The Ethical Dilemma: Easter Eggs and Soda Caps

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Dropping Easter Eggs: Last year my family went out for Sunday brunch with a very religious Jewish family. I mentioned that it was Easter, and realized the other family had no clue what that meant. So I started to explain the holiday when the friends’ son interrupted to say to his mom, “Jesus is a bad guy, right?” She said, “Yes, Christians want to kill us.” The waitress, standing behind her wearing a cross, turned white.

I said to the father (who is a little more open-minded than his wife), “You know nothing about Christianity but this is what you think? Are you ok with what your wife is teaching your son?” The man would not even make eye contact with me, and my husband told me to stop. I gathered up the kids and went to another area of the restaurant until the food came. When we returned to the table, everyone acted as though nothing had happened. Afterwards, I spoke to my family about why I was so upset, but, obviously, I still am. Is there a better way I could have handled this?

—Is There Spit in My Food Too?

Dear Spit,

Before we condemn any group, remember that the same scenario could have played out if you were with certain kinds of Christians on a Jewish holiday, or someone who isn’t Muslim on Ramadan. Every group has its ignorant, xenophobic members.

Actually, you were terrific. You opened a window for the boy to see there are religions and perspectives besides the views he’s being taught. You demonstrated to your companions how intolerable intolerance is. You turned this incident into a teachable moment for everyone, including your own kids. Whether or not you made a lasting dent in the other family’s prejudice, in the future they may be more careful about voicing their hateful ideas.

You may be wondering whether to continue to associate with these people (and vice versa). There must be reasons why you were together that Sunday, and those motivations may persist. If you can put up with their ideology, it would be constructive to continue exposing them to yours. Keep your cool but say what you think in front of everyone—don’t pull the boy aside to whisper things his parents might not appreciate. Keep challenging them and maybe at least the younger generation will develop a more enlightened perspective.

Soda Cap: After what you said last time about lightening up on overweight people, I’m wondering what you think of the proposed (and now stalled) New York City ban on large sugared soft drinks. Do you consider it another misguided anti-obesity program, and an infringement on individual rights?

—Bracing for the National Roll-Out

Dear Bracing,

As someone who has never cared for carbonated beverages and who resists sugar unless it’s in something irresistible (and then there’s no stopping me), at first I thought idea of a ban on large sugary soft-drink servings was silly but that it wouldn’t affect me personally. I have since changed my mind.

It’s not just about obesity but the whole metabolic syndrome that also includes diabetes, heart disease and other ills. There is mounting evidence that sugar, like its chemical cousin alcohol, is essentially poisonous in excess, and there’s little argument that it’s nutritionally bereft. The only good thing about sugar is that it tastes nice and provides quick energy, but the fact that it makes you want to gulp down just about anything containing it turns a good thing into a bad thing.

In my lifetime, serving sizes have expanded in plain sight without people noticing. Bagels used to be the size of a hockey puck; now they’re at least twice as big, and typically carry an entire package of cream cheese instead of just a little shmear. Muffins went from standard cupcake size to double or triple. A quarter-pound (4-ounce) burger used to be a big one; now many are 7 or 8 ounces. An individual-size Coke bottle contained a dainty 6.5 ounces; now you’re lucky if you can find one that small. Today typical servings of soda run 12-, 16-, 32-ounces and beyond.

The problem is that as we get used to seeing gargantuan portions, we are also getting used to consuming them. Few of us stop eating when we are no longer hungry. Instead, we stuff ourselves to maintain membership in the Clean Plate Club—probably the worst thing parents ever encouraged (aside from some religious dogma). People keep eating and drinking until it’s all gone, regardless of how full they feel, and then that becomes the new normal.

So I think Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed restrictions are at the very least a promising experiment. He’s the same guy who outlawed a number of unhealthy practices, including public smoking, starting with limited venues such as restaurants and then rippling out from there as people adjusted. Smoking is now even forbidden in New York City’s public parks, and most people are so delighted with the results, other cities around the world are following suit.

It’s not just an issue of individual rights, but also a matter of public health. Smoking affects non-smokers with second-hand smoke, stinkiness, fires, plus medical and disability costs. Similarly, even those who don’t personally indulge in huge sugary beverages pay taxes that go toward aiding people who become ill or incapacitated from associated maladies, and we all share responsibility to protect children from developing harmful habits. If we make it not impossible but just a little inconvenient for people to mindlessly imbibe vast vessels of sweet potions, we can scale back the subconscious concept of a reasonable portion, while raising consciousness that there are better things to drink. Maybe eventually people will once again consider those little Coke bottles more than enough.

Let’s see how the ban goes (if it ever gets going) and then decide what’s next. I’d suggest outlawing the outrageous “sharing fee” imposed in some restaurants when people want to split a dish, and discouraging the trend of “supersizing” where for just a little more cash you get a lot more trash. Instead of promoting paying less for more stuff we don’t need or want, let’s support strategies that nudge us toward things that are better for us, in quantities that aren’t bad for us. Even if the NYC ban never gets enacted, the debate has raised widespread awareness that giant sugary drinks are a good bad habit to kick.

Joan Reisman-Brill is a writer based in New York City and certified Humanist Celebrant. She received her BA in English literature from the University of Chicago, an MA also in English lit from the University of Michigan, and an MBA in management and marketing from New York University. She has worked in public relations, marketing and myriad facets of writing and editing for nearly four decades. She has been steadily increasingly her humanist identification and activism at an accelerating rate, and while she doesn’t pretend to have all the answers, she welcomes this opportunity to tackle the questions.