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Tax It!


A friend forwarded me an article from The New York Times this weekend by Mark Bittman entitled, “Bad Food? Tax It, and Subsidize Vegetables.” Then today, Grist.org’s Tom Laskawy commented on the article in his blog post. Thought I would chime in with my two cents…

The title pretty much sums it up…tax junk food and use the money to subsidize “healthy” food, namely vegetables. We need more people thinking along these lines so we can have a serious discussion about all the ways we can get out of the food fight we’re in. But…I’ve got a few questions for Mark and Tom. Let’s start with the term, “healthy.” Its meaning is pretty broad. Does it mean just more fruits and vegetables or does it mean fruits and vegetables grown sustainably? Big difference, because one uses the current industrial model of growing food conventionally and the other requires supporting more small-mid sized farms to grow food organically.

It seems that taxing and cutting taxes is the solution to just about every economics discussion. That’s an arm-chair economists opinion but probably not too far off. And whenever the word “tax” gets thrown on the table, people freak out and start a tug-of-war…tax good, tax bad, tax good, etc… All I know is, the conversation to change how we grow and produce food should not start with “tax.” It just gets everyone hot and bothered and they forget what it is we are really trying to do…make healthy, quality food accessible and available which will improve not only one’s personal health but that of their community. Taxing could raise some serious coin for the food movement but it should be a tactic not a strategy. A tax discussion will just bring out the boxing gloves making it a political debate when it is really one of food justice and social justice otherwise known as food sovereignty. My other thought is…would the tax be charged to the consumer or would the manufacturer be taxed thus increase the price of the product to cover the tax? When consumers are asked to pay more, like with gas prices, there is an initial slump but after enough times goes by, people just get use to the new price and go about their business. We could tax the food but would it really change buying behavior?

Finally, by the time a bill was passed which allowed a tax on sugary and processed foods, we could have redesigned the entire food system and begun to be implement real change. Let’s take a whole systems approach versus using old politics to solve the problem.