Tax the "Bad" Food, Subsidize the "Good" Food

Tax the "Bad" Food, Subsidize the "Good" Food

Columnist wants the government to step in to make actual fruit more affordable than Froot Loops.

Published August 15, 2011

It wasn't until I saw the 2009 Academy Award nominated film Food Inc, a riveting documentary about the food industry in the United States, did I fully understand as to why organic foods are so darn expensive and why unhealthy foods are so affordable. Among a slew of reasons, the one that shocked me the most was that our government doesn't subsidize healthy foods, but it does subsidize soda and corn for high fructose corn syrup (which is found in everything from ketchup, to bread, to even BBQ sauce).


So, I can you hear asking now, "Kellee, what's the big deal?" It's simple: Mounds of medical studies have found that soda, high fructose corn syrup and other unhealthy ingredients that are subsidized by our government contribute to obesity, diabetes and heart disease.


Hmmm, does that sound right to you? The same government that tells you to get up and move is the same government that has a hand in making us sick.


Mark Bittman, the New York Times food columnist, asks the same kind of questions in his article "Bad Food? Tax It, and Subsidize Vegetables." In his opinion piece, he wrote about how the food industry needs stop solely focusing on making money off of unhealthy foods and create healthier products. But he also points the finger at our government and advises them to step in and do what their job is — to focus on the public good.


Bittman wrote, "Rather than subsidizing the production of unhealthful foods, we should turn the tables and tax things like soda, French fries, doughnuts and hyperprocessed snacks. The resulting income should be earmarked for a program that encourages a sound diet for Americans by making healthy food more affordable and widely available."


Just think about how much soda we as Americans consume. Bittman wrote:


The average American consumes 44.7 gallons of soft drinks annually. (Although that includes diet sodas, it does not include noncarbonated sweetened beverages, which add up to at least 17 gallons a person per year.) Sweetened drinks could be taxed at 2 cents per ounce, so a six-pack of Pepsi would cost $1.44 more than it does now. An equivalent tax on fries might be 50 cents per serving; a quarter extra for a doughnut. (We have experts who can figure out how “bad” a food should be to qualify, and what the rate should be; right now they’re busy calculating ethanol subsidies. Diet sodas would not be taxed.)


In his opinion, not only will the money that comes from these taxes be used to subsidize the plant-based diet that experts have recommended, taxes will help reduce consumption of unhealthful foods and generate billions of dollars annually. And Bittman isn't alone in this — over the years 30 cities and states have considered taxes on soda or all sugar-sweetened beverages and a few states have actually made it law.


But not everyone sides with this move.


In this fragile economy that has ushered in some alarming unemployment rates, especially in the Black community, some food activists believe that these taxes will unjustly impact lower income folks and folks who are struggling to make ends meet. And I respect that critique, because poor people shouldn't have to feel the hit to help everyone get healthier. But it doesn't look like anytime soon the government is going to stop subsidizing the companies that pump us with sugar and instead put that same money in organic farming. 


In the end, Bittman wasn't exaggerating when he wrote, "Right now it’s harder for many people to buy fruit than Froot Loops." We have a serious food affordability and accessibility problem on our hands that is killing African-Americans.


If not taxes, then what?

(Photo: dpa/Landov)

Written by Kellee Terrell


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