August 25, 2009

Fat Tax

Here is an interesting article about a so-called "fat tax": If you don't wish to read it, it is a proposal floating around the various political circles to place a tax on unhealthy food. This is not a new idea. The UK published a study on this, and if you simply google "fat tax" you will find scads of information.

To me, this idea has merit. Currently our political system is embroiled in a heated discussion on revamping the health care system. Whether it fails or passes, either way Americans will spend billions a year on health care. I strongly believe that a great deal of our country's ills are caused by the Standard American Diet (SAD), and we would not be in this mess if we stuck with wholesome and healthy foods, got a little exercise, and curbed our drinking and smoking. There are plenty of studies that back up these thoughts (two books recently reviewed, for instance: In Defense of Food & The Jungle Effect).

Back in the 50's and 60's smoking was as common as breathing. Not only was it a satisfying habit, it was deemed "cool". You can't watch an old movie and not be amazed at the amount of smoking that went on. But now, smoking has been condemned by society in large, and the government has a tax on tobacco products to help pay for the health problems associated with smoking.

The same has been proposed for "junk food". I think in order for this idea to fly, junk food must attain the same social condemnation as tobacco has, and I believe this trend is slowly gaining ground. There is a huge amount of evidence piling up against high fructose corn syrup, unhealthy fats, refined and over-processed foods, preservatives, and GMO farming.

One complaint cited against this idea is the burden it will place on the poor, who are the biggest consumers of cheap, unhealthy food. To me, this argument makes no sense. If the goal is to provide an incentive to dissuade people from eating this food, don't you have to, uh, provide an incentive? Just telling people they are killing themselves doesn't work. Money is a much more powerful incentive, because as a nation we are both greedy and cheap. If sodas and packaged foods are more expensive, maybe people will start looking at cheaper drinks like tea and cheaper foods like whole foods.

Personally, I believe this measure will fail. The corn lobby (creators of HFCS and those idiotic commercials) is too powerful. Plus, there are still too many ignorant people with loud voices in this country. They view the tax as a punishment. But taxes are not a punishment; they pay for government services, like health care.

Perhaps a better approach to a fat tax is a "reverse tax" on healthy food. For instance, government can subsidize healthy fruit and vegetables and other organics. Perhaps also the government can stop subsidizing the huge corn and soy industries, which are the main producers of our junk food.

Fail or not, it is heartening to see a fat tax proposal even come to light. There is still hope that someday Americans will stop poisoning themselves and their environment. I just hope it happens in my lifetime.

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