In my last post, I alluded to a New York Times article on the politics of junk food. The basic premise that the author espoused was that the present administration, in its efforts to curb the widespread indulgence of fatty foods and the plague of obesity, has unwisely taken a patronizing and presumptuous tone. In considering the war on junk food a “commonsensical” “political no-brainer,” they have affronted a deep seeded American way of life and took for granted that junky, processed food is not only highly visible, but often a given staple in the American household.
“For in waging war on fat and sugar, what the administration is doing is taking on central aspects of the American lifestyle. Eating too much, indiscriminately, anywhere, at any time, in response to any and all stimuli, is as central to our freewheeling, mavericky way of being as car cupholders and drive-throughs. You can’t change specific eating behavior without addressing that way of life — without changing our culture of food. You need to present healthful eating as a new, desirable, freely chosen expression of the American way.”
The fascinating piece about this article and the lesson that must be extracted in the present debate over bicycling, is a matter of tactics. To convince Americans that junk food is bad for them and that it makes them overweight and unhealthy, advocates would need to stigmatize its consumption as disgusting and unsavory, an antisocial indulgence on par with the smoking of cigarettes. The key is to appeal to the nerve of popular conscience and to integrate these lessons into the mainstream rather than adopt a combative war on fat and fun.
Driving, of course, will not and should not be stigmatized in the same way as cigarettes or junk food. Though in excess it may have a regressive impact on one’s health, it serves an integral and essential role in daily life and commerce- one that ought never be dismissed.
Promoters and boosters of cycling in the US, however, could try adopting an approach more in tune with the American predilection for independence and immediacy as opposed to the bourgeoisie instinct to reduce one’s footprint and live a self-sufficient and blameless lifestyle. The “I want to go where I want, when I want” principle stands more in line with the American Maverick instinct, while remaining true to actual beauty of the bicycle. These lessons could craft marketing campaigns for future bicycle share systems as well as initiatives focused on a younger generation for whom the bicycle could be used to attain independence at an earlier age.