Vegans of Color

Because we don’t have the luxury of being single-issue

“Obesity Tax” in New York December 18, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Dr. Amie "Breeze" Harper @ 8:39 pm

I just saw this on CNN. I’m wondering what people think about Paterson’s tax proposal on sodas and combating obesity. Does taxing “unhealthy food” really change consumption? What are the implications of such a tax?


11 Responses to ““Obesity Tax” in New York”

  1. I’m not in favor of “sin taxes” but I do think they change behavior. When the tax on cigarettes goes up, more people try to quit. I think the same can be said for other habits.

    AND I do think it’s fair to tax things like soda, because they aren’t really food. They don’t nourish your body.

    That said, if this kind of thing happens, it absolutely should NOT be called an “obesity tax.” That’s like calling it a “poor person’s tax” or a “tax on sick people.” Bad idea.

  2. Mark Says:

    It’s a real poser… obesity, from a socialogical standpoint, is a serious drain on a city or state from the health care cost alone. I don’t have the figures at hand, but I remember them being astronomical.

    In other words, being obese is a drain on the health care system which in turn costs society a LOT of money that could be spent elsewhere if people were healthier.

    I’d rather see such a tax, if it is a good idea (and that’s a longer debate) on, say, “high fructose syrup” which is the real problem with sodas and many (hell, most) processed food products in the supermarklet these days rather than the final product. It seems to get to the real source of the problem.

    Unfortunately, producers would most likely pass that cost on to uneducated consumers who’d still buy these products that are doing them physiological harm. Even worse, said consumers tend to be on the lower end of the socio-economic scale.

    My thought at the moment is that these kinds of taxes won’t work, if the health of the populace is the real goal, rather than income generation. Putting the money into education and programs that promote healthy diets would be more effective on the health front.

    I don’t have a solution (yet) for generating the needed funds, though, as taxing the consumer during hard times seems foolish.

    Anyway, taxing sodas might generate a lot of money for gov’t, but I don’t think it’s really the solution to “obesity.” It’s just not that simple.

  3. Dani Says:

    I’d rather see such a tax, if it is a good idea (and that’s a longer debate) on, say, “high fructose syrup” which is the real problem with sodas and many (hell, most) processed food products in the supermarklet these days rather than the final product.

    Or, alternatively, we could remove the U.S. government’s subsidies and other economic and structural supports for industrial corn, the source of high fructose syrup. This would automatically raise the price of these unhealthy products. It would also raise the price of the majority of products derived from other animals who are feed the majority of this crop.

    Of course, just removing the government support system wouldn’t be enough. I agree that there would also be a need to develop social structure that support healthy living. The current system is nothing short of malpractice through government policy.

  4. Barb Says:

    It makes sense to tax junk and not food (since it’s not a necessity), but it doesn’t make sense to
    a) call it an obesity tax. Not all fat people drink soda. Not all who drink soda are fat. Just sounds anti-fat people to me.
    b) tax regular soda and not diet. Diet soda is nasty chemicals. I don’t know which is healthier, maybe it’s a toss-up. But it’ll probably drive people to drink more diet soda, then. I don’t think that’s a good thing.

    If they want to tax something, it should be less arbitrary. I have no problem with taxing unneeded goods.

  5. Brian Says:

    I mean, I think communities from lower income areas – or even individuals in poverty – would be hit the hardest by this. For instance, most food that homeless individuals (or those who don’t have access to refrigeration) can afford to buy is junk food. Things like vegetables, fruits, and etc. need to be refrigerated, can’t be carried around with you for extended periods of times, and so on. However, junk food is fine unrefrigerated and can easily be carried around for extended periods of time – plus, it’s cheap and more can be bought with less.

    That’s just one example.

  6. Dany Says:


    a really important thing to note is that a lot of vegans (myself included!) would say that meat and dairy &c aren’t “really food” and “don’t nourish your body”

    I know we’re focusing on soda here – but that lower-quality mass produced food that a lot of inner city urban folk are subsisting on is what they are subsisting on. I don’t really know what the technical definition of ‘nourish’ would mean, but….

    there’s something that makes me really uncomfortable about the same old top-down government policy decisions that effect disenfranchised peoples (especially people of color). Given our collective histories, the government doesn’t exactly have a track record in fighting for our wellbeing.

    It really seems to me that the only real ‘solution’ when it comes to improving the dietary habits of any group of people lies in (culturally sensitive!) grassroots work. Period.

  7. betsy Says:

    The obesity tax is one of 177 taxes that Patterson is adding in order to not raise property taxes. New York State has the highest property taxes in the US. In the end he is trying to balance the massive deficit caused by the wall street, banking, and loan failures. The entire system is full of pork-barrel projects, massive waste, and corporate subsidy. Patterson wants to cut the most from medicaire, school funding, and these personal taxes, which also includes reapplying the state sales tax on clothing, etc. For the most part, the affects of Pattersons proposal target the middle income and the poor. Although cutting corn subsidies, consequently changing government policy that was enacted under nixon, would be an excellent idea towards to a more sustainable agricultural culture, those subsidies are primarily federal, not state. Governor Patterson has little power over those issues, unfortunately. In the end the taxes are a way of obscuring an inefficient system that screws over the most disenfranchised. To enter bizarro world, Patterson is a democrat and the republican legislature refuses to pass his cuts. It’s almost hilarious. Like others have stated, consumer based taxes do not solve the problem of an unsustainable agricultural and economic system that supplements private industry.

  8. Anna Davis Says:

    To me the real problem with “sin-taxes” is that the government is profiting from negative behaviors. So unless ALL of the money generated from such taxes goes to reducing that behavior, in this case it might mean government funding for health and nutrition programs, such a tax actually causes the government to rely on the negative behavior as an income source. If the money from such a tax gets funneled into other programs– even good causes, like housing and education we put our selves in a bad position. Do we really want to have to choose between losing funding for a new school and decreasing the amount of soda we intake?

  9. sasha Says:

    Taxing soda or any “unhealthy” food is not going to decrease obesity. Many overweight and obese individuals are also lower income, and what they need is inexpensive healthy food made available to them. People buy food they can afford, period; and a lot of the more healthy food is more expensive so nutrition and health takes a back seat.

  10. Rafael Says:

    Hey, good comments, but I want to follow up with what Elaine said from the git – what are the social relations around “obesity” as a concept in an anorexic food engorging society? Just what are the politics of food for poor and working people of color who are disconnected from the land. It comes with the colonizers like Pataki who tried to trade casino for land right claims by a Native Nation in NY State so it is not our fault, but we sure need to reclaim it.
    So Paterson is a relief, but we in deep, finally feeling even more in the flesh what we have been warning about capitalism. Peace in and out!

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