Why it’s time to stick a fork in fast food

Could a junk food tax fight back the bulge?



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Every once in a while an issue hits the headlines that isn’t an issue at all, but a combination of a someone’s pet peeve and a slow news month: the rising tide of misandry (the war on men), reverse discrimination (the war on whites), draconian political correctness (the war on everything). And now, the ultimate non-issue issue: the war on fast food—or the “WAR ON FOOD FREEDOM” as Sun TV likes to call it. Even though the Canadian Medical Association Journal says “obesity is expected to surpass smoking as the leading cause of preventable mortality” in Canada, and roughly one-quarter of Americans eat fast food every day, our right to gluttony is apparently on the line. Big Brother is watching what you eat. In September, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg introduced the “Big Gulp” ban, which outlawed the sale of sugary drinks larger than 16 oz. everywhere except supermarkets and grocery stores (the ban is currently being contested in court by both the American Beverage Association and National Restaurant Association). Meanwhile in Ontario, student leaders are boycotting the fast food joints neighbouring their high schools; it appears the province’s year-old, health-food-only-cafeteria policy has teenagers running for the nearest McDonald’s. Students involved in the “Stick it to Fast Food” campaign are urging students to bring their own lunches through November, in the hope that their cafeterias will one day adopt lunchtime fare that is both nutritious and tasty.

The campaign, along with its controversial logo (a fork with only one tine in the air, reminiscent of a hand giving the middle finger), was inspired by ad executive Grant Gordon, whose anti-obesity speech struck a chord with the Ontario Student Trustees’ Association at the group’s annual meeting in May. “In our school boards all the time we hear that cafeterias aren’t good enough, students aren’t healthy enough,” said Hirad Zafari, the association’s president. “So we thought, why not, as the students who are elected to look out for the best interests of [our peers], do something to make it better?”

There’s no doubt that this campaign, like Mayor Bloomberg’s, will bring out a Canadian iteration of the veggie-averse Ayn-Rand-ian contingent, one hand firmly on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the other wrapped around a KFC Double Down (their argument being the right to stuff your face freely.) The state has no place in the bowels of the nation, they’ll insist—or a variation thereof—and if people can’t practise moderation in their diets, it isn’t some health nut’s job to do it for them. But people should practise moderation—if not for their own sake, then for the nation’s. Big Brother is watching what you eat, sure, but we’re the ones picking up the cheque. As Glen Hodgson, senior vice-president and chief economist at the Conference Board of Canada, noted in the Globe and Mail recently: “Rising obesity also carries a significant economic burden, very conservatively estimated at $4.6 billion in 2008 by the Canadian Institute for Health Information—and this number will only rise.”

It’s unlikely that the student trustees’ campaign will curb that statistic, or their peers’ love of greasy food (unless, perhaps, they go the pro-lifers’ route and hold up gigantic clogged-artery placards outside the nearest Arby’s) but there is something that possibly can: the Ontario Medical Association has proposed a tax on junk food to combat childhood obesity. OMA president Dr. Doug Weir believes that higher taxes and warning labels on junk food will lower obesity rates, in the same way taxation and warning labels have helped to significantly decrease smoking over the years. It would also likely create a stigma; moms won’t want to be seen buying their kids the snack with a stomach ulcer on the package. The Toronto Sun’s Paige MacPherson argues that a tax on junk food is a tax on the poor, because unlike affluent, policy-making people, poor folks can’t afford “gym memberships” and “quinoa salad from Pusateri’s.” Maybe so, but a box of quinoa is cheaper than a bucket of chicken from KFC and it lasts longer too. “A meal at McDonald’s for a family of four costs substantially more than a roast chicken dinner with some fresh vegetables,” Gordon notes. The OMA also proposed a tax decrease on healthy foods, which would balance out the alleged injustice of a tax increase on junk food.

In the end, the cynicism around so-called “nanny state” campaigns is understandable. It’s annoying when anyone—let alone government—tells you where to shop or what to eat. But it’s equally annoying when anti-tax types carp about a hypothetical tax burden in the present while ignoring the real one down the road. “Our kids have become fatter over the past few decades, which apparently means we must fatten our tax burden as well,” writes MacPherson. The conservative alternative? Do nothing, and let them fatten that burden all on their own.


Why it’s time to stick a fork in fast food

  1. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the future in the United States and Canada – and the rest of the world where obesity is on the rise. I remember taxes on cigarettes going up as a child – but will taxes on junk food cut back on obesity?
    Len Saunders

  2. Teitel do you think there is just enough of you, and too much of everyone else, in the world?

    • yeah Teitel. I had to write a rhetorical analysis cuz of you!

  3. The problem isn’t with the ‘nanny state’. The problem is that we are misled by lobbyist. How else would neurotoxins enter the marketplace as artificial sweeteners?

  4. cheap junk food = big bucks for the drug companies, at the end R.I.P.

  5. It’s actually been proven that consuming fat neither causes clogged arteries (atherosclerosis) nor obesity. But the acrylamide in deep fried foods has certainly been linked to cancer. The issue here is empty calories and the caloric density of fast foods.
    Canada’s food guide is STILL recommending 6-7 servings of grain products daily, which is idiotic. This alone can virtually guarantee an annual weight gain of at least 10 lbs.
    People who cut out fast carbs like bread, pasta, sugar, and dairy can conversely LOSE 10 lbs. in 2 weeks. If you doubt me, just try it.
    Instead of playing sports and engaging in some form of regular exercise most people are too glued to consumer electronics to get off their butts.
    MDs get one or two lectures in nutrition at medical school. Just shows you what importance this profession places on this vital aspect of human health. But ignoring it sure continues to ensure a steady stream of customers, doesn’t it?
    Leave it to them to suggest a tax instead of prividing practitioner courses in holistic nutrition in order to be able to actually counsel their patients and provide them with real-world shopping lists, menus, and recipes, which is what they REALLY need. And these can be tailored to suit any budget.
    Orthomolecular medicine (the science of nutrition) has been around a very long time. It should be incorporated into every medical course as a mainstay instead of being regarded as a financial threat to pharmaceutical interventions and other vested interests.
    People also need to be encouraged to take responsibility for their own health. This is where public education is really vital.
    I take issue with any campaign that’s based on taxes/cash grabbing and fear-mongering. Has anyone noticed that obesity already carries a social stigma? The OMA is totally out to lunch, probably a liquid one.

  6. a lot of poor people don’t have money for a decent place to live so where ever they’re sleeping it’s too nasty to cook that cheaper quiona.

    regarding the junk food in schools, that’s a culture issue. this whole environment is stressful. if you want to change what people chose to eat you need to overhaul the whole culture into something more positive, people overeat because it feels good. so if we make the people feel good, they will stop overeating. then it wont matter if there’s a candy machine because people wont be overeating it

    a tax on junk food WOULD be a tax on the poor,because people will continue their eating habits until there’s a change on the inside. poor people who eat junk food will still eat it, they’ll just be able to buy less food. people with money will still eat it too, but it won’t affect how much they can get at the grocery store.

    i’m saying this as someone who’s gone nearly vegetarian due to budget constraints and health reasons, and am going to go full vegetarian starting with my next grocery cycle so i can afford to eat only organic