photo: cookbookman17/Creative Commons
The New York Times' chief food opinionator Mark Bittman has weighed in on a topic that frequents TreeHugger's page: Taxing sugary beverages, ending the de facto subsidies for unhealthy foods we've currently got in place, and the resulting health benefits of doing so. Bittman's overview of those benefits is compelling for sure, but what's more interesting is what he suggests should be done instead.But, if you're not up to speed on the benefits of taxing sugary beverages and other unhealthy foods, here's the one line summary Bittman gives:
A 20 percent increase in the price of sugary drinks nationally could result in about a 20 percent decrease in consumption, which in the next decade could prevent 1.5 million Americans from becoming obese and 400,000 cases of diabetes, saving about $30 billion.
Moving on to what we might be done instead... Bittman suggests a couple possibilities to kickstart the conversation:
- Using the funds raised by an unhealthy food tax to "subsidize the purchase of staple foods like seasonal greens, vegetables, whole grains, dried legumes and fruit. We could sell those staples cheap--let's say for 50 cents a pound--and almost everywhere: drugstores, street corners, convenience stores, bodegas, supermarkets, liquor stores, even schools, libraries and other community centers."
- Convert refrigerated soda machines into vending machines selling grapes and carrots.
- Offering cooking lessons and even cookware for those people without those skills and items.
It's that last one that seems the oft-missing link in the discussion about creating healthier dietary habits in the United States, improving access to healthy food, and creating a sane, sustainable food production and distribution system.
When you've got entire generations where, as the original article points out, Coke and chips is a usual breakfast, making healthy food available and affordable is just one part of the solution. Reviving the knowledge of how to cook healthy meals, using raw ingredients primarily from scratch, is essential.
It's probably a safe bet that even many people today don't even know how to cook those seasonal staple foods that Bittman suggests are subsidized. And that obviously has to change concurrently with taxing those things we don't want consumed, supporting sustainable agriculture, and ending subsidies for big industrial agriculture, as well as the so-called food deserts that plague our poorest neighborhoods.