The Fat Tax and YOU!

Posted: October 23, 2012 in doctors, my tubby self, Rant, weight loss

I have been overweight all my life, so no story hits closer to home for me then when someone starts talking about the “obesity epidemic”. It hits even closer to home when the story is a group of skinny apathetic people trying to “solve” the “problem” of obesity, like I am an errant X in an algebra equation that they are hoping will sort itself out if they calculate hard enough. So a group of doctors in Ontario have come up with a list of recommendations for battling obesity. Not suprisingly they are taking the exact same stance on fatty foods as they do on cigarettes, why screw with a winning formula I guess. The current list of suggesstions includes:

– Restricting marketing of fatty and sugary foods to children.

I would also like to restrict marketing of mass market, over-priced toys to children. oh, and insultingly stupid children’s movies. It would be nice if they didn’t watch all those pointless and violent cartoons either. So I guess it’s watching C-Span and eating rice cakes from now on kiddies. I mean, this isn’t necessarily a bad idea but it’s not like you are going to get Bran Flakes to start sponsoring kids shows either, so there needs to be something to replace it with.

– Placing graphic warning labels on pop and other high-calorie foods with little to no nutritional value.

I don’t remember a single smoker going “Boy, that label is just damn gross, I am done with these things.” Actually, the labels would probably be counter productive once kids figure it out. The package with the diabetes amputation warning is the tasty stuff kids! This is actually pretty insulting to be honest, like there is someone who mistakes sugar frosted corn-syrup flakes for a healthy breakfast and it is only the keen insight of an Ontario doctor who can set that person straight. Assuming your audience is too thick to figure it out on their own without a medical professional taking them by the hand is the sort of contempt that makes average people’s teeth grind.

– Adding retail displays for high-sugar, high-fat foods that prominently advise consumers of the health risks.

I ignore the retail displays now, adding a big sign with nutritional facts and warnings is LESS likely to make me stop and care. I am there to shop, not read about all my bad life choices in order of nutritional value.

– Restricting the availability of sugary, low-nutritional value foods in sports and other recreational facilities frequented by young people.

Get rid of Coke machines, because recreation centres exist in the land of make-believe where convenience stores aren’t 2 blocks away at most. Regardless, most of those places are getting some sort of rent or a cut from the vending company. That is money that suddenly has to be made up somehow. I am not saying it is a bad idea necessarily but if one rink or basketball court has to close over not enough funds than it will actually cause considerable more harm than any good it did.

Then comes the big one and my personal favourite.

– Increasing taxes on junk food and decreasing taxes on healthy foods.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you the FAT TAX. It won’t matter what the government calls it (food rebate adjustment?), that is what it is and that is what everyone will call it.

So besides it being an inelegant solution born of a lack of empathy and understanding of the causes of obesity, besides it sending a strong message of judgement to those who aren’t at the government approved average body weight, beside it being the exact opposite of everything I know about the psychology of the obese and those hoping to lose weight (by being a punishment against the obese instead of an incentive and reward for losing weight) let’s look at why this idea is just plain old going to fail.

– To me, taxes are a purely political maneuver and this will be seen as such. The story won’t be about the healthy benefits of the program, the focus will be raising taxes on an already highly taxed nation. Motives will be questioned to the Nth degree and any politician who tables it had better be squeaky clean and probably vegan or he will be viewed as a hypocrite. If he is a vegan he will be viewed as biased and out of touch with common citizens. Talk about a no win scenario. This isn’t about luxury items, this is about essentials and it will be taken as a political scheme no matter how honourable the intentions.

– There is no tax on food in this country (at least none that I know of), they are talking about raising and lowering a tax that doesn’t exist. I thought food might be subject to the GST (goods and services tax) but it turns out that the government that implemented the tax was so afraid of the backlash of taxing food that they raised the actual tax rate but exempted food. The only exemption to the GST food exemption (I shit you not, this is an actual thing) is for savoury snacks (chips and chip like snacks), salted nuts, granola products and snack mixture. So essentially there is already a fat tax on the worst offenders of the food world and it has done sweet fuck all to curb obesity. So other than those listed in order to have a lower tax on good food and a higher tax on bad food you would have to CREATE a tax which would mean the price of everything would go up. Instead of a punishment/reward system, everybody gets punished and it is a matter of degrees. Good luck getting elected officials to support that or average consumers not to openly rebel. That is a burden the lower class can’t afford.

– You could create a tax on just bad food but it wouldn’t correspond to any decrease on the other end, thus it would just be a money grab, none of the money raised by the tax would be used for the intended purpose of lowering the cost of good food. If you attempted to get companies to lower prices by handing them the fat tax money that would be government trying to directly control the market which would be massively frowned upon. Setting prices is not really the job of the government in a capitalist society and no one wants to see their tax dollars wasted on private corporations.

– You could remove GST exemption for food I suppose, I mean, they already have their exemption to the exemption. Then you have all the bad parts of creating a food tax PLUS the money raised would just be part of the standard budget instead of being earmarked for anything like obesity studies or cancer research. That would be officially giving up all pretence of it being a positive attempt at curbing obesity and would just become discriminating against fat people for the sake of extra tax dollars. That is on top of the fact that taxing chips doesn’t seem to be stopping people from buying them (I honestly didn’t know I was being taxed for them until I researched this blog post so it wasn’t slowing me down in the slightest).

– Actually, it wouldn’t even really punish just the obese. Who the hell hasn’t had a shitty meal from time to time? Who hasn’t popped a frozen pizza in the oven between work and soccer practice for the kids. Why can’t a perfectly healthy person chow down on a bag of chips from time to time. He isn’t about to become a burden to the healthcare system, so why must he face punishment? It is easy to tax cigarettes or booze, not only are they not essential but it won’t effect millions of people several times a day. Try telling the entire population that their food court lunch just increased a buck or two and watch your party get shit-canned in the next election.

– This all begs the question of who gets to decide what is considered bad and good food. Do we let a vegan decide and eat tofu for the rest of our lives? Do we let government decide? I don’t trust politicians to sit the right way on a toilet seat. Do we leave it to doctors? What about that 1 out of 5 doctors that doesn’t recommend my brand of flu medication? Does he get a vote or not? Again, cigarettes and booze are easy to tax, it either is a cigarette or it isn’t, there isn’t a grey area. Considering the way science flip-flops on food health every day there is no straight answer on what should or shouldn’t be taxed. Sure, potato chips seem obvious but it become REALLY subjective, REALLY fast. Is butter good or bad? Is it better than margarine? What kind of cheese is considered the healthiest? Should I show up to the grocery store with a graphing calculator and some loose leaf?

– In the end I think the biggest problem is that the obese aren’t a “problem” to be “solved” (despite what this group of doctors seems to believe), it is a group of people who need help. Having lived with it all my life, I know that if I ever do get to a healthy weight it will be because of my hard work and the help of supportive people cheering me on, not because the government made Cheese Poofs and Coke a dollar more expensive. Maybe it is time for these doctors to bring on a psychiatrist as well, maybe even actually talk to a fat guy not just talk down to one. I am always available for consult.

Rancid Monke

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