There may be a pandemic, a looming election nightmare like no other, a worsening climate crisis that made air in the Bay Area unhealthy for weeks on end, and seething tensions over violence by police against Black people, but over at the Berkeley City Council it's business as usual some weeks.
This week, Berkeley once again gives itself a gold star for being the first in the nation to ban the sale of candy and junk-food items in grocery checkout lanes, and require healthy snack choices instead. The nanny state has declared that your impulse purchases shall no longer ruin your diet or your teeth!
As the Chronicle reports, the new ordinance, passed unanimously at the council meeting on Tuesday night, was co-authored by Berkeley city council members Kate Harrison and Sophie Hahn. It was also backed by the nonprofit Bay Area Community Resources, and the DC-based consumer advocacy group the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).
"The healthy checkout ordinance is essential for community health, especially in the time of COVID-19,” Harrison said in a statement. “What is good for Berkeley customers is also good for our businesses."
The ordinance impacts only grocery stores that are 2,500 square feet or greater, but that means at least 25 stores in the city will have to yank out their candy racks next year — including Safeway, Grocery Outlet, Trader Joe's, and Whole Foods. The ordinance takes effect in March 2021, and enforcement begins in January 2022.
Berkeley has a long history of being ahead of the curve on such local laws in the interest of public health, including their 2014 soda tax that is credited with decreasing consumption of sugary soft drinks in low-income neighborhoods by 50 percent.
Ashley Hickson, a senior policy associate at CSPI, says in a statement about the junk-food ban, "By offering healthier options at checkout, stores would contribute to advancing public health and level the playing field for consumers during an already stressful time."
The ban applies to any food with more than 5 grams of added sugar, and more than 250 milligrams of sodium. According to the wording of the ordinance, stores are encouraged instead to line their checkout lanes with "fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, dairy, whole grains, and chewing gum and mints with no added sugars."
You can bet it's going to be all gum and Kind bars. Probably light on the legumes.
Photo: Ali Onehor