Will a “Bad Food” Tax Change the Way People Eat?
“What will it take to get Americans to change our eating habits?” Mark Bittman a food columnist for The New York Times asked on Saturday. He recommends taxing bad food and subsidizing good food and although I’d like to agree with this, I think Mark Bittman’s suggestions render his argument trifle, even harebrained.
Bittman suggests making healthy food “more affordable and widely available.” Certainly, this I advocate. After all one of the frustrating — and infuriating — mentalities surrounding eating healthy is that it is only for the wealthy. Unfortunately, Bittman myopically suggests that “drugstores, street corners, convenience stores, bodegas, supermarkets, liquor stores, even school, libraries and other community centers” sell staples for 50 cents a pound. Advocating a move that would “of course, upset the processed food industry.”
It will not upset the processed food industry. It would upset the drugstores, street corners, convenience stores, bodegas, supermarkets, liquor stores, even school, libraries and other community centers due to the nature of these foods; they are highly perishable. One of the secondary reasons people do not buy these foods is that they spoil — quickly.
The primary reason
Human beings buy “bad” food for two reasons: 1) they like it and 2) it is cheap. No tax, penalty, scary statistic, diet study, fat relative who died of heart disease or financial windfall will change this. Bad food makes people “feel” happy — fast. I can say this with conviction as I’ve been there. Taxing soda will do nothing to alleviate this problem. It didn’t do it for smoking and it certainly won’t do it for fatty, sugar-filled foods, which have been proven to contain addictive, satiety-inducing attributes. These are studies that do more to changing the industry than “research on beverage taxes from the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale.”
Just as taxing cigarettes did not curb smoking, posting horrific photos of what happens to you when you smoke will not change the elation people supposedly experience when they smoke a cigarette. It is a disgusting habit that people CHOSE TO LEARN. Just the same, eating bad food is a choice. We form habits based on repetition surrounding convenience and comfort.
So, Mr. Bittman, no, it is not harder for people to buy fruit than it is to buy Fruit Loops. An apple costs fifty nine cents at Trader Joe’s. Fruit Loops cost more than fifty nine cents.
Campaigns that align healthy eating with fun — at a young age — will go much further than any tax or subsidy ever could. Habits are formed early. Just as I was influenced by a frighteningly, over zealous, red-headed clown and his hamburger stealing cohorts as a child, I could’ve been influenced by healthy characters.
The only industry that any type of tax policy, be it excise or sales, would have an affect on would be the manufacturers of the so-called bad food; the Coca Cola Company makes Dasani Water. Pepsi owns Tropicana. It will level itself out. A tax will only change the strategy of how Coke and Pepsi is marketed.
I am happy that Mark Bittman advocates changing the industry. And yes, the rate of diabetes is soaring just as health care bills are “on the verge of becoming truly insurmountable,” but a mindset is what needs to be changed — across the board. Has Mr. Bittman seen what hospital vending machines sell? How ironic is it that they very places people go to, to cure a disease they got from eating bad food, serves and sells bad food?
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