In an op ed, written by Marc Bittman for the Sunday New York Times this week, he elaborates on the value of taxing unhealthy foods — particularly sugary drinks. While I agree with him that these are certainly unhealthy and contribute to the epidemics of obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes in this country, I disagree with some of his dietary recommendations and would expand upon his proposed solutions.
Chanting the conventional mantra of low sugar, he also sings the low fat mantra — that is, low saturated fat. Again this macro nutrient, along with cholesterol is demonized by a well known and respected nutrition guru. With all the evidence we have that the “good” saturated fats, like animal fats from pastured and humanely treated animals and coconut oil from sustainable plantations, provide us with nutrients that cannot be obtained from other sources, it’s hard to believe Bittman has not come around.
Even many proponents of the Paleo diet (lean meats, no grains, no dairy) have come to acknowledge that our hunter/gatherer ancestors did not throw away the fat! Actually the fat was the most prized part of the bounty. If anything, they threw away the lean meat if there was too much to carry. The fat was given to the hunters, the elderly and children first because they knew it was necessary for health.
We may need additional taxes on sugary snacks and drinks in order to curb consumption of such unhealthy fake foods. But we also need to ensure that all people have access to the healthy food. The really healthy food. Not just more fruit and vegetables, although, sadly, many communities do not have good access to basic produce staples as they should. People need access to more real food from local farmers who can supply milk, meat, chicken and eggs from pastured animals.
We need to allot land to farmers who are willing to take on the huge task of feeding a community. There are young people out there who are homesteading and learning how to effectively do this. But we need many more people who would take on this burden and most importantly we need land made available in urban and suburban communities for this purpose.
We should tax the sugary food and drink items in the way suggested by Y. Claire Wang, an assistant professor at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health. Wang predicted that a penny tax per ounce on sugar-sweetened beverages in New York State would save $3 billion in health care costs over the course of a decade, prevent something like 37,000 cases of diabetes and bring in $1 billion annually. Isn’t that awesome?
Another study out of Yale University suggests that a national penny-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages would generate at least $13 billion a year in income and cut consumption by 24 %. 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.
Aren’t these numbers just staggering?
Part of the solution would be to then take that tax money and use it in a way that benefits the health of individuals and communities. To get started they could hire truck farmers to bring produce to communities that do not have adequate access. Or use the money to ensure a weekly farmers market in these areas. Use the money to organize a year round marketplace for farmers and to set up programs to train new farmers in sustainable methods, hopefully from these very neglected communities.
In New York City some buildings have their very own CSA farmer who comes each week and is able to park right in front of the building for pickups. There should be an organization that can run these kinds of programs so that people who live in cities have access. They can make sure the farmers sell more than just vegetables — they could be there all year selling fresh milk, meat, chickens and eggs, etc.
These are just a few suggestions for changing the basic framework of our food industry. Instead of supporting huge food corporations that have only profit in mind, we need to start supporting the farmers who can provide the real food that our country needs to flourish. That would be an awesome example to set for the world wouldn’t it? What are your solutions for changing our Sad American Diet? Please leave a comment and let me know!