At the NYT, Bittman evokes Mrs. Lovejoy in his support of the Bloomberg Soda Tax. I tend to stay away from policy on this blog, but Bloomberg’s soda ban perfectly crystalizes the absurdities of our food system. We pay farmers to overproduce the raw materials for our sweets, then we tax consumers to discourage them from eating it. The way I see it, when a state or city passes a Happy Meal toy ban or a soda tax, it is a repudiation of national agricultural policy. As I’ve noted before, smaller governments have no power to turn off the production spigot, so their only remaining option is to limit consumption. If you live in a “progressive” place that approaches the obesity epidemic this way, you are getting taxed twice. The longer we perpetuate the inconsistency, the more money we all waste. I’d like to see heavies like Bittman point their finger at policy makers instead of consumers, who are only doing what the government has enabled them to do.
Via NPR, Massachusetts is the latest locality to consider a sugar tax in order to curb the high levels of consumption which are a leading cause of obesity. Once again, we have a local government taxing consumers to not eat or drink a product that is already artificially cheap because it has been subsidized into overproduction by the USDA.
There is a common theme which undergirds these fat and sugar taxes, the Happy Meal bans, and salt limits. I am beginning to view them all as local repudiation of the excesses caused by the federal cheap food policy. Commodity crops are the raw ingredients for the feed that grows the salty chicken nuggets, the fatty-fatty beef in the fast food burger, and the HFCS that goes into everything else. These are precisely the products targeted by state and local regulators because their consumption has been so often linked to obesity.
Local governments like New York San Francisco and Massachusetts have absolutely no control over the production spigot. The only thing they can do is swallow a spider to catch the fly, as the rhyme goes. Regulating local consumption within their jurisdiction is their only recourse against the torrent of cheap calories produced by federal subsidies.
This leaves public health advocates with the difficult task of convincing people not to eat the food we already paid farmers to overproduce. “Taxes!” is a facile argument and it is a far too local and ad hoc method of correcting a serious flaw in the food system. They should aim higher.