After jokingly suggesting the need for a "tater tax" on the heels of a Harvard study that shows potatoes may contribute more to obesity in America than do traditional fast-food culprits like soda and hamburgers, this L.A. Times editorial does a nice job explaining why efforts to attach sin taxes to various foods is such a pointless exercise.
The science on food is evolving, with researchers constantly turning up new dietary heroes and villains and sometimes reversing themselves. Potatoes have been a staple food for centuries and are a rich source of vitamins and minerals, but the Harvard study will doubtless send their reputation down the tuber. That's what happened to coconuts. In 1994, a study from the Center for [Science in] the Public Interest found that movie-theater popcorn popped in coconut oil was a coronary in a cardboard cup, hurting sales at theaters and prompting many to switch to other oils. Today, health-food stores have whole shelves devoted to non-hydrogenated coconut oil, which is now considered relatively beneficial.
Soda taxes were part of the federal healthcare reform bill before being stripped out, and cities and states nationwide are considering them. We'll grant that soda pop is nearly devoid of nutritional value and that phasing it out of our diets would do more good than harm, but a tax wouldn't stop people from switching to other drinks, such as fruit juices, that are just as fattening. Tax French fries, and people would just switch to onion rings. Moreover, the next study might find that an order of fries and a Coke are better for you than previously believed.
In other soda v. produce news, the L.A. Times is reporting that exactly one Angeleno would trade a half-empty bottle of soda for a pineapple.
Baylen Linnekin is a lawyer and the executive director of Keep Food Legal, a nonprofit that promotes culinary freedom, the idea that people should be free to make and consume whatever commestibles they prefer. For more information and to join or donate, go here now.