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Mayor takes aim at your pudgy children

Lori Lightfoot’s sugary drinks ordinance is her latest experiment in tone-deaf meddling.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot at a City Council meeting
Mayor Lori Lightfoot wants to make it harder for Chicago children to get soda for lunch.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Pop quiz!

Which has more calories, apple juice or Coca-Cola?

Take your time. Weigh the options: pure, natural apple juice, pressed from God’s crunchy red ripe apples harvested from lovely orchards? Or carbon dioxide-infused, artificially colored, sugar-laden soda pop, concocted in dark, clangorous factories?

Bzzzzzzzt, time’s up! Of course, the apple juice is far more fattening. Coca-Cola Classic has 140 calories for 12 ounces, while the same amount of Mott’s Apple Juice has 180 calories. Over 28% more. Quite a lot really.

Which is only the first reason to shake your head, sadly, after Mayor Lori Lightfoot introduced an ordinance at Wednesday’s City Council meeting — let’s call it the Make Our Kids Even Fatter law — requiring restaurants selling special meals to kids to favor apple juice over Coke.

The worry, the mayor said at a news conference afterward, is that kids are “reflexively being given really high-caloric, or very high sugary drinks.”

Her solution? Unhappy meals. Of course, the law is more complex than merely swapping juice and soda. There is a litany of city-approved beverages — sparkling water, 100% vegetable juice — that can go into children’s meals. The ordinance reads like the dietary laws in Deuteronomy.

Conjuring up the specter of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s notorious soda tax. You remember, the summer of 2017, when Preckwinkle told Cook County residents they were too fat, so she would be charging more for the sweet drinks they guzzle.

Everyone recalls the tax was really a money grab disguised as good nutrition (making Lightfoot’s current stunt even worse, as it costs money to enforce and doesn’t collect any). The fiasco is part of the reason the snappish Lightfoot was able to crush the once-respected Preckwinkle in the 2019 mayoral election.

Less remembered is that, besides being ineffectual and insulting, the soda tax was also a bookkeeping nightmare for grocery stores, which suddenly had to categorize every single can of beverage and weigh whether this new tax applies. Now, thanks to our mayor and clerk, every employee at Wendy’s is going to have to suss out what juice box they’re tucking in — is that Sunny D or orange juice? Because running a restaurant just isn’t complicated enough.

One wonders what Lightfoot’s true motivation could be. If she actually cared about child obesity, there are useful steps the city could take: encouraging exercise, disseminating nutritional education, that kind of thing. Why take this complex issue — healthy living — and nibble at the corner of one tiny aspect? The drinks that kids sip in restaurants, which amount, according to the CDC, for 14% of their caloric intake.

Pressed, Lightfoot spat out, “This is the right thing to do!” with the rest of the thought “because I’m doing it” being unvoiced like the g in “gnome.”

So what’s her true motivation? Could this be some kind of unconscious political self-immolation? Lightfoot hates campaigning yet obviously loves the my-way-or-the-highway authority that comes from being mayor. Maybe she really doesn’t want to run again but is too proud to simply quit. So she struck on a strategy of abusing the electorate so it rejects her. Drawing attention to fat kids may only be the start. The next law might regard deodorants. Because your kids stink!

Nah. Based on the nasty mayoral texts peppering aldermen with abuse that the Tribune pried out of the city, it seems clear that Lightfoot is simply bored of ridiculing the colleagues she is supposedly working with and looking for fresh victims. She’s expanding her scope by fat-shaming the children of Chicago. I suppose soon she’ll be popping up at hastily arranged assemblies at school auditoriums around the city, lining the kids up and pointing out their excesses with a swagger stick. “How are you ever going to get ahead in life, Timmy, dragging that enormous keister around behind you?” “How many sugary soft drinks, Sally, did it take to create that spare tire hanging around your gut?”

I’m all for an active government protecting its citizens. But the city makes a mockery of regulation when it starts to fine-tune, particularly in such a sensitive area as weight. How well would this work in your life? You’d never say, “I’d like to eat a second cookie, but it’s against the law!”