Would you pay $1.44 more for a six-pack of Pepsi? What about 50 cents more for your favorite french fries?
Mark Bittman, journalist and food activist, is banking on the answer being no – and yes. In a recent New York Times opinion piece, Bittman outlined a push for creating an excise tax on certain foods deemed to be unhealthy, with the subsidies used to promote healthier options.
Despite my initial cringe at the reference to “bad food” (I work tirelessly to eliminate the categorical and moral language of “good” and “bad” when it comes to food among my patients), I read on to learn more about Bittman’s theory.
And what he suggests makes sense – at least initially. He starts his argument by reminding us all of the dangers of obesity (another cringe, but still reading…) and the increasing health-care costs piling up due to our heavily non-nutritive U.S. diet of potato chips and doughnuts.
He suggests that the food industry is incapable of marketing healthier foods (and based on my analysis of the baby carrot gaffe, I would have to agree) and are not incentivized to do so. Thus, he says, it’s up to the federal government to intervene on behalf of the health of its citizens.
What makes a tax such as this more palatable is that the funds generated – which are expected to be in the billions – would help to subsidize healthy food options for the poor, something that is direly needed regardless of the means. Indeed, a substantial proportion of our nation lives in what has been termed food deserts, areas that lack access to affordable fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat milk due to lack of transportation, proximities of grocery stores, or other reasons. (To determine if your area is a food desert, check out this locator.)
According to Bittman, as well as researchers at the Rudd Center for Food Policy at Yale, an excise tax would work to decrease the consumption of sugary foods, decrease disease and health-care costs, and raise funds for health-focused programs. Millions of Americans would benefit from having nutrient-rich foods more available and making feeding their children healthy options one less thing to worry about. The potential impact of this cannot be overstated.
But we’re still left with the difficult questions about the role of government in helping us make our food choices. Bittman suggests that public health has always been the role of government. But does public health call for making Red Bull less affordable?
Also, what is the long-term impact of beginning to categorize foods as good or bad, as would be required to decide on what items to tax? If one food is taxed and another is not, should that really inform our food choices? What about making those decisions based on our own body’s particular needs and desires?
I also worry about the implications of the data that has and will most certainly been used to popularize these types of initiatives. When we talk about posting calories at restaurants and other such (formerly radical) ideas, proponents frequently point to the “obesity epidemic” and the “war on obesity,” a term and movement fraught with bias and discrimination. Is there a way to propose a food tax without implying fat people make bad food choices unless made to pay more? Perhaps, but it’ll require more creativity than we often see in politics and the media today.
Those are some of my initial thoughts, but I want to hear yours! What do you think?
Make sure to share your reactions, thoughts, and ideas in the comment section below! We need to learn from one another.
Shortly after my post outlining my effort to honor the earth by going vegetarian for a month, I received an email from reader and fellow blogger, Robyn Goddard. As a South Dakota rancher who details her adventures (and yummy recipes!) on her site, The Ranch Wife Chronicles, Robyn commended me for doing some research before eliminating meat and pointed me to some wonderful resources on the misconceptions about her field. Recognizing the importance of seeing both sides of this issue, I invited Robyn to share some of her thoughts on beef’s benefits with Nourishing the Soul readers. I so appreciated her taking time to give beef another voice!
As a cattle producer, beef runs deep in my blood. My husband and I are the fourth generation on his family’s South Dakota ranch. I grew up raising cattle in south central Nebraska.
Our family business is raising wholesome, safe, and healthy beef to feed America and the world. Equally or more important to raising cattle is environmental stewardship. Ranchers and farmers are dedicated to protecting natural resources and passing our legacy on to future generations. If we do not take care of the land, we can not produce high quality meat for your family or our own.
Ranchers work hard everyday to ensure that the land and animals in their control are treated with the utmost respect and care. A few examples we carry out on our ranch include conservation and anti-erosion practices, grass utilization and water quality maintenance. Without compassion for the environment, my husband and I would not be able to carry on our family business. A rancher’s primary goal is to improve the environment. If we take care of the land and improve our natural recourses, they will take care of us and the next generation.
Not only that, but calorie for calorie, beef provides some of the highest quality nutrients the body can get. Beef adds “ZIP” (zinc, iron and protein) to your diet, so you can fuel up with a complete, high-quality protein that provides all the essential amino-acids the body needs.
Zinc, Iron and B vitamins are important in cognitive development and functioning. They play a vital role in brain function, including memory health and the ability to learn and reason. I don’t know about you, but I need all the help I can get in the memory department!
Beef helps the body remain healthy as zinc aids is maintaining a properly functioning immune system and assists in healing the body. B6 assists the body in defense against infections.
My own body needs high-quality protein when I work out. Iron aids red blood cells to carry oxygen from the lungs to vital organs and muscles. Proteins are essential for normal growth and development, in addition to building muscle mass. Protein is an essential energy source and assists in regulating metabolism and maintaining a healthy weight.
Beef’s fatty acid profile is commonly misunderstood. About half of the fatty acids found in beef are monounsaturated — the same heart-healthy fats found in olive oil! Only about 40% of fat in beef is saturated. The body needs some saturated fat to function properly. Saturated fat helps to increase the feeling of satisfaction after a meal and transports fat-soluble vitamins.
Beef has 29 cuts of meat that meet the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s requirements for “lean meat.” I recommend you grill a steak or hamburger and enjoy the great taste of American raised beef. Take advantage of all the nutritional benefits of this red meat powerhouse.
When you buy American raised beef, you are not only purchasing nourishment, but also sustaining a treasured way of life. You are supporting the American rancher and the traditions we work so hard to preserve.
What do you think about the impact of animal agriculture? Do you share Robyn’s passion for beef? Did anything she said surprise you?
I just got back from a sweaty four-mile run, and as I sit here typing I’m noticing the familiar pangs of post-exercise hunger creeping in. My body is signaling to me that it has expended my energy stores – it wants fuel to keep operating. I know that if I don’t feed myself soon (usually within 30 minutes after intense physical activity), I’m going to start getting light-headed, irritable, and unable to focus.
This post-workout hunger – and the necessary response of eating – are what experts consider the reason that exercise doesn’t usually lead to weight loss. Yes, you read that right. Exercise and weight loss do not go hand in hand.
Study after study suggests that, contrary to popular belief, spending more time on the elliptical does not lead to a smaller figure. That might be frustrating news to the 45 million Americans who belong to fitness clubs, a number that has increased since 2001 according to the IHRSA.
While not everyone joins a gym to get skinny, it is the primary reason cited for exercise. Sometimes it’s snuck into a litany of other reasons – to keep up with the kids, get my blood pressure under control, to make my partner happy – but people will usually still identify weight loss or weight control as a reason for hitting the treadmill.
Perhaps disappointing to these individuals, doctors and researchers have fairly solid evidence that exercise won’t result in a slimmer waistline. In a 2009 Time magazine article, Eric Ravussin, prominent exercise researchers and faculty at Louisiana State University stated unequivocally, ”In general, for weight loss, exercise is pretty useless.”
Ravussin and others in the field explain that exercise tends to increase and stimulate our hunger, resulting in a reversal of the energy expenditure we just created once we eat. And we need to eat! Experts agree that it’s important to nourish your body after a workout to replace glycogen in your body. It’s also important in order to avoid excessive hunger that could lead to a binge later.
So why I am telling you how ineffective exercise is for weight loss? Because there are so many reasons to exercise that have nothing do with our size – reasons that got so lost in the bombardment of messages of how our cardio routine can blast belly fat.
In a 2009 study, participants who considered themselves sedentary and had body mass indices in the obese range, took up supervised exercise for twelve weeks. What researchers found was that weight did not significantly change. Before you call the experiment a wash though, consider that most of the individuals did increase their aerobic capacity, decreased their blood pressure and resting heart rates, and improved their mood.
Other benefits of exercise include building healthy bones and joints, reducing the risk of diabetes and cancer, and improving circulation. Even more fascinating, exercise, especially mindful exercise, has been shown to improve mood, increase learning ability, and improve body image. And that’s all without the scale changing a bit.
Once we can let go of the association between exercise and weight loss, we can start to focus on doing things that we actually enjoy. Rather than a punishment to whip our bodies into a certain size or shape, we can approach exercise as a way of honoring our bodies as another expression of our selves. This means taking rest as seriously as movement, and finding activities we truly love– even if the calorie expenditure is low.