Saturday, September 26, 2009

This Is Not About Obesity and Sodas Are Not "Food"

I have been seeing this advertisement, placed by Americans Against Food Taxes, every night on cable networks. It grated on my nerves the first time I saw it and I get more irritated with each subsequent viewing.

This fictional mother and her kids are shown driving through a neighborhood where families might be struggling to put food on the table, a foreclosed home, and then an "out of business" store front, finally arriving at her nice 2-story home in a well-to-do neighborhood, while driving a new car. I just don't buy the premise that she is indeed concerned that "those pennies add up."

I simply smell a Republican or a Libertarian who likes things just the way they are and has whatever selfish reasons for being opposed to a tax on sodas. If the average American soccer moms with the 2 1/2 children and the lovely homes on a bucolic suburban street are genuinely concerned about paying a soda tax, I'm quite sure they can find painless ways to offset the tax. How about adjusting the thermostat on the air conditioning one degree, or reducing the time the kids are slurping those sodas in front of the television by 30 minutes a day. Unplug a few gadgets in the house which you rarely use. Not only will you more than offset the soda tax, you'll be reducing your carbon footprint. Perhaps I'm asking too much.

The advertisement might have been more effective if the fictional family appeared to be living near the poverty level, driving a 15-year-old car, or taking the bus because they have no car.

On the other hand, perhaps it would be less effective because we don't really care much for seeing poverty in action. And some, including me, might wonder why a family barely squeaking by would be squandering money on sodas in the first place.

Another gripe I have is the way the soda tax proposals are being framed as a way to reduce obesity. Yes, it might work in a few instances, but that is clearly not the point, and it's a bad marketing move. It would make far more sense to frame it as a way to curtail tooth decay.

The fact that sugar-free sodas would be exempt also chaps my ass. The point of the tax is to raise billions of dollars in revenue from a non-essential product. If you are adamant against the tax, you can choose to opt out. And you know what? You'll be better off if you do! Sodas are not part of the food group pyramid and they have no positive health or nutritional benefits, even of they are sugar-free and caffeine-free. (At that level, I argue, what's the fucking point?! The only thing that isn't a big fat zero is the cost of it!)

Nevertheless, people with the financial means to buy sodas would continue to do so -- especially the addictive sodas with the caffeine -- and many people who are struggling financially would probably drop these unnecessary purchases. Many probably have already. And they will not suffer as a result, even if they cannot afford healthy, all-natural fruit juice. Why? Because there's absolutely nothing wrong with drinking water.

If we are serious about finding creative ways to pay for health care reform, or any of the dozens of other urgent needs in this country, we're going to have to buckle down and realize there is no free ride. We can do this in a variety of relatively painless ways, pennies here and pennies there, with all of us in this boat together, contributing in our own ways for a huge societal benefit, or we can fight and argue against any and every tax, regardless of how much or little it might affect us personally.

I am steadfastly against sales taxes on essential grocery items: dairy and soy products, grains, bread, beans, fruits and vegetables. However, we could makes huge strides in achieving and paying for universal health care by placing a small tax on non-essential items: processed foods, items packed with artificial flavors and colors, and candy! In doing so, we as a people would be promoting healthy responsible behavior while still allowing people the freedom to buy crap, if they can afford it. For those who can't afford it, they shouldn't be buying crap foods.

Whatever route we choose to go, you can bet your ass someone with a vested financial interest, particularly at the corporate level, isn't going to like it, and they will fight it. We must resist those fights.

Progress doesn't just happen; it requires an investment. It isn't free, nor is it cheap. But it is essential if we are to survive and prosper in the long run.

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