A Tribute to Junk Food

Published: Sweet Tooth Nothings (September 25, 2016), The Good Men Project (September 27, 2016)

Yes, you read that correctly. This is a sincere tribute to junk food, as written for the blog of a certifiable health nut (looking at you, Ariel).

I offer this without apology and only a modicum of regret. The regret, of course, is for the years of life I have irretrievably lost due to the damage these years of excess have left on my body. If I don’t improve my habits, even more will be lost in the future. This is the dark cloud that hangs over the head of every junk food aficionado.

At the same time, there are genuine pleasures to be had from eating unhealthy foods. This is true for all of the poisons we put in our bodies – the alcohol we drink, the plants we smoke, anything we somehow ingested your carelessness. Yes, our culture ostensibly encourages healthy lifestyles, and as a result we are trained to feel shame when we indulge in vices that harm our bodies…. But does that mean we should necessarily feel compelled to do so?

I’d argue that indulging in an unhealthy junk food habit is a complicated decision, part idealistic and part pragmatic. We enjoy the tastes of our favorite cuisines – I’m personally a salty guy myself, and am fortunate in being less inclined toward sweets – and decide that life would be too bland without their presence. Similarly, we recognize that our bodies have grown accustomed to these unhealthy habits and that breaking them would be more trouble than it’s worth. There is a reason why 95 percent of people who lose a significant amount of weight gain it back within five years. It can absolutely be done, but it’s obviously a struggle, and realistically speaking that will impact its rank amongst one’s priorities.

This is not me urging fat acceptance, so to speak, as it is fat realism. If we’re going to struggle with our weight and with our vices, why not at least enjoy the flavors of our favorite junk foods while we indulge? And while we should always strive to get healthy, why hate ourselves in the now?

If the people who care about us want to help, the best thing they can do is give us advice when we ask them questions. Transitioning into any new lifestyle requires a great deal of learning, so it is always important to have supportive and positive influences as you prepare for this major change.

When Do You Go Full Bald?

Published: The Good Men Project (September 22, 2015)

Although my hairline started receding during my mid-20s, it didn’t become especially noticeable until about a year ago. Before then, people still felt comfortable joking that my increasingly prominent widow’s peak would someday turn me into a proverbial chrome dome. It wasn’t until the humor stopped and the sympathy commenced that I realized I had an actual problem on my hands.

Before I made the decision to go full bald, however, I went through a step-by-step reasoning process that I feel deserves to be shared here. It included the following:

1. Be certain that your hair isn’t coming back.

Since I’ve always found hair plugs, transplants, toupees, and comb-overs to be laughably unconvincing (looking at you, Donald Trump), I decided early on that unless my hair could somehow grow back, I wasn’t going to bother concealing my baldness. Unfortunately, there are only two reliable drugs available for treating hair loss – Rogaine and Propecia – and each one comes with serious downsides. Rogaine, though effective in treating baldness that originates from the crown, does not restore receding hairlines (it can make the hair at the front of your head thicker but doesn’t work on the “peaks” of a widow’s peak). Propecia, though more successful in restoring hairline loss than Rogaine, also has a disturbing history of occasionally causing permanent sexual dysfunction among its users. Needless to say, if you thought there was no fate worse than going bald, this realization should help put things in perspective.

2. Become familiar with your own head.

Because everyone’s head is shaped differently, it is important to consider how your own cranium will effect your overall appearance after it has been defoliated. Do you have unusual bumps or birthmarks on the top of your scalp (looking at you, Mikhail Gorbachev)? What about rolls of fat on the back of your neck? Do you have an oval face or a round one?

I’ve recently started joking that I decided to shave my head on Yom Kippur because God had already made it clear that he wanted my hair, so I chose my religion’s most sacred holiday to let him know that he wouldn’t have the pleasure.
Obviously there is no foolproof way of knowing that going full bald will be flattering for you, but these questions definitely need to be evaluated before making that choice. After you have done that…

3. Understand that you are making a major lifestyle choice.

I’ve recently started joking that I decided to shave my head on Yom Kippur because God had already made it clear that he wanted my hair, so I chose my religion’s most sacred holiday to let him know that he wouldn’t have the pleasure. This is all well and good from the standpoint of jocularity, but in the end being bald will transform how people view you. This can be both a good thing and a bad one: Already I have heard that shaving my head has made me look older, meaner, and more intimidating. At the same time I’ve also heard people say that I look sleek and more energetic (perhaps a wilting hairline conveys exhaustion more so than a shiny scalp). While the feedback will no doubt for each individual based on his own appearance and social circle, one thing is certain: People will notice and, for at least a while, will offer commentary. It’s best to be ready for it.

4. Make sure you take the first step yourself.

My close friend Adam was kind enough to help me shave my own head, but before he got around to the tricky sections in the back, he handed me the razor and uttered a very sage observation:

“I can’t cut first. It has to be you.”

Indeed it does. No matter how useful the input of your loved ones may be in helping you reach a decision to go full bald (and mine have been overwhelmingly supportive), the ultimate choice is yours and yours alone. In the end, even a symbolic gesture – like making that first swipe with the electric razor – rests on your shoulders, and as such should always be undertaken by you.

That said, I don’t want to end this article on such a serious note, so I’ll leave you with an observation from one of Hollywood’s most famous bald actors, Telly Salavas:

“We’re all born bald, baby.”

– See more at: http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/go-full-bald-mrzs/#sthash.HXEXWJC5.dpuf

The Importance of Vacations

Published: Good Men Project (July 21, 2015)

Matthew Rozsa explains why it’s so important to go on completely non-productive vacations.

“The secret of success is making your vocation your vacation.”

– Mark Twain

When Twain penned those words, he was talking about finding a career that you enjoy so much it feels like play. In fact, Twain even wrote a line in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer with the same basic gist:

“If he [Tom Sawyer] had been a great and wise philosopher, like the writer of this book, he would now have comprehended that Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and that Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.”

While I have the utmost respect for Twain’s philosophy, I recently discovered a contradiction between the two aforementioned statements. Even though I consider myself to be incredibly lucky in my careers as a writer and academic – to put it in Twainian terms, I have indeed made my vocation into my vacation – the reality remains that I’m still obliged to play… and, as such, the play has become work.

This can be a major health issue.

“Your nervous system. Your body. Your spirit. They are screaming for vacation,” writes Judith Fein of Psychology Today. It doesn’t have to be expensive, luxurious or even exotic. But it has to be the thing most people long for and fear: prolonged down time, where renewal and regeneration can take place.”

In other words, you can’t be productive… even if you enjoy productivity. You can’t force yourself to expend energy or work in any way. The imperative is to allow your mind and body to relax. If you don’t respect and ultimately abide by this imperative, you will suffer a very real physical and psychological toll.

That’s why I’m particularly grateful that my mother convinced me to take a few days off with the family in Ocean City, NJ (that goofy picture you see in the headline contains me and my twin sister, Melissa… she was born first). Before I left for the Jersey Shore, I thought that I was doing fine. Every morning I woke up, read a book on interesting historical topics (currently labor history for my comprehensive exams), wrote an article or two on subjects I found compelling for publications with thousands of readers, occasionally spent time dating or socializing with close friends, and then went back to bed. Rinse and repeat.

I was happy… but that doesn’t mean I didn’t need a break. And now that I’ve had even the briefest of respites, I feel rejuvenated in a way that I could not have imagined only a few weeks earlier.

In other words: Thanks Mom. Sorry Mark Twain, but you weren’t entirely right about this one.

How to Maintain a Happy Workforce: An Interview with TINYpulse

Published: Good Men Project (July 16, 2015)

Matthew Rozsa’s interview with the CEO of TINYpulse, a company that is revolutionizing how employers and employees interact with each other.

If there’s one thing that sends a chill up the spine of any boss, it’s the thought of one of their best employees walking into their office and quitting unexpectedly.

Now there’s a new approach to that problem. The app TINYpulse has helped over 500 companies in 36 countries worldwide improve employee happiness. It works by sending workers a one-question survey every week; bosses use that feedback to keep workers happy and engaged – and prevent them from quitting.

After reading an earlier article I wrote about the importance of paid vacation time, TINYpulse CEO David Niu reached out to me to discuss progressive workplace trends and his innovative service.

I really believe there is a new class of business leaders who genuinely care about how happy or burnt out their employees are. – David Niu

  1. What is TINYpulse?

“We take the annual survey that has fifty questions and flip it on its head. We drip out one question at a time and then we provide that information to the managers so they’ll know how their employees feel.”

  1. What inspired you to develop these practices?

“During my careercation [https://www.tinypulse.com/careercation], I interviewed CEOs about management best practices. I would ask one question at the end of every interview, ‘What is your one pain point that if I took it away, you’d pay for it?’ What I found was that, despite geography or company size or industry, one of the most haunting feelings for any executive is when an employee comes up to them out of the blue and says, ‘Here is my two weeks’ notice.’ It makes me wonder about whether I’ve created a good work environment.

“That became the inspiration of TINYPulse. I really believe there is a new class of business leaders who genuinely care about how happy or burnt out their employees are.”

  1. What specific practices would you recommend for employers who want their employees to be happy?

“There are a lot of easy and inexpensive things that companies can do to better engage their employees to improve retention and keep them happier, but the No. 1 thing is to get their feedback from workers – the old “open-door” policy is obsolete.

Volunteering: Every quarter we take one day to serve a local nonprofit. TINYpulse’s data indicates that 61 percent of millennials worry about the state of the world and feel personally responsible to make a difference; 79 percent want to work for a company that has a positive impact on society.

Unlimited PTO: If you treat your employees like adults, they’ll treat you like an adult. The policy works well for us because it is rooted in accountability. I expect my employees to balance this freedom with their work duties.

Recognition. It’s free, and it has an enormous impact. People don’t quit their job they quit their boss. TINYpulse found that 70 percent of employees say peers are the main driver of fun at the workplace.

Transparency. We did a regression analysis in which we asked, “On a scale from 1 to 10, how happy are you at work?” What we found is that the number one predictor of your happiness was how transparent you felt your management was. Not only did TINYpulse find an “extremely strong correlation between employee happiness and management transparency,” but other research has determined that companies with transparent cultures beat the S&P 500 by 11.3 percent.

Flexibility. Our research shows that 81 percent of millennials really value their ability to have flexibility about their hours, and roughly half of them would trade compensation for flexibility in their hours and work environment.”

Talking to David Niu reminded me of a humorous Robert Frost quote that I saw plastered on a cubicle wall many years ago:

“The brain is a wonderful organ; it starts working the moment you get up in the morning and does not stop until you get into the office.”

While it didn’t occur to me to mention this aphorism during my conversation with Niu, I suspect he would agree that people who live like this are victims of a bad workplace culture. We live in a world where millions (if not billions) of people hate 5/7ths of their lives because their employers simply don’t care enough about whether their work is making them happy… or, for that matter, on how their employee happiness impacts their bottom line.

Hopefully, as companies like TINYpulse become increasingly popular, that will begin to change.

Why It’s Good To Take Breaks from the Internet

Published: Good Men Project (July 11, 2015)

Matthew Rozsa discusses why it’s important to spend time offline as well as on it.

For someone whose livelihood depends on the Internet, and who maintains some of his closest personal relationships almost exclusively online, why do I feel the regular need to take a break from cyberspace at least once a day?

It started when I found myself feeling stir crazy whenever I’d spend too much time stuffed in my apartment, clickety-clacking away on my keyboard as I worked on a new article or chatted with friends online. At first I assumed it was the fact that I was working/socializing from home, but when I tried switching up the locations – pulling out the laptop and checking my cell phone at the library, the university center, various friends’ houses, etc. – things didn’t improve considerably. It wasn’t until I started taking those periodic breathers that my anxiety began to decline in a meaningful and lasting way… which brings me to my three reasons why anyone who spends more than a few hours every day online should set aside at least two waking (and non-working/commuting) hours exclusively offline:

1. It’s the only way to fully engage with your surroundings.

If you find yourself checking your phone or in some other way dipping into the digital world when you’re ostensibly free from it (spending time with friends and other loved ones, eating a meal, going for a walk, etc.), then you aren’t fully experiencing any of those real-life experiences that are otherwise very enjoyable. This is why I still felt restless even when I took “breaks” from my job and online socializing that involved leaving my house: I might have abandoned my usual surroundings for Internet surfing, but for all intents and purposes I still plugged into the grid. Not only did that mean I wasn’t being relieved of my stress, but on a subconscious level I felt anxious and depressed because I realized I wasn’t really appreciating any of the things I was supposed to be doing.

2. It gives you a fresher perspective when you return online.

It’s easy to forget that being attached to the grid is exhausting. You are constantly communicating with dozens of people via text messages, tweets, emails, and instant messages, as well as bombarding your mind with stimuli through videos, articles, and other forms of entertainment. Even though these experiences can be very rewarding, they inevitably become tiring as well (see my earlier paragraph on the health effects of spending too much time online), and as a result it’s easy to overlook how numbing it can be when indulged excessively. By taking regular offline breaks, however, you not only replenish your energy, but give yourself a fresher perspective when you inevitably return to the grid.

3. It helps you separate illusion from reality.

Digital media is a means unto an end, not an end in itself. This may seem self-evident, but for a long time I would spend hours in front of a laptop computer, cell phone, or television, hypnotized into believing that the beautiful sights and sounds were somehow as real as my tangible surroundings.

Make no mistake about it, though: The Internet is a tool, nothing more. It is without question one of the most powerful tools ever created, a multifaceted medium capable of spreading information and facilitating all types of communication instantaneously… but in the end, everything you see there is an illusion, a sophisticated combination of pixels and binary. Spending too much time online is a bit like spending too much time on the road; the drive may be pleasurable in its own way, but if you spend all of your time on the highways and backroads without ever stopping your car at a destination (predetermined or otherwise), you’re missing the point.

On that note: Thank you for reading me online. Please make sure to share it on Facebook, Twitter, and all your other social media pages.

The Proverbial Freeze Out: Why Do We Hold Grudges?

Published: Good Men Project (July 9, 2015)

Matthew Rozsa discusses the millennial generation’s habit of freezing people out… and whether the practice of holding grudges offers any benefits.

“No friend ever served me, and no enemy ever wronged me, whom I have not repaid in full.”

I’ve always been fascinated by this quote, which was allegedly the personal mantra of the Roman dictator Sulla.  From a purely pragmatic standpoint, it’s a great rule-of-thumb to use in fiercely competitive job fields (such as politics), where being feared is often perceived as vital to being taken seriously. If you want people to be loyal to you, it’s important to return all of the favors that they have done (the fact that it keeps you out of anyone’s debt doesn’t hurt). Similarly, if you want to make sure those who might wish you harm are reluctant to cross you, it’s certainly effective to set an example at the expense of someone who you decide deserves it.

Having acknowledged all of this: Why would you want to live your life that way?

I’m not implying that victims of traumas, crimes, and atrocities should forgive the people who wronged them. This isn’t an article about the importance of forgiveness, or if overcoming the scars left by serious emotional injuries in your past. Instead I’m talking about the petty grudges that all of us nurse (myself included), the ones we hold against former significant others and family members and friends. From what I’ve observed, people who harbor those feelings usually do one of two things:

1. They develop an ongoing hostile relationship with the other party, what could almost be called a hate affair, or

2. They impose a “freeze out,” meaning they completely ignore the other person until they “get the message.”

Neither of these alternatives are positive, although the latter is a necessary evil at times. When you remain in constant touch with someone whose main function is to provide you with stress and a human punching bag, you’re only injecting unnecessary misery into both your own life and someone else’s. Freezing people out, on the hand, can be useful, particularly with people who can’t seem to control their behavior, choose to continue harming you despite being given opportunities to stop, or are genuinely dangerous. At the same time, one of the most common complaints I hear from my fellow millennials is how this or that person “froze me out” (a grievance that I fully share) instead of simply communicating about whatever was upsetting them. Although the freeze out can be a helpful social tool, it’s also easily abused, particularly by individuals who find working through conflict to be particularly unpleasant.

Regardless of how you handle your grudge, though, one thing is for certain – it’s terrible for your body.

“Holding a grudge is like swallowing poison and expecting the other person to be hurt by it,” says Mark Goulston, M.D. (author of Just Listen) in an interview with Men’s Health. The emotions associated with holding a grudge increase production of the hormone cortisol, which ages you, raised your blood pressure, and lowers your immunity. Although these symptoms can be relieved if the grudge goes away, that can only happen if either (a) each party is able to forgive the other one or (b) the person with the grudge makes the choice to get rid of it on his or her own.

And that, in the end, is what I find so fascinating about Sulla’s quote. While we can’t control whether or not others choose to harm us, we can decide to suppress the emotions that can build into a grudge. We can examine our own behavior with an open mind and find areas to concede where we were wrong; we can accept apologies when they’re offered to us, even if a little voice inside our head insists the other person isn’t sincere or shouldn’t be allowed to “get off the hook”; we can simply decide to “be the bigger person” by recognizing that, in the grand scheme of things, there are very few offenses so terrible that destroying your relationships and physical health for their sake is actually worth it. Sure, a Roman dictator like Sulla was able to find his own method for resolving his grudges… but the vast majority of us aren’t autocrats who can dispense our own sense of justice with impunity. We need to live in a world that is full of imperfect people, including ourselves. Considering all of this, why would anyone choose to fight instead of move on or freeze someone out instead of letting things thaw out?

Just a thought.

“#LoveWins on #MarriageEquality Because of One Brave Man: Justice Anthony Kennedy

Published: Good Men Project (June 26, 2015)

The four liberal judges on the Supreme Court were expected to support marriage equality, but the fifth is going to take a lot of flak for it. A doff of the hat to Justice Anthony Kennedy.

From a strictly political standpoint, it is a truly remarkable thing that homosexuals throughout America will be allowed to marry. In these hyper-partisan times, we shouldn’t be surprised that the four liberal judges cast their lot with the right side of history. That said, they were joined by a courageous conservative, and every supporter of marriage equality needs to know his name:

Justice Anthony Kennedy

Spoiler alert: I’m going to close this article with the final paragraph of Kennedy’s brief, which he wrote on behalf of the majority that upheld marriage equality rights. It’s so beautiful that it’s gone viral (a rare thing indeed for Supreme Court prose). But first…

Anyone who follows American politics knows that the Supreme Court today contains two wings: The conservatives (Chief Justice John Roberts, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Antonin Scalia) and the liberals (Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor). Few would disagree that this is one of the most fiercely and rigidly partisan courts in recent history. “For the first time, the Supreme Court is closely divided along party lines,” wrote Adam Liptak of The New York Times last year. “The partisan polarization on the court reflects similarly deep divisions in Congress, the electorate and the elite circles in which the justices move.” Even on those notable occasions when a judge has crossed party lines – such as Justice Roberts in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebeliuswhich upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act – he or she has usually done so by resorting to opaque legalese, so as to not offend their base of supporters.

“On the Roberts Court, for the first time, the party identity of the justices seems to be the single most important determinant of their votes,” writes Garrett Epps of The Atlantic. “The five Republican justices sometimes divide in cases (such as the scope of the federal Treaty Power or the validity of ‘buffer zones’ around abortion clinics) that spawn purely ideological debate. But they are united and relentless in pushing for victory in cases that have a partisan valence.” This has decided the shape of decisions ranging from women’s reproductive rights and campaign finance reform to Second Amendment rights and business regulation, proving as much a thorn in the side of the progressive movement as the Republican congress that has obstructed most of President Obama’s domestic agenda since 2011.

And then there has been Anthony Kennedy and the issue of gay rights.

Experts on the modern Supreme Court have written extensively about how Justice Kennedy’s stances on gay rights, abortion, and the separation between church and state have earned him the hatred of conservatives who normally laud his decisions. Although he is undeniably right-wing in most of his judicial thinking, he has established himself as the most independent-minded of the nine judges – and, surprising for a lifelong Republican, has always seemed ahead of his time on gay rights. Indeed, when President Ronald Reagan decided to appoint Kennedy to the court in 1987, Harvard law professor Laurence H. Tribe testified in advance that Kennedy could help in mollifying at least one constituency turned off by Reagan’s anti-LGBT reputation:

“Tony Kennedy was entirely comfortable with gay friends. He said he never regarded them as inferior in any way or as people who should be ostracized, and I did think that was a good signal of where he was on these matters.”

The gay movement may now be hailing Kennedy as a gay rights icon, but make no mistake about it, he is going to pay a steep price among his conservative friends. Justice Scalia has already attacked Kennedy on grounds ranging from hypocrisy to the quality of his writing, he is receiving the predictable support from homophobes on message boards and social media, and legal reporter Jan Crawford Greenburg has commented on the intensely “bitter” quality toward Kennedy that has existed in conservative circles for years because of his reputation on gay rights. If nothing else, the fact that 2015 saw a wave of discriminatory legislation directed against the LGBT community precisely because conservative state legislatures are threatened by the strides made by the gay community.

To this, and speaking for the 57 percent of Americans who wanted the Supreme Court to effectively legalize gay marriage throughout the country, Kennedy wrote the following:

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

When you write about American politics, so much of your job involves pumping out negativity – criticizing politicians, pointing out the fallacies in popular opinions, etc. On this historic day, as America’s gay community for the first time ever is no longer locked out of a central institution of the nation’s society (paraphasing Kennedy’s decision), it is my pleasure to finally have the opportunity to write something unabashedly positive… dare I say it, even hopeful.

And I owe it all to Justice Kennedy

Confessions of a (Diet) Cokehead

Published: Good Men Project (June 25, 2015)

Matthew Rozsa discusses his love of soft drinks… and how he was tricked into believing they were safe.

Until recently I’d never seen Coca-Cola’s iconic “Hilltop” ad… but then again, I didn’t need to. I’ve always considered the sensation of having an ice cold drink slide down your throat to be one of life’s greatest simple pleasures, and among the numerous beverages out there, my preference has always been for 20 oz. bottle of Diet Coke. Some may gravitate to it because it claims to contain zero calories (although if this were true, wouldn’t Coke Zero be superfluous?) but for me the appeal has more to do with the taste than any dubious health benefits. A Diet Coke has just the right combination of sweetness and bitterness to please my palate,  particularly on humid summer days (such as the one captured in the picture above).

That said, I’ve never been entirely oblivious to the dangers of soft drink consumption. Now, thanks to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), whatever shred of denial I may have clung to about my love affair with Diet Coke has dissipated.

In a parody of the aforementioned “Hilltop” ad, CSPI shows actors singing about the joys of drinking cola – followed swiftly by the obesity, diabetes, and other major health issues that have resulted from their habit. In a press release explaining the video, CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson explained that “for the past 45 years, Coca-Cola and other makers of sugar drinks have used the most sophisticated and manipulative advertising techniques to convince children and adults alike that a disease-promoting drink will make them feel warm and fuzzy inside. It’s a multi-billion-dollar brainwashing campaign designed to distract us away from our diabetes with happy thoughts. We thought it was time to change the tune.”

I’ve never been entirely oblivious to the dangers of soft drink consumption. Now, thanks to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), whatever shred of denial I may have clung to about my love affair with Diet Coke has dissipated.

The medical community certainly sees eye-to-eye with CSPI on this one. According to Harvard’s T. H. Chan School of Public Health, people who consume more than 1 to 2 cans of sugary drinks on a daily basis are 26% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, while even drinking one such beverage every day increased their likelihood of having a heart attack by 20%. WebMD notes that soft drink consumption can also be linked to kidney damage, elevated blood pressure, and various forms of cancer, while oral hygiene advocates from the National Center for Biotechnology Information to the Wisconsin Dental Association have drawn attention to the ways soft drinks erode tooth enamel and cause decay. There is even a controversial study by Hannah Gardener, ScD, an epidemiologist at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, which found that individuals who drank diet soda regularly were 48% more likely to have a heart attack or stroke. And that doesn’t even begin to mention the alleged dangers of aspartame.

In short, the parody of the “Hilltop” ad is far more truthful than the actual commercial itself. That fact shouldn’t surprise anyone who already has a healthy suspicion of corporate America, of course, but the question still needs to be asked:

Why don’t we view soft drink consumption as a public health epidemic, akin to smoking cigarettes or eating fast food?

My guess is that, at a time when every enjoyable diversion gets roundly condemned as a health hazard, many of us have decided to tune out the negative information. Even when we concede that our health advocates are right (and many choose denial over accepting the unpleasant truth), there is a temptation to succumb to hedonistic fatalism. If everything good is going to kill me, the reasoning goes, then why bother changing my habits at all? If life is short anyway, why not choose quality over quantity?

There is no easy rebuttal to this point-of-view. Everything worth having in life comes with considerable risk – sometimes to your physical health, sometimes to your psychological or emotional well-being, sometimes financial or social. A life spent avoiding all risky behavior would indeed be quite bland, to say nothing of neurotic. That said, most of us navigate our way through these various hazards by picking our battles, avoiding the dangers that seem too acute to be worthwhile while accepting the price when our love for X outweighs our awareness of its detrimental consequences.

If we are to make progress in spreading awareness of soft drinks, we need to begin by letting people know that the risks associated with them aren’t mild ones. Videos like CSPI’s “Hilltop” parody are a great way to start, but to be truly effective we need to change the way we look at our sodas. When you buy a can of Coca-Cola or a bottle of Mountain Dew, you are taking no less of a risk than if you were purchasing a pack of cigarettes or a baggie of actual cocaine. The specific health hazards may differ, but the net risk is the same – and since I personally avoid cigarettes and cocaine because of the health risks, it stands to reason that I should do likewise with my beloved Diet Cokes.

For this realization, I have to thank CSPI. After all, if it wasn’t for their video pointing out the dishonesty of how soda companies advertise their product, I wouldn’t have thought to do the research on this subject.