Michael Bloomberg’s political lifespan just got extended, thanks to the City Council. But at least he’s trying to make the rest of New York live longer as well.
“If I died today, I would like people to remember that the life expectancy for New Yorkers is now higher than the nation as a whole,” he said this morning while addressing a friendly audience at Columbia. “If that isn’t the purpose of government, I don’t know what is.”
Several hundred public policy types gathered for a Politics of Food conference nodded in approval. These weren’t the folks who had a problem with Bloomberg passing a smoking ban (which he preened about for about half his speech) or banishing fried foods from school menus, or publishing calorie counts on restaurant menus.
His next target: salt. Apparently, most of the hyper-tension-causing sodium you consume comes in packaged foods before you even reach for the salt shaker, and he’s hoping to send it the way of trans fats through similar city regulation.
Meanwhile, the city is thinking about incentivizing the construction of supermarkets—which have been on the decline in recent years—or even building them on public land.
But rest assured, Bloomberg’s no culinary saint. Before rushing off to rename the Triborough Bridge after Robert F. Kennedy, he confided that he likes junk food, just like you.
“You’ve got to be addicted to something," he said. "Coffee and Cheez-Its, what’s wrong with that?”
The conference was the brainchild of Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, who has made food his thing in recent years. He reeled off statistics about the city’s food situation—250,000 people live in “food deserts,” for example, where it is difficult to walk to a grocery store.
He pushed for the establishment of local food distribution networks, like getting New York apples into grocery stores instead of ones from Washington State.
“Most people see food production and distribution as something that happens out there,” Stringer said. “That’s gotta end, starting today.”
But the biggest cheers of the morning came for the man with the least influence in New York: President of the United Nations General Assembly Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, an ordained Catholic priest and former Nicaraguan foreign minister, who railed against the influence of Big Food and top-down development programs.
“It has taken decades of failed development policies to realize that we must put people first. We must listen to the voices of people most affected,” d’Escoto began, speaking of the “downright sinful” prevalence of poverty and hunger.
“The unfettered pursuit of neoliberal policies…contradicts the core values and principals of all our religions, and ethical and philosophical traditions,” he continued, building into a crescendo. “In addition, they clash with our innate common sense.”
With the decline of the Bretton Woods institutions, he said, “We can only hope that the days of the dominance by the monoculture of industrialized food—Monsanto, McDonald's, Wal-Mart—are numbered as well.”