According to an article in the New York Times this weekend titled “Bad Food? Tax It, and Subsidize Vegetables ,” the author, Mark Bittman, puts forth a radical plan. Tax unhealthy food and subsidize vegetables. At first glance, I sagged. Not another tax. People are going to eat junk, regardless of a 20 cent increase in the price of a Coke.
Or would they?
Bittman offers a convincing argument. The Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale, a non-profit organization fighting obesity and weight stigma, cites that a penny an ounce is the right amount of tax for the desired benefit, although Bittman would put it at two pennies per ounce. That’s 64 more cents for a Big Gulp, which, if you’re really, really thirsty, might still be worth it. As long as you don’t mind the extra 400 or so calories.
Just one trip to a shopping mall (or Disneyland or just about anywhere in the Midwest) and a plain fact becomes hard to ignore. Obesity is on the rise. The cheapest food–corn and soy which are used to make high-fructose corn syrup and vegetable oil, the stuff that farmers are paid by our government to grow—is used to create junk food. So in a sense our tax money is being used to create an unhealthy, increasingly non-active citizenry while allowing purveyors of junk food all the benefits.
This is just plain wrong.
As much as I would love to bury my head in a snow bank and pretend that the rest of the world longs for active days and a healthy body, there’s just too much evidence to the contrary. Instead of promoting health, our culture promulgates cheap, fast food that might be “finger lickin’ good,” but it also contributes to a myriad of health problems, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity. What’s the number one way to combat these conditions?
Say it with me now, people: A healthy diet.
In his article, Bittman offers a call to action. Put a heavy tax on sugary sodas and other junk food and use that money to subsidize vegetables, fruits and whole grains.
It’s not as radical as it sounds. Denmark’s saturated fat-tax goes into effect October 1st, and several states already have a tax on soda. In his version, Bittman wants to see an excise tax, one that shows up on the price tag, not just at the cash register.
The Rudd Center website has a calculator that figures the plan’s monetary and human savings. Over the next decade a 20 cent tax on sugary sodas would yield $30 Billion, prevent 400,000 cases of Type 2 diabetes and 1.5 million people from become obese.
This article offers a perfect solution. Hey, if you want to eat junk—if you’re the type that says I’ll eat whatever I please, thank you very much, fine. Go right ahead. The world is overpopulated anyway. But our nation shouldn’t be strapped with your health bill. Nor should our government pay farmers to grow that unhealthy food for you.
I’m all for a healthier citizenry. I vote for eating the right foods, maintaining a healthy body and using it to be active and enjoy life.
Besides, while a Big Mac be delicious, it doesn’t last. Nor will it add much to your overall happiness. But the ability to stand atop a pristine slope, your lungs sucking in the crisp air, your legs ready to piston your skis across the steep snow, your body full of fuel, not poison, is a gift everyone should enjoy.
So let there be a tax on bad food. In my estimation, it will only lead to happier people, more ski days and fewer disease.
And who can argue with that?
Well, maybe you can. What are your thoughts on taxing bad food? Leave a note below by clicking on the “comment” button and join the conversation.