Can A Penny Tax On Sugary Sodas Create Change?


This week the residents of San Francisco and Berkeley, California, will be voting on a proposed tax on sugary soda. It’s not the first time soda has come under the firing gun, but it’s possibly the first one poised for success. Northern California, land of edible schoolyards, plentiful farmers markets, and Michael Pollan, already seems like a region that has drunk the Kool Aid, so one wonders: Can a soda tax become the first step in fighting the poor American diet?

These proposals are exciting, but the soda tax is mere pennies: one cent in Berkeley, and two cents in San Francisco. A similar but different tax, the one on cigarettes, has proven extremely effective, and is scheduled to rise in 2015 with Obama’s proposed increase of almost one dollar. What will it take for sugar to be seen as just as villainous as cigarettes?

Last Monday Mitchell Davis, executive vice president of the James Beard Organization, interviewed food writer Mark Bittman. We had convened for two days to discuss nutrition and our wish for a healthier America––a conference sponsored by the foundation. Dozens of doctors were in attendance, as were writers, yoga teachers, nonprofits, chefs and entrepreneurs.

“Is there evidence that there’s a food movement?” Davis posed the question to Bittman, and I waited anxiously for his response. At first he said no. Then he said yes.

“It’s small but important,” he said. “Foodies recognize that food workers are poorly treated, which will lead to demands for higher wages.”

His answer surprised me.

You can read the full piece on Medium.



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