A case to tax bad food…

news graphics 2007  644703a A case to tax bad food...  united states tax subsidize bad food

We just read this brilliant article in the NY Times, by writer Mark Bittman, about America taxing bad food and subsidizing vegetables. We don’t normally do this, but we are going to post the whole article, because this is a great Sunday read…

WHAT will it take to get Americans to change our eating habits? The need is indisputable, since heart disease, diabetes and cancer are all in large part caused by the Standard American Diet. (Yes, it’s SAD.)

Though experts increasingly recommend a diet high in plants and low in animal products and processed foods, ours is quite the opposite, and there’s little disagreement that changing it could improve our health and save tens of millions of lives.

And — not inconsequential during the current struggle over deficits and spending — a sane diet could save tens if not hundreds of billions of dollars in health care costs.

Yet the food industry appears incapable of marketing healthier foods. And whether its leaders are confused or just stalling doesn’t matter, because the fixes are not really their problem. Their mission is not public health but profit, so they’ll continue to sell the health-damaging food that’s most profitable, until the market or another force skews things otherwise. That “other force” should be the federal government, fulfilling its role as an agent of the public good and establishing a bold national fix.

Rather than subsidizing the production of unhealthful foods, we should turn the tables and tax things like soda, French fries, doughnuts and hyperprocessed snacks. The resulting income should be earmarked for a program that encourages a sound diet for Americans by making healthy food more affordable and widely available.

The average American consumes 44.7 gallons of soft drinks annually. (Although that includes diet sodas, it does not include noncarbonated sweetened beverages, which add up to at least 17 gallons a person per year.) Sweetened drinks could be taxed at 2 cents per ounce, so a six-pack of Pepsi would cost $1.44 more than it does now. An equivalent tax on fries might be 50 cents per serving; a quarter extra for a doughnut. (We have experts who can figure out how “bad” a food should be to qualify, and what the rate should be; right now they’re busy calculating ethanol subsidies. Diet sodas would not be taxed.)

Simply put: taxes would reduce consumption of unhealthful foods and generate billions of dollars annually. That money could be used to subsidize the purchase of staple foods like seasonal greens, vegetables, whole grains, dried legumes and fruit.

We could sell those staples cheap — let’s say for 50 cents a pound — and almost everywhere: drugstores, street corners, convenience stores, bodegas, supermarkets, liquor stores, even schools, libraries and other community centers.

This program would, of course, upset the processed food industry. Oh well. It would also bug those who might resent paying more for soda and chips and argue that their right to eat whatever they wanted was being breached. But public health is the role of the government, and our diet is right up there with any other public responsibility you can name, from water treatment to mass transit.

Some advocates for the poor say taxes like these are unfair because low-income people pay a higher percentage of their income for food and would find it more difficult to buy soda or junk. But since poor people suffer disproportionately from the cost of high-quality, fresh foods, subsidizing those foods would be particularly beneficial to them.

Right now it’s harder for many people to buy fruit than Froot Loops; chips and Coke are a common breakfast. And since the rate of diabetes continues to soar — one-third of all Americans either have diabetes or are pre-diabetic, most with Type 2 diabetes, the kind associated with bad eating habits — and because our health care bills are on the verge of becoming truly insurmountable, this is urgent for economic sanity as well as national health.

Justifying a Tax

At least 30 cities and states have considered taxes on soda or all sugar-sweetened beverages, and they’re a logical target: of the 278 additional calories Americans on average consumed per day between 1977 and 2001, more than 40 percent came from soda, “fruit” drinks, mixes like Kool-Aid and Crystal Light, and beverages like Red Bull, Gatorade and dubious offerings like Vitamin Water, which contains half as much sugar as Coke.

Some states already have taxes on soda — mostly low, ineffective sales taxes paid at the register. The current talk is of excise taxes, levied before purchase.

“Excise taxes have the benefit of being incorporated into the shelf price, and that’s where consumers make their purchasing decisions,” says Lisa Powell, a senior research scientist at the Institute for Health Research and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “And, as per-unit taxes, they avoid volume discounts and are ultimately more effective in raising prices, so they have greater impact.”

Much of the research on beverage taxes comes from the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale. Its projections indicate that taxes become significant at the equivalent of about a penny an ounce, a level at which three very good things should begin to happen: the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages should decrease, as should the incidence of disease and therefore public health costs; and money could be raised for other uses.

Even in the current antitax climate, we’ll probably see new, significant soda taxes soon, somewhere; Philadelphia, New York (city and state) and San Francisco all considered them last year, and the scenario for such a tax spreading could be similar to that of legalized gambling: once the income stream becomes apparent, it will seem irresistible to cash-strapped governments.

Currently, instead of taxing sodas and other unhealthful food, we subsidize them (with, I might note, tax dollars!). Direct subsidies to farmers for crops like corn (used, for example, to make now-ubiquitous high-fructose corn syrup) and soybeans (vegetable oil) keep the prices of many unhealthful foods and beverages artificially low. There are indirect subsidies as well, because prices of junk foods don’t reflect the costs of repairing our health and the environment.

Other countries are considering or have already started programs to tax foods with negative effects on health. Denmark’s saturated-fat tax is going into effect Oct. 1, and Romania passed (and then un-passed) something similar; earlier this month, a French minister raised the idea of tripling the value added tax on soda. Meanwhile, Hungary is proposing a new tax on foods with “too much” sugar, salt or fat, while increasing taxes on liquor and soft drinks, all to pay for state-financed health care; and Brazil’s Fome Zero (Zero Hunger) program features subsidized produce markets and state-sponsored low-cost restaurants.

Putting all of those elements together could create a national program that would make progress on a half-dozen problems at once — disease, budget, health care, environment, food access and more — while paying for itself. The benefits are staggering, and though it would take a level of political will that’s rarely seen, it’s hardly a moonshot.

The need is dire: efforts to shift the national diet have failed, because education alone is no match for marketing dollars that push the very foods that are the worst for us. (The fast-food industry alone spent more than $4 billion on marketing in 2009; the Department of Agriculture’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion is asking for about a third of a percent of that in 2012: $13 million.) As a result, the percentage of obese adults has more than doubled over the last 30 years; the percentage of obese children has tripled. We eat nearly 10 percent more animal products than we did a generation or two ago, and though there may be value in eating at least some animal products, we could perhaps live with reduced consumption of triple bacon cheeseburgers.

Government and Public Health

Health-related obesity costs are projected to reach $344 billion by 2018 — with roughly 60 percent of that cost borne by the federal government. For a precedent in attacking this problem, look at the action government took in the case of tobacco.

The historic 1998 tobacco settlement, in which the states settled health-related lawsuits against tobacco companies, and the companies agreed to curtail marketing and finance antismoking efforts, was far from perfect, but consider the results. More than half of all Americans who once smoked have quit and smoking rates are about half of what they were in the 1960s.

It’s true that you don’t need to smoke and you do need to eat. But you don’t need sugary beverages (or the associated fries), which have been linked not only to Type 2 diabetes and increased obesity but also to cardiovascular diseases and decreased intake of valuable nutrients like calcium. It also appears that liquid calories provide less feeling of fullness; in other words, when you drink a soda it’s probably in addition to your other calorie intake, not instead of it.

To counter arguments about their nutritional worthlessness, expect to see “fortified” sodas — à la Red Bull, whose vitamins allegedly “support mental and physical performance” — and “improved” junk foods (Less Sugar! Higher Fiber!). Indeed, there may be reasons to make nutritionally worthless foods less so, but it’s better to decrease their consumption.

Forcing sales of junk food down through taxes isn’t ideal. First off, we’ll have to listen to nanny-state arguments, which can be countered by the acceptance of the anti-tobacco movement as well as a dozen other successful public health measures. Then there are the predictions of job loss at soda distributorships, but the same predictions were made about the tobacco industry, and those were wrong. (For that matter, the same predictions were made around the nickel deposit on bottles, which most shoppers don’t even notice.) Ultimately, however, both consumers and government will be more than reimbursed in the form of cheaper healthy staples, lowered health care costs and better health. And that’s a big deal.

The Resulting Benefits

A study by Y. Claire Wang, an assistant professor at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health, predicted that a penny tax per ounce on sugar-sweetened beverages in New York State would save $3 billion in health care costs over the course of a decade, prevent something like 37,000 cases of diabetes and bring in $1 billion annually. Another study shows that a two-cent tax per ounce in Illinois would reduce obesity in youth by 18 percent, save nearly $350 million and bring in over $800 million taxes annually.

Scaled nationally, as it should be, the projected benefits are even more impressive; one study suggests that a national penny-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages would generate at least $13 billion a year in income while cutting consumption by 24 percent. And those numbers would swell dramatically if the tax were extended to more kinds of junk or doubled to two cents an ounce. (The Rudd Center has a nifty revenue calculator online that lets you play with the numbers yourself.)

A 20 percent increase in the price of sugary drinks nationally could result in about a 20 percent decrease in consumption, which in the next decade could prevent 1.5 million Americans from becoming obese and 400,000 cases of diabetes, saving about $30 billion.

It’s fun — inspiring, even — to think about implementing a program like this. First off, though the reduced costs of healthy foods obviously benefit the poor most, lower prices across the board keep things simpler and all of us, especially children whose habits are just developing, could use help in eating differently. The program would also bring much needed encouragement to farmers, including subsidies, if necessary, to grow staples instead of commodity crops.

Other ideas: We could convert refrigerated soda machines to vending machines that dispense grapes and carrots, as has already been done in Japan and Iowa. We could provide recipes, cooking lessons, even cookware for those who can’t afford it. Television public-service announcements could promote healthier eating. (Currently, 86 percent of food ads now seen by children are for foods high in sugar, fat or sodium.)

Money could be returned to communities for local spending on gyms, pools, jogging and bike trails; and for other activities at food distribution centers; for Meals on Wheels in those towns with a large elderly population, or for Head Start for those with more children; for supermarkets and farmers’ markets where needed. And more.

By profiting as a society from the foods that are making us sick and using those funds to make us healthy, the United States would gain the same kind of prestige that we did by attacking smoking. We could institute a national, comprehensive program that would make us a world leader in preventing chronic or “lifestyle” diseases, which for the first time in history kill more people than communicable ones. By doing so, we’d not only repair some of the damage we have caused by first inventing and then exporting the Standard American Diet, we’d also set a new standard for the rest of the world to follow.

From The Citrus Report

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“Island Study” Gif by Nicolas Sassoon

Island Study 605x661 “Island Study” Gif by Nicolas Sassoon  nicolas sassoon gif

Made for a benefit compilation for Japan, Nicolas Sassoon does a good job with this “Island Study” gif, because if you like gifs, you appreciate when someone does something a bit different. Lots of good gifs to be found here.

Click to watch it move.


From The Citrus Report

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Jean Genet Centennial

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Initially I was going to write about him. Just him- Jean Genet.

I was going to go into details about how he was the son of a prostitute, that he was abandoned at the age of one, how he was a thief, a criminal, a whore, how he’s considered by many to be one of the world’s greatest 20th-century writers, how he spent half his youth in a prison, how he roamed Europe as a vagrant, a vagabond, how his work went from being banned around the world to revered or how, through the aid of a petition drafted by Jean Cocteau and Jean-Paul Sartre and signed and endorsed by Pablo Picasso, Alberto Giacometti and a multitude of others, his sentence for being a long-time criminal went from being a life-sentence to a full and irrevocable pardon in France, how he inspired millions of strangers and persons familiar, from the aforementioned Cocteau, Picasso, Sartre and Giacometti, to David Bowie, Chris Marker, Patti Smith, Ginsberg, Burroughs, Bukowski, Jackson Pollock, Fassbinder, Jean-Luc Godard, André Gide, Jonas Mekas, Kenneth Anger, Jack Smith, Warhol, Mapplethorpe, Morrissey, Antony Hegarty, Foucault, Derrida, Stravinsky, Anselm Kiefer, etc.-

I could have talked about his writing, his films, his poetry, his plays, his literature or drawings, how he has been described as everything from a revolutionary, a criminal, a poet, an activist, a thief, a whore, a hero. But I didn’t, I couldn’t. Facts are boring- the truth relating to oneself around a person and his creations is always infinitely more entertaining. This then, is that.

The beginning of this story is for something else, a different time and a different place.
I can only give the setting and a few fragments of my former self at the moment that these events took place, when they took place- and they did take place.

I was young, younger than I am now. A few months had passed since I landed in Frankfurt, since I had walked from there to Paris, since I was close to being raped, since I had starved, since I nearly starved, since I found the true definitions to words I’d only known fragments of (hunger, cold, etc.), since I was living in the street, since I had managed to survive the winter, since I had broken into those homes, since I had lied, cheated and stolen my way out of starvation, since I had found that woman, since she had found me and since I was living in her house, going from being on the street and under the bridge to an apartment in the 1st Arrondissement overlooking the Seine with rent being several pages of writing a day. A few months had passed-

I was at the age where nothing was more terrifying and beautiful than a beautiful woman. She was a beautiful woman. Older, half-Italian / half-French, with voluptuous hair, and eyes, nose and lips perfect in their formation and feature. We talked for awhile in the falling light, her body framed by the architecture of the city in back of her. After awhile, she looked at her wrist, saying how she had to get going, “and what way are you headed back, perhaps you’d like to walk with me?”
I looked at her and smiled, saying that I had nowhere to be really, and that I was headed wherever she was. We walked down Rue Saint-Honoré, the buildings and everything around seeming to be so much clearer; my mind emptied of everything I had been thinking of earlier.
I walked her to her apartment. We sat on the staircase which led to her door and as night fell around us, she gradually began to get up, heading towards her door.
She asked me where I was staying and I was so mesmerized with the conversation, not that the content was anything spectacular, but just the fact that it was a conversation- I looked at her and realized that she was the first person I had talked to in months since my arrival in the city. It shocked me.
She asked her question again- where was I staying.
I looked down, taking my hands out of my pockets, the grain of the denim / jeans being imprinted on the surfaces of my wrists. I told her that I wasn’t staying anywhere. I began to elaborate, saying how tonight it would probably be under the tree or the bridge or, if it got colder, I knew of a bakery near the river I could break into where they don’t come inside until after eleven. She came down a few steps, coming closer to me.
“You really have no place to stay tonight?”
I shook my head.
“Well, you seem harmless and I have the space..if you’d like to come up for the night you can. It’s an invitation.”
I don’t know why, but I declined at first, saying that she was being too kind. She grabbed me by the hand however, shook off whatever feeling I was feeling, and together we walked up the spiraling set of steps, past the third floor and onto the fourth, entering her house and sitting on the couch together. She got up, my eyes following her figure and its curvatures of silhouette in the moonlight. She turned on the lamp and came back to the couch with two glasses of water.
“So,” she said, “tell me about yourself. I know so little.”
I talked for a moment but was interrupted by her weight which she had begun to place the majority of on top of the lower portion of my legs and eventually my thighs. She asked me a question, one whose algorithm I cannot remember for at the exact moment that I was to answer her, she brought her lips to mine. And just as one thing leads to another, one thing led to another- our actions and movements taking up the majority of our memory, the two of us waking later in the morning without remembering we had fallen asleep.

When I woke she was still sleeping. I looked at the window from where I was sitting, over the edge of the couch, watching the curtain slowly move in a recurring pattern resembling water on an evening shore. I unraveled my limbs from hers, shaking the blood back into them and hobbled over to the bathroom where I washed the sleep out from my face.
She was in a different position by the time I came back to her, having turned over the other way from the couch, a sheet covering her body though its outline still very much visible. She mumbled something that I didn’t understand and I grabbed my typewriter from my pile of things and went into the other room to write so as not to disturb her.
For every ten pages written in the morning, there’s only ever one that’s worth keeping. I wrote vigorously, madly- throwing out papers and crossing out lines. As I began to edit the text, she came in and sat down next to me. We talked briefly and she handed me a cup of tea while I watched the trails of steam from each cup spiral their way in a Fibonacci pattern toward the ceiling. She put her arm across the back of my neck, looking at me warmly. There are moments and fragments of a person’s face that you will never forget and this moment will never escape me. It seemed that just as she looked at me, the light from the spaces of the city outside aligned and made their way into the room in the only way that they could- perfectly outlining everything there was that was beautiful about her and amplifying it to different degrees.
“Stay here,” she said, “I’ll be right back.”
And just as she said, she came back, each hand filled with a plate of food.
“I’m guessing you’re hungry after all the moving around last night,” she smiled.
We ate together and as I was so young, new thoughts occurred to me that seem so common now but were a revelation then- just how strange this world is that it is and how it is that people can come together and share something, a piece or a part of themselves just through the strands of communication.

We must have fucked after that night for every night that she was there. She came up with a rental agreement for me to stay there in which she would keep all the writing that I was throwing out during the day. I would wake up every morning, some days she would be gone, a plate of cold food on the table by my head and a note, the same note all the time written in her small handwriting and small letters. She was one of those persons who used three exclamation points to accentuate a sentence instead of one. It seemed sweet to me. I would eat the food, every other day taking a shower, long and warm, after which I would come out and sprawl out on the floor, air-drying myself with the cold April breeze coming through the window.
Sometimes she would come back a few hours after I woke, other times it would be a few days, all the while while I was writing and working on my work.
Sometimes I would sit on the balcony, stare out at the city and its nothing for hours, my eyes following nothing and my vision perceiving no real depth- I just stared at the mass of the city in front of me, digested its aura and would go back in the room to write, taking in those quiet thoughts that occupy the spaces of one’s mind that can never be quieted down when they start and can never be started on contact whence quieted.
It seemed perfect, this time, but time can never be perfect for it is continually and constantly evolving, moving and changing. There is never a now, now is always behind you and you are the only thing that is forever.

One day, she came home. I was writing in the study and she came in, asking me what it was that I was reading and I realized that I hadn’t had a good book in awhile, not since I had been traveling in between Germany and France.
She told me to go through her library and pick through it- “any book you want,” is what she said. I scoured the shelves, a floor-to-ceiling full of books, each spine either drawing me in or repelling me. I looked around and out the corner of my periphery saw the word “thief” and reached my hand for the book. It was a used, second-hand copy of The Thief’s Journal, by Jean Genet.
I took it from down the shelf, read the first sentence and had to sit down- unable to put the book down, finding myself drawn in immediately. The library room had no windows and when I finished the book I came out into daylight, stunted by the sun and walking in that dreamlike state that a person has after they have experienced something that they know has changed them.
I reread the book over the span of the next several days, never noticing a curious inscription on the inner flap of the front cover until about a week later.
The book was inscribed to the woman I was staying with and signed with “Your Loving Husband, Georges”.
I was sort of dumbfounded. When she came back the next day I asked her about it and in the most nonchalant way, as if I asked her the most simple question, she answered with one breath and one word whether or not she had a husband- yes.
It felled me. I sort of collapsed within myself, not yet knowing, unfortunately, how common the acts of infidelity are within people. She sort of breathed off the matter, and when I asked her whether or not it ever occurred to her to tell me, she said that “it’s unfortunate that you found out.”
The whole thing was fascinating to me in its simplicity to her and its intricacy to me, something I assume can be attributed to our large age gap- her 41 and myself 17 at the time.

She gave me the book and after the book nothing seemed to matter, the city didn’t matter, my hunger didn’t matter, the fact that I had to leave Paris in order to help a struggling sibling didn’t matter- nothing mattered at all. Just the book. I devoured that book as though it were my last meal on death row and everything that Genet wrote it seemed that I was seeing around me, bearing witness to and living or experiencing in an offset way.

And that was my introduction to the work of Jean Genet.

– Jason Jaworski

Las Vegas, NV – 12/19/2010

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Seriously, what is all this bullshit that John McCain has support of the military and even knows what the military wants?

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This guy is really a son of a bitch. He thinks he has some sort of clue on the pulse of the military, but he is so far fucking off that we really need to understand why he is even a voice of respect in any facet of American Right Wing Fuck Show politics.

He is pushing this “don’t repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” because he keeps claiming that soldiers doesn’t want to repeal the mandate.

Well, you old fuck face according to the AP, “Senator John McCain continues to stand in the way of history: He argued strenuously against repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell on Thursday, saying a repeal would be “premature.” He seized on the study’s finding that 60 percent of Marines support the policy—even though 70 percent of the overall military has few or no problems with a repeal—to argue that it would be dangerous to lift the policy during war. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen directly challenged McCain. “Repeal of the law will not prove unacceptable risk to military readiness,” Mullen said.

We trust Gates and Mullen far more than we respect and trust this Sarah Palin-picking mess. This guy needs to go.

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