Mexico to tackle obesity with a taxes on junk food and sugary drinks

The Guardian – Friday 1st November

As Mexico’s obesity rate surpasses that of the US, the government is cracking down on junk food and sugary drinks. Described by the Guardian as the ‘standard bearer in the global fight against obesity’ for its legislation imposing taxes on food and drinks high in fat, sugar and salt, it has stood its ground against powerful lobbying from the food industry.

Mexico sets a precedent for action against the global obesity epidemic that many a country has backed away from. The Mexican government recognises that the cost of obesity in terms of healthcare, far outweighs that of lost sales revenues in a sluggish economy. With nearly 10% of Mexican children suffering from diabetes, the future of the country’s bad health is pretty clear.

Hopefully Mexico’s action will encourage other governments to take a stand on unhealthy foods and begin to claw back something of the vast cost of caring for an unhealthy nation. Taxation might also encourage people to eat better by cutting back on, what would become more expensive, processed food. There is some research evidencing that taxation is effective in this way.

UK austerity spurs switch to junk food, studies say

Reuters – Monday 4th November

Reuters reports on two recent studies from the Institute of Fiscal Studies. Both find that as the cost of living goes up and people tighten their belts to survive the recession, they are eating less fresh food and more packaged, processed food. There is a ‘nutritional slump’ as a result of this – there is less nutrition in the food people are eating. So, while eating fewer calories overall, more of the calories we are eating, are unhealthy. Cooking is also declining.

It’s a sad picture. But it just confirms what has been confirmed again and again in studies. It’s why obesity continues to rise despite that fall in overall calorie intake. What’s interesting here is that before the recession there was some evidence that people were willing to spend a bit more on healthy food, some evidence that they were willing to ‘invest’ in better nutrition. Now with the recession and government austerity cuts taking their toll, that investment has disappeared. It looks like health might be yet another casualty of the cost of living.

Celebrity chefs fail sustainable food test, but what about the rest of us?

Metro – Friday 1st November

This piece, which features an extended quote from SFT communications director Aine Morris – so you must read it – reflects on how much celebrity chefs are actually engaged with sustainable food. It covers the results of a study by the University of York that rates ten celebrity chefs on how sustainable the seafood is in their recipes. It proves that even at the highest levels, those who may think they are connoisseurs, can be just as disconnected from their food as the rest of us.

The nation’s much loved Delia Smith rates last for including recipes with skate and wild Atlantic salmon, both on the endangered species list. Even Jamie Oliver, much loved for his reform of school dinners, falls down by recommending shark. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall comes out on top. His Fish Fight campaign has done much to raise awareness of the sustainability of fish and promoted eating the many ‘local’ fish that most British won’t touch.

This hints, however, at a larger problem which Aine Morris gets right to the point of. All these celebrity cooking shows have bred a voyeuristic relationship with our food which means we don’t think about it beyond what we see. It looks good and we fetishise its deliciousness, but by and large, we won’t actually get up and go into the kitchen and cook what we see, nor are we likely to take the time to think about the welfare of animals we eat or the how far our quinoa has travelled. The cooking that we watch hasn’t yet turned us all into a nation of cooks, nor taught us to think about the story of our food.

Why does cooking at home fight hunger? And a whole lot of other problems?

Huffington Post – Tuesday 5th November

This piece really brings home why cooking is a critical survival skill for the 21st century. We know we’ve been on about cooking a lot lately but it is really so important. Blogger Alison Cayne makes a strong case for why we need to find our way back to the kitchen.

Prompted by the recent $5 billion cut to the US’s SNAP programme (which give food stamps to the poor), she cites some shocking statistics in arguing that cooking at home can help remedy hunger. One is that the US House of Representatives is seeking to cut $40 billion out of SNAP over the next ten years, while it proposes to increase subsidies to agribusiness to $90 billion.

She points out that agribusiness doesn’t really grow fresh food anymore – it grows car fuel, cattle feed and a lot of processed food (these are the main uses of corn and soy, the predominant agribusiness crops). Cooking with fresh food represents a radical action that rejects processed food and the by-products of agribusiness, taking health back home, something desperately needed in the increasingly unhealthy nation that the US has become.

She also gives her voice to the idea of true cost accounting in our farming and food production, which the SFT is just about to run a major conference on. She argues that our food is part of an ‘…artificially out of whack system,’ which privileges processed industrial food (that $90 billion in subsidies) and thereby creates a distorted economic playing field for ‘healthful food growers’ in ‘local economies.’ She feels we can ‘cook our way to a more equitable system.’

Here’s to making cooking a political position.

Photograph by Jamaila Brinkley

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