Taxing Junk Food

Posted: March 12, 2015 in Uncategorized
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Today in my policy class we were talking about the way poverty is correlated with poor health for so many different reasons. I’ve written about this before on the topic of why judging poor people for buying unhealthy food is classist. In class today we were talking about this and moves toward making junk food more expensive, supposedly to get poor people to make healthier choices.

What frustrates me about this is the punitive nature of it. Which is what we are comfortable with, is punishing poor people instead of helping.  We don’t do anything to make healthy choices easier, cheaper, or possible- we just want to punish poor people for making the “wrong” choices.

Of course the idea of taxing them is nice, because we really, really like secretly regressive taxes. Sales taxes are regressive since poor people spend a higher portion of their incomes, compared to wealthier people who save and invest higher portions of their incomes. Lotteries are also regressive- they are used more by low income people and marketed to low income people. John Oliver talks about the way lotteries are marketed and mentions how one is marketed like a savings account for kids college funds, but is really just a gamble that probably provide nothing to his kids college. But the thing is, that works be cause they are marketing to people who can’t afford savings for college. He also notes that on average people pay only a bit over $100/year on lottery tickets- that’s not going to cover tuition for  one kid, let alone several kids and grandkids. Not to mention poor folks who don’t have much to save are less familiar with financial systems and savings/investment options (count me in that too), and many of these accounts can require a rather high minimum starting amount. Far more than the $1 lottery ticket.

So this idea of charging more or taxing “junk food” does nothing to address the systematic reasons eating healthy is not affordable to poor people. It does nothing to change a poor person’s access to kitchen appliances (fridge, stove, et cetera). It does nothing to address the issue of fresh food spoiling sooner, and the difficulty this provides with longer times to get to a store selling safe, fresh foods. It does nothing to address food deserts and the way in poor neighborhoods people may be forced into buying food at gas stations , party (liquor) stores,  and other places that don’t sell fresh healthy  foods, or they do but they are overpriced and often spoiled and unsafe to eat.

No, instead taxing unhealthy food does we like to do- punish poor people for being poor, without providing any real solutions.

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