Changing The Sad American Diet (SAD)

July 28, 2011 · 19 comments

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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!

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This post is linked to: Fresh Bites Friday, Fight Back Friday, Friday Food, Melt in your Mouth Monday, Sugar-Free Sunday, Monday Mania, Meatless Monday, Homemaker Monday, Mouthwatering Monday, Weekend Carnival, Tuesday at the Table, Delectable Tuesday, Tempt My Tummy Tuesday, Traditional Tuesday, Tasty Tuesday, Tuesday Tasty Tidbits, Tasty Tuesday, Changing the Sad American Diet, Real Food Wednesday, Healthy 2Day Wednesday, Gluten-Free Wednesday, Foodie Wednesday, Full Plate Thursday, Creative Juice Thursday, Pennywise Platter, Simple Lives Thursday

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Pavil, the Uber Noob July 29, 2011 at 3:53 am

Let me see if I have this correctly. We subsidize the production of corn and soy which is the basis for much of our junk diet. So, the proposal to counteract the consumption of corn and soy based ‘food’s is to tax their consumption? Perhaps we should first revisit why the US is subsidizing the production of corn and soy.

Ciao, Pavil


2 Jill July 29, 2011 at 6:19 am

Hi Pavil,


3 Peggy July 29, 2011 at 8:57 am

So, I wrote this long (500 word) comment, and decided to save the space here and just stick it on my own blog. I like your post, but I disagree with soda tax. No, I’m not paid by Big Corn. ;)


4 Jill July 29, 2011 at 10:23 am

Hi Peggy,
Thanks for writing the comment on your blog — long comments annoy me. However, your reaction to my post is well written and very informative. I have to say I like your post better than mine! You seem to know a lot about this issue and I encourage people to go to this post:

You also have another post about the subsidies and I really appreciate having that information.

It is truly astonishing to see the increases in subsidies to these products that are so bad for our health. And how much of our money goes for that.

Taxing Peter to subsidize Paul is well put! Thanks so much for joining in on this discussion!


5 Peggy July 29, 2011 at 8:57 am

So, I wrote this long (500 word) comment, and decided to save the space here and just stick it on my own blog. I like your post, but I disagree with soda tax. No, I’m not paid by Big Corn. ;)


6 K July 30, 2011 at 10:20 am

I agree with you (Peggy) that the government has its public health policy backwards, and a soda tax won’t necessarily mean that the tax money will benefit what WE fight for. However, it is proven that a tax does, in fact, modify behavior. Heavily taxing cigarettes made thousands of Americans quit (yes, a large number still do smoke, but that number would be much larger had the government not levied a tax). What if this soda tax deposited into a fund to help bring healthy food to poor communities in the US, as Michelle Obama is fighting for. Wouldn’t that be a good thing? The government is not a bottomless bureaucracy—if Congress levies a tax for a specific purpose, that money will go where it should. And, if preventing 40,000 cases of diabetes were to result from a soda tax, wouldn’t that be a good thing?


7 Virginia Abresch July 29, 2011 at 9:25 am

I strongly believe that the government should not have the right to legislate what we eat. The family should be teaching the values of eating properly for optimum health. Continue educating…


8 Jill July 29, 2011 at 10:24 am

Hi Virginia,
Thanks for your comments! Education is key! Weston Price said:
“… You teach, you teach, you teach…”


9 Tina July 29, 2011 at 9:54 am

I wish the American diet was not what it is. But, tax policy should not be used to dictate behavior. Leave the government out of it. I don’t want them deciding for me. The Government is not good at that and is swayed by Big Ag, Big Pharma, etc. Weston Price did not say on his deathbed “Tax, Tax, Tax”; he said “Educate, educate, educate.”


10 Jill July 29, 2011 at 10:26 am

Hi Tina,
Thanks for you comments. Government is definitely influenced by the food and drug industries!


11 Melissa @ Dyno-mom July 29, 2011 at 11:31 am

Although it is a double edged sword, don’t underestimate the significant power of politically socialization. Think about the power of public campaigns against smoking, pro-recycling, and anti-raw milk. If anything, we should learn to turn the raw milk debate on itself. Public interviews like Sally Fallon Morell’s on DC public radio will advance the cause of focused public nutrition and public health. Taxation does not change people’s minds, public campaigns and celebrity endorsements do.


12 Jill July 29, 2011 at 11:54 am

Hi Melissa,
So true!


13 Nicole Feliciano July 29, 2011 at 9:37 pm

I say tax the snot out of sugary soda–to the point it is as pricey as cigarette. Those taxes certainly worked. And I love, love, love the CSA’s. Thanks so much for sharing on Friday Food on Momtrends. Enjoy the weekend.


14 Laura August 2, 2011 at 11:41 am

Education is certainly the key point here. Unfortunately, leaving the education up to families, although in theory sounds right, does not work when the education level of the parents doesn’t support the teaching. As someone who has worked and lived among families in Eastern Kentucky, I can tell you that Mountain Dew is filling baby bottles every day.


15 Jill August 2, 2011 at 3:59 pm

Hi Laura,
That is so sad.


16 Ruth @ Ruth's Real Food August 4, 2011 at 9:41 am

I agree with Pavil, the Uber Noob!


17 Amanda August 5, 2011 at 8:48 pm

Taxing sugary drinks is not the solution. Has taxing cigarettes stopped people from smoking? No.

People who are addicted to a product will pay whatever they need to pay to feed their habit. I do not agree with taxing any food.

This is just a way for the government to make back some of the money they spend subsidizing corn syrup under the disguise of protecting us stupid Americans from ourselves.


18 Miz Helen August 6, 2011 at 3:17 pm

Hi Jill,
Very interesting information and a conversation that we as a nation need to have. Thank you so much for sharing with Full Plate Thursday and hope to see you again real soon! Hope you are having a great week end.
Miz Helen


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