I love food and drink. I grew up in Singapore, surrounded by some of the best food and drink imaginable, from every Asian culture imaginable. Cuisine all the way from the deserts of Rajasthan to the Tropical Island of Hainan graced my palate and they have come to define how I see food. It is an experience; a choice that people make that brings people together. It has transcended necessity and become a source of community. Irrespective of who you were or where you came from, the food you ate was essentially the same. It is one of the few things that make us quintessentially human.
I am a big believer in the idea of field to plate. It is a simple way to reduce the carbon footprint of our food and an even easier way to ensure that the produce that we are consuming is fresh. I hold a very low opinion of soft drinks (even though I am probably addicted to grape soda) and an even lower opinion of processed foods. However, despite my strong advocacy for healthy, natural eating, I will forever be against the Sugar Tax as it stands in Britain.
Jamie Oliver has made a name for himself being a very pretty British man who cooks food on the TV. He’s purported himself as a sort of “rustic” food ambassador and has made great leaps to ensure the lunches of children and adults are as healthy as they can be. Initially, the definition of “healthy” was home-cooked meals ranging from British classics to bastardized versions of ex-colonial dishes. (Side note: Please don’t cook your curry in the oven, it’s a pot dish for a reason).
Campaigning for people to eat more home-cooked meals is something that I support. This is of course also realising that sometimes people do not live in a places or circumstances that allow them to have access or time to cook these foods. Something that I fear Mr. Oliver has forgotten with his strong stance for a sugar tax.
I would also like to pre-emptively rebut (read: strawman) any comments such as, “Oh, I buy all my produce from a local vegan farmers market and everything is extremely cheap”. Consider the idea that many people who are of lower SES (socio-economic status) than you generic inner city resident, don’t have access to the time or money to go to local vegan farmers markets or even the tools or facilities needed to cook and store these.
Some time after the slow death of the pseudo-rustic food trend, Jamie Oliver turned his attention to childhood obesity. This is an incredibly noble cause and I commend him for attempting to take a stand against it. It is interesting to note how far we as a species have come when we begin to suffer from excessive energy levels (obviously I am referring to the developed world here).
Personally, I think the best way to combat childhood obesity is to educate parents and children about the benefits of healthy eating along with the removal of GST on fresh produce no matter where they are from.
What Jamie Oliver did, however, was lobby the English government to pass a controversial piece of legislation known as the Sugar Tax.
What this means, to put it in the most blunt and simple terms is as following:
”Drinks with more than 8 grams of sugar per 100 millilitres will be taxed at a higher rate than drinks with less than 5 grams of sugar per 100 millilitres.
“Pure fruit juices and milkshakes will not be subject to the sugar-levy.”
This tax, like all other sin taxes, will without a doubt affect individuals and families of lower SES more so than any other group. This is a well documented fact. While I concede that there may be a decrease in the purchasing of these drinks, I would say that there would be an increase in goods that aren’t covered by this tax. Goods such as fruit juices, milkshakes, milk products, no sugar sodas (which have their own issue attached to them), will no doubt increase in usage and popularity.
Let’s not buy into this health guardian hype that the government will attempt to present itself as. This is nothing more than revenue raising that will only affect the worse off of society so people who eat imported kale and avocados can feel extra good about their salvation of people who want to make their own decisions. The government could have removed the goods and services tax on any fresh produce. This would hopefully lead to a decrease in prices, and make it more viable for people in lower SES to consume the fresh produce. There could have simply been money moved from subsidizing big food businesses and moved towards public education of the preparation of good food. However, these are all rational, effective policies that may work and we all know that government is not in the business of getting results.
The person I feel most sorry for is Jamie Oliver. I get it mate, childhood obesity is a serious problem. But is punishing consenting low SES adults the way to really affect change in society? This tax is nothing more than a punishment for people having poor luck in life. The UK government claims that the money will be used to fund fitness programs and sports in public schools, but unlike the very rigorous laws that will be written in regarding the taxation of the sugar products, there is no legal precedent for the money to be spent on anything positive. This means that the money that they take from the tax could be used towards anything other than solving the issue the tax claims to solve.
In conclusion, my warmest regards to the members of the British parliament as they return to their homes bought by their £87,000 annual salary and drink their tea with (un-taxed, fat filled) milk. I do hope that next time they pretend to care about childhood obesity and fixing problems, they endeavour to do so without raising revenue and increasing the cost of living of already struggling parents.