Week 11: Away, but still thinking about food justice

puerto-vallarta-768x432.jpgThis week I’m in Puerta Vallarta, Mexico. My parents won an all-inclusive vacation package, and I just couldn’t say no, since this is probably the last “free” vacation I’ll get to enjoy for awhile.

Below is a prescheduled blog post.

Towards the tail end of my “Make-it-yourself” week I decided to utilize some of the leftover takeout I had – in this case Veg 555, which is comprised of Paneer, Kofta, Manchurian balls, gobi & corn cooked in a “special” sauce – to create a new meal using whole ingredients. I ended up with a quasi Indian-Omelette. It was delicious and now I don’t think I’ll ever stop ordering takeout…


Since I am going to be in Mexico, I wanted to learn more about their food policies and food system.  What I found was really cool:

About three years ago, Mexico enacted a 10% tax on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) (carbonated and un-carbonated), in response to rising rates of obesity in the country. In 2012, 70% of adults and 30% of children were either overweight or obese.

The measure was a success. In the first year, sales of sugar-sweetened beverages fell 5.5 percent, and then an additional 4.2 percentage points in 2015. Even more promising, is that households at the lowest socioeconomic level showed the largest decreases in purchases (9% decrease in 2014 and 14.3 percent in 2015).

When I read that statistic I was really impressed and even happy. But I immediately remembered our class discussion regarding food coding. While, I’m not sure I entirely agree that there aren’t better or worse foods, I do think the message from Joe Soss’s article has merit. We tend to demonize the food choices of those of low income, communities of color, and people who are overweight or obese, without offering to help change the systems and structures which encourage them to purchase high-calorie, nutrient-low foods and beverages.

Neverless, I think this policy decision was a smart one. Mexico consumes more soda per capita than any other country and the consumption of SSBs is linked to obesity and diabetes, which is a leading cause of death in the country. Additionally, Mexico has the highest rates of deaths directly linked to SSBs.

The tax has been criticized as paternalistic; dictating what people should and should not eat and drink; but I tend to see it as a long-needed check on Big Soda’s untethered access to people’s homes and workplaces. You can’t escape Coke or Pepsi. They’re worldwide, cheap, and really effective at advertising.

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Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition and food studies at NYU and an extensive writer/blogger of food policy, said, “Sodas are deeply entrenched in Mexican culture as a result of deliberate soda marketing in the ’80s and ’90s. Because the water supply in Mexico is not very good, sodas replaced water, and they’re used in religious ceremonies, and they’re sold in 3-liter bottles there.  “So [the soda corporations] have enormous political power … because their political activities are so extraordinarily comprehensive.”

To provide evidence to that, Mexico’s president from 2000 to 2006 was Vicente Fox. Before his political career started, he was the president of Coca-Cola.

The United States has not had the success Mexico experienced in initiating SSB taxes. Big Soda has spent millions in opposition to these types of taxes, and so far they’ve blocked a majority of the attempts. However there are some key victories.  Berkeley, California was the first city to effectively pass a SSB tax. Philadelphia passed a 1.5 cents-per-ounce-tax on both SSBs and artificially sweetened beverages. Other cities with SSB taxes include: Oakland, California; Albany, California; Boulder, Colorado; and Cook County, Illinois.











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