February 9, 2011

Fruit Punch

I take my kids on dates. Individually. I took Mia out on Sunday - we went to lunch, did some shopping, and she helped me run a few errands. It was nice. Owen was infuriated that I did something without him. I smoothed it over by a boy outing on Sunday. His chosen destination was the mall. We hit the food court for lunch. He chose Chinese and chocolate milk while I went with pizza. When faced with the seventy billion choices of things to drink, a shiny glowing-red bottle spoke to me. Chris - you want me in your tummy. No, over here. The bottle of really crappy fruit punch. I debated long and hard. I scoured my choices looking for something without high fructose corn syrup but came up empty. So I went with the fruit punch because I enjoy a good crappy fruit punch and I am weak. It tasted like shit.

Later that day - maybe it was one of the crappier ads buried late in the Superbowl coverage - I saw a spot for Americans Against Food Taxes. The issue is new but the argument is old-school. Like, Revolutionary War old-school. We can make our own choices so don't try to modify our behavior through taxes. The I'm An American Dammit So Don't Tell Me What To Do part of me kicked in and immediately agreed with them. Why should the government tell me what I should and shouldn't eat?

Then I chilled out, noodled it through and changed my mind. Kinda.

We - each of us - pay a dickload* every year for the health problems of others. I realize that I'm doing pretty well, relatively speaking, so there's a certain portion of that cost I'm willing to absorb because I think it's the right thing to do. (I still can't believe we live in a country in which millions of people live without proper health coverage with a congress that seems hell-bent on doing anything they can to dismantle those people's best chance at reform but that's another post entirely.) But at some point we have to stop collectively paying for the crappy choices other people make. There's precedent. We've taxed the hell out of cigarettes for decades. Alcohol too. And there's growing support to legalize some drugs then tax the hell out of them. Why? Because these things are proven to increase healthcare costs and taxation allows some of those costs to be proactively deferred.

That fruit punch was terrible but I rarely drink anything like it. But there are people who do all day every day. Would a tax realistically reduce that number? Maybe a little. Would people put more thought into the choices they make? Damn straight. I don't really think the government should tell us what to eat. But I do think it has a role in influencing those decisions while also influencing the things that companies produce for our consumption. And I don't think the general public should foot the bill for the healthcare costs that result from those decisions.

What do you think? Is taxing crappy food a good idea or is would it be a case of the government going too far?

* scientific term

Posted by Chris at February 9, 2011 7:35 AM
Comments

I don't have a comment on the crappy food tax. I just wanted to say that I am digging the Foo Fighters T-shirt. Awesome choice, I think we all need to fight more foo!

Posted by: Becki at February 9, 2011 8:01 AM

My father did this and it is some of my favorite memories growing up.

Posted by: jodifur at February 9, 2011 8:15 AM

Absolutely I think we should tax the crap food, _but_ we should also subsidize the good food to help bring the cost down. One of the most painful parts of budgeting a large family on a smallish food budget is having to pick high quantity / low quality crap over the good stuff, because the good stuff is considered a "niche" product; people will spend more for "organic" because the market bears it. If we tax crap food but do nothing to help bring down the cost of good food, then we've just basically given the whole country a pay cut, while at the same time not influenced diets in the least.

Posted by: metawizard2 at February 9, 2011 9:14 AM

On the one hand, it might be time SOMEone stepped in to make those people realize what they're doing to themselves. But on the other, our country was born of the idea that we are in charge of ourselves and free to do as we please. If people want to poison themselves with that crap, then by all means. I look at it as Darwinism at work. :)

Posted by: Claire at February 9, 2011 9:30 AM

The problem is that crappy food won't get taxed. Food without effective lobbying organizations in Washington will get taxed.

Posted by: COD at February 9, 2011 9:52 AM

That is one step closer to having the government come in and say, "okay, you can only have one child per household".
I say LESS GOVERNMENT folks! Get out of my kitchen. Get out of my doctor's appointment. Get out of my life!

Posted by: Maribeth at February 9, 2011 11:10 AM

The Government, not you Chris!

Posted by: Maribeth at February 9, 2011 11:21 AM

I'm all for it. I think it would help me to make better choices. As well, if healthy food were comparatively cheaper, maybe people wouldn't be so invlided to take the easy, less healthy, option.

Posted by: Heather at February 9, 2011 12:00 PM

I guess if you're going to ask them to pay for your healthcare, they have a say in your health. Tricky.

Posted by: Brad at February 9, 2011 12:07 PM

While the food tax may seem like a good idea in theory, I would worry about the application. For example, I follow a "primal" diet. That means, lots of fats, vegetables, unprocessed foods and no grains. The government could decide that bacon (which I eat every morning) is bad for you because it leads to heart disease (something the Primal Blueprint does not agree with) and raise the bacon tax. I think I'm eating the healthiest I can, but the gov't goes by a different food pyramid.

I don't think taxing "crappy" foods is the same as alcohol and cigarettes. There's a difference between nourishment and getting a buzz or an addictive substance.

Posted by: Robyn at February 9, 2011 1:42 PM

Beware of the slippery slope. I find sometimes I'm a liberal libertarian if that makes any sense.

I'm all for nutritional education and healthier food in the schools (which may be the only healthy food some kids have). I'm all for the government taking the lead and encouraging healthy habits. But a tax on juice? And then a tax on high sodium food? High fat? Lucky Charms? Should we monitor the amount of veggies each household purchases? It would be easy enough to do in this electronic age.

Chris, much of the problem is economic. A gallon of fake juice (100% Vitamin C - not just flavored water) costs between $1. and $1.50. Pure orange juice is probably 3 or 4 times that price. Organic fruits and veggies, when a poor family can find them, are double the price and a dozen free range eggs are easily triple. WIC has made a good start by adding fresh veggies to their coupons (which Farmer's Market will accept) and they have nutritional classes. Still, a food dollar (or stamp) will only go so far. It's unrealistic to expect a family living in poverty with no transportation to even find, let alone purchase, the better foods. To add a tax (which would probably disqualify the juice for food stamps) to the burden they already have is unfair. Better they drink juice with too much sugar than no juice at all.

The one idea I can agree with is a tax on sodas and taking them off the food stamp list. They are wasted calories with no nutritional value. They are not food.

Posted by: Ann Elizabeth Adams at February 9, 2011 3:22 PM

I think Ann Elizabeth raises some excellent points. As do many of your lovely readers, as usual. I would much rather see positive reinforcement used...
I was with my Grampy at the "big city" hospital earlier today, because he had to go in for an EKG, and with traffic, the trip was entirely over lunch hour. So I was pretty hungry by the time he'd checked in, and I went to the cafeteria. I could have pizza, a burger, or a sandwich. I chose the sandwich, but regretted it - it was cakey white bread - cheese bread no less - with over-salted meat and too much mayo and did I mention oh my heavens the salt? I wanted to get a cranberry juice - but they only had "cocktail" - "made from real juice!" they said. Yeah, well, that AND chemical additives and HFCS. I think so much of our food culture is engineered specifically to make it more difficult to make healthy choices. Fresh vegetables can be expensive - organic even more so - and you can spend on one discount box of mac and cheese, which would in theory "feed" a family of 4, or one apple. It's absurd! Lean protein is also crazy expensive - though I know as a vegetarian you've probably got some good ideas there that my household has trouble implementing (My grandfather is very much a meat-at-every-meal - including breakfast! - sort of man.) Encouraging farmer's markets is wonderful, and there needs to be more education - and not just the theory of eating healthier but also the implementation, because I think that's what gives most people the most trouble.
Of course, I'm rambling, as I specifically intended NOT to do, but there you have it. This issue makes me tetchy :P
I'd rather have a tax on soda than have to pay extra-high insurance premiums (not that I do, yay Canada!) for being overweight. (And then there's the whole, less money, crappier food, cyclical sort of problem!) Positive reinforcement is scientifically proven to be more effective than punishment.

Posted by: Heather at February 9, 2011 8:06 PM

Washington used to have a Crappy Food tax, but repealed it during the last election. I voted to keep it, and here's why: the types of things being taxed (candy, gum, soda, bottled water) aren't necessities for life. They're luxuries and don't need to be accessible to everyone. If the state can get some much-needed revenue by adding a nickel to the price of a candy bar? Then I say more power to them.

In my mind, it's less about the government trying to reduce usage of these items by taxing them (although I suspect in some cases the tax will have that effect), and more about the fact that I think it's fair game for them to tax items like this since no one *needs* to buy crappy fruit punch or a case of Diet Coke. It's basically a luxury tax, and I'm OK with that.

Posted by: Dawn at February 10, 2011 12:39 AM

I would be opposed to a food tax. It's not so much that I'm anti-tax or even anti-"government influencing behavior" as much as it is extreme discomfort with the state of evidence about which food items cause negative health outcomes. There isn't agreement about which types of diets keep people leanest, nor (perhaps more importantly), is there clear and strong evidence that weighing less is related to better health outcomes. Maybe there are things most people could agree on, but a lot of things would be open to serious debate. I know there's a movement to ban chocolate milk in schools, and as a 37 year old, 'normal BMI' runner who drinks at least a serving of chocolate milk everyday, they would have to pry the chocolate milk from my cold dead hands. I would be very annoyed to have to pay more for one of my staples just because some people think it's making me unhealthy (although the dairy lobby is unlikely to allow a chocolate milk tax anyway...another reason this would never work).

Posted by: Tracy at February 10, 2011 1:59 PM

I find most of these comments funny. You still have the option of buying whatever the hell you want, you just have to pay more money for it. So the choices are the same. The government is charging for some choices differently than others, but there are subsidies in all those foods, including corn syrup.

Posted by: alektra at February 12, 2011 2:31 PM

This is an interesting conversation.
My theory, is that we are manipulated by 2 major lobbies: the food industry and the pharmaceutical industry. They work hand in hand. The food industry wants you to be hooked to the crap that they process (which contains mostly sugar, fat and salt) and the pharmaceutical industry wants this ood to make you sick enough so that you need that you and your family need drugs on a regular base.
I don't know if tax increase will help this situation, especially since the government has got its interests in both lobbies.
It's a complex problem and there is a lot that we don't know. But perhaps as a individuals we should believe that we vote with our money and therefore we should try to support the right people.
Not always easy to do but hey, it's not because we can't do everything that we should do nothing :)

Posted by: Alejandra at February 15, 2011 8:37 AM

This is an interesting conversation.
My theory, is that we are manipulated by 2 major lobbies: the food industry and the pharmaceutical industry. They work hand in hand. The food industry wants you to be hooked to the crap that they process (which contains mostly sugar, fat and salt) and the pharmaceutical industry wants this ood to make you sick enough so that you need that you and your family need drugs on a regular base.
I don't know if tax increase will help this situation, especially since the government has got its interests in both lobbies.
It's a complex problem and there is a lot that we don't know. But perhaps as a individuals we should believe that we vote with our money and therefore we should try to support the right people.
Not always easy to do but hey, it's not because we can't do everything that we should do nothing :)

Posted by: Alejandra at February 15, 2011 8:38 AM


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