A Fat Tax on Junk Food Is the Only Way to Get Skinny

lays potato chipsOn the way home from work, you pull up to your favorite fast food drive-through and order four $2 meals for your family. Ding! Dinner is served. You pull up to the pick-up window to pay and, "That'll be $20 please." 

"Wait," you say. "Is that in American dollars? I just ordered four meals. That should be $8."

"Um, yeah, there's a $12 junk food tax on that order."

It's your food world turned upside-down, where junk food is expensive and -- surprise -- veggies are cheap. How could this happen?

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So far it's only happening inside cookbook author Mark Bittman's head. Last weekend he wrote an opinion piece saying we should tax junk food. I used to think this was a terrible idea because it unfairly penalizes low-income people. But I'm starting to come around, and here's why.

Obesity-related illness could cost taxpayers $206 billion by 2018.

So ... maybe if junk food cost twice as much, people wouldn't eat it so often? Plus we could also recoup those health care costs a bit from the people who are still choosing junk food anyway.

Meanwhile, how could we make healthy food cheaper? Subsidies. Right now the federal government pays farms (most large corporate farms) money to grow what are called "commodity" crops like corn and soy. This is what helps makes junk food and high fructose corn syrup so cheap.

In other words, our government pours money into companies that make the food that makes us fat, and then it pours money into health care for people who have made themselves fat with that junk food.

See how crazy it all is?

So what if the government paid farmers to grow cucumbers and broccoli instead,* flooding the market with ridiculously cheap veggies? Imagine if it were cheaper to buy 1,000 calories worth of vegetables than to buy 1,000 calories worth of frozen pizza!

Sadly, we're in a NO NEW TAXES FOR NOTHING era. There are some who think we should just let people with obesity-related illness drop dead. But most of us are more civilized than that. At the very least, we should stop going out of our way to make junk food so cheap. Our food universe already is upside-down. This would put it right again.

What if we got as loud and annoying about this issue as the Tea Partiers are about taxes? Think anyone would listen?

Would you choose healthier food if we taxed junk food and subsidized vegetables?


Image via espensorvik/Flickr

*For the record, vegetable and fruit farms do get a teensy bit of help, too, but this year, most of that money went toward a marketing campaign to convince us that pesticides aren't really that harmful. In other words, an attack on Environmental Working Group and their Dirty Dozen list. So that's a great use of our tax funds. (EYE-ROLL.)

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