Tuesday, August 31, 2010

of seltzer, soda and soapboxes...

We rarely drink soda in our house. Occasionally Western One will drink strong ginger beer by the gallon, but as it's too spicy for me I rarely partake. Don't getme wrong, there are times when a cold soda tastes really good (like when I'm too hungover, um, tired for hot coffee) but for the most part I'd rather just have water. I'm thankful for my beverage preferences because it saves calories for beer and cheese and leaves space in my synthetic food limit for more satisfying indulgences.

We drink a lot of seltzer and lately have been accessorizing with a dash of fruit juice. Tonight Western One went for a more substantial beverage of half Mandarin seltzer and half mango puree, while I, nostalgic for my days in Ireland, opted for black currant juice. The brand name made me giggle...remember that show?

Anyway, this post is about more than "look at me, I drink seltzer, not soda." As most of you who have read Green Peccadilloes for some time know, I like to spend time thinking about food policy. In the interest of full disclosure, I spend a good bit of my workday thinking about health policy more generally, so this isn't a huge stretch. One proposal that has been kicking around New York for two budget cycles, and is gaining national steam, is the "soda tax." While ostensibly the concept makes sense, the way it has been approached, at least here, puts me right over the edge. The tax only applies to "sugary beverages" or, in other words - regular and NOT diet soda. The implication of course being that people should switch from one evil to another.

Now there is plenty of room for debate about this approach generally. It, like most consumption taxes, is regressive, but in a world where hunger and obesity paradoxically go hand in hand and it is cheaper to buy your kids 2 liters of soda than a gallon of milk, I'm not sure I have a problem with that. There's the free choice argument, but this certainly wouldn't be the first time we used the tax code to influence behavior, and it won't be the last. I understand that the objective correlation between calories in regular soda and obesity and related public health issues is an easier connection to make than similar issues associated with artificial sweeteners and other crap in diet soda, but to completely ignore the latter strikes me as ludicrous.

I'll get off my soapbox now, but I'm very interested in the thoughts you all have as I know I'm not the only one out there thinking about how to focus on good food...


  1. The problem I have with the soda tax is that our federal government subsidizes corn production. So our tax dollars have been used to make corn syrup and soda very cheap. Then the state government turns around and says you need to pay more for this because we think it is bad for you. That is serious double dipping.

    Why not skip the tax and just drop the subsidy? The cost of production goes up, cost of a soda goes up, and following the same theory as the sugar tax - consumption of soda goes down. True this will also impact the cost of fuel, and meat, and everything else using corn (it is a very long list), but that might not be a horrible thing either.

    I'm sure I am over simplifying things, but that's just my 2 cents....

  2. I certainly don't disagree re: the double dipping and the contradictory messages. I want to scream every time I hear some government official, state or federal, bemoan the public health crisis that is facing us when the government is directly propping up the problem and (explicitly, I'd argue) encouraging the over-production of highly processed "food". Maybe that's at the core of what I've found so disingenuous about the public health argument for the tax - it only tells half the story.