Does Bloomberg's Salt Addiction Matter?

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As mayor, New York City's Mike Bloomberg has led the charge against bad eating habits, ordering restaurants to ban trans fats, requiring them to post their foods' calorie counts, and urging New Yorkers to stop "pouring on the pounds" with sugary drinks.

In his personal habits, the New York Times points out in an article in today's Dining Section, Bloomberg is hardly the model of healthy eating. The piece opens with a description of the mayor's love of the kinds of food he encourages his constituents to avoid, from salt to Cheez-its:

He dumps salt on almost everything, even saltine crackers. He devours burnt bacon and peanut butter sandwiches. He has a weakness for hot dogs, cheeseburgers, and fried chicken, washing them down with a glass of merlot. And his snack of choice? Cheez-Its.

As the piece continues, a range of New Yorkers dissects the mayor's eating habits, from star restaurateur Danny Meyer ("He orders what he wants to eat, not what he thinks he is supposed to") to writer Norah Ephron (who says calorie counting "takes the fun out of everything," before allowing, "But the mayor's concerns...are larger than mine.") to Bloomberg's press secretary, Stu Loeser, who defends his boss' seemingly contradictory behavior:

The mayor, he said "has days when he eats more than he should." But, he added, "unlike most of us, he has the discipline to even it out the next day."

Accounts of Bloomberg's affection for comfort food are nothing new; the Times' coverage of the mayor's second inaugural ball, in 2006, included an in-depth description of the event's (mostly unhealthy) food, which included 3,000 sliders, 250 pounds of hot dogs, 400 pounds of roasted turkey, 6,000 mini-sandwiches, 470 gallons of apple cider, 7,000 plain doughnuts, and 4,000 cupcakes.

But contrasting the mayor's personal love of junk food with his public repudiation of all things unhealthy raises some interesting questions, especially as other states and the federal government look to New York as a model for food legislation. Do Bloomberg's eating habits make him a hypocrite and therefore weaken his campaign for healthy food? If so, could this affect the national debate over the government's role in what we eat? Or do his struggles with eating well humanize his cause and therefore strengthen his crusade?

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Eleanor Barkhorn is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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