As the city goes forward with its awkwardly named Get Your Move On fitness campaign and free swimming lessons, it's also ensuring you can replenish those calories after your workout with a Pepsi.
Last week city council approved a five-year drink-vending contract between Toronto community centres and Pepsi Bottling Group. The deal was hammered out by a committee that included reps from parks and recreation and public health, and was brought by the parks and economic development committees to council. By the time the item came up at 10:30 at night, the municipal body was bubbling like a shaken-up can of soda.
Admidst a fizz of sarcasm, Councillor Olivia Chow spearheaded the opposition, along with fellow board of health members Joe Mihevc and Paula Fletcher. Chow's motion that the contract be killed was soundly defeated; Mihevc succeeded with a follow-up motion requiring nutritional guides be affixed to the machines.
"Putting a pop machine in a recreation centre is like putting a cigarette machine in a hospital," said Mihevc. Supporters of the contract point out that it stipulates that the machines must have 50 per cent healthy options. But the details of this are unclear: would three slots for soda over one slot each for milk, water and juice really be an equal split? "And have we studied whether kids actually choose the healthy option?" asked Mihevc.
"It's choice," heckled Kyle Rae from the back row. "It's not a fascist state yet." I could suggest that gigantic purveyors of monoculture creeping into every aspect of our lives might be on the way to that - but then we'd both sound full of sugar.
Speaking of which, Fletcher had brought her storied Mason Jar Full Of Sugar, used to illustrate how much of the white stuff a child downs in a week of drinking one $2 bottle of Pepsi a day.
Pepsi, it turns out, will get "non-cash benefits" by plastering its logos on sports events, and even third-party functions (most often put on by youth groups) will have to use Pepsi drinks while on community centre premises.
"We can't protect children from everything. What about all the chip machines on our property?" asked Doug Holyday, speaking in his long-standing capacity as chair of the missing-the-point-entirely committee.
Gloria Lindsay Luby, chair of the committee that approved the contract, voiced a similar view. "I've come to the conclusion that everything is bad for you," she said half-sarcastically, half-fatalistically. "Maybe we should march into people's homes and make them reform."
"I agree that we can't go into people's homes," said Janet Davis, who voted against the contract. "But we can run our public spaces in a way that helps parents rather than bombards them." And, as Holyday said, no one's stopping them from going across the street to buy a Coke - though the attending local VP of Pepsi probably wished he hadn't said Coke.
Most councillors simply didn't seem to take seriously the health concerns Chow and Mihevc raised. Mayor Miller himself voted for the contract. While Pepsi, as owner of Tropicana and SoBe, sells numerous healthy drinks, it obviously favours its namesake for the caffeine that gets kids and adults alike hooked, especially when it's intentionally offered only in larger plastic bottles.
And why, you might ask, since organic farms are increasing capacity in southern Ontario, and our city's home to the Ontario Natural Food Co-op, could we not give the nod to a local company - maybe even a healthy one?
According to Lisa Swimmer of public health, none of them responded to the Request For Proposals. And what of the possibility of seeking vending machines that only hold healthy beverages? "We talked initially about that, and we would have liked to see it," she said. "But from parks and rec's perspective, it wasn't feasible."