drink soda. Physical fitness is far more important to long-term solutions than limiting what size sodas you can get. So much of the conversation comes straight down to soda and it’s not that. Bloomberg is trying to do something, a little step to a much, much bigger solution. If I were mayor, I’d put money into physical education, getting kids to exercise.
TDM: One last question: Is that you carrying the giant soda at the end of your film? What was the response from New Yorkers on the streets when you dropped it?
CN: Yep, that’s me. My intern and I were going into 7-Elevens and getting Cokes. I wanted to show the lunacy of sizes; I was just seeing how far I could push that. My intern and I made the "cup" from a 5-gallon construction bucket, spray-painted the lid red, and made the "straw" from a 1 ½-inch PVC pipe. I thought, no one’s going to believe that this is full of Coke, and I didn’t tell anyone I was going to drop it. So those are some pretty honest reactions right there.
You can watch Neistat's full film at The New York Times.