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Food for Thought

Michelle K. Pyke
University of Washington
Honors 205
Professor Francis McCue

Despite the widespread fear of murder and terrorism (a phenomenon taken advantage of by

media sources), the face behind the leading cause of death in the United States has made its

appearance known and yet, it faces no charges. The silent killer, so to speak, is a disease that

originates from our individual choices in regards to nutrition and works alongside obesity; its

name is heart disease. The intention of this paper is not to explore the history of the obesity

epidemic, but rather defense initiatives to prevent its future progress. I argue that the U.S.

government should tax domestic businesses that are directly involved with the production of

processed food items. This, among other effects, will provide an economic incentive to buy

naturally grown products and reduce the negative externalities associated with poor consumer

choices.

The Gateway to Fresh Produce

Within the realm of prevalent body politics, it is a fairly common occurrence for those who

suffer from obesity to be criticized directly. It is assumed that the failure to form healthy habits

reflects an unwillingness to change, but this type of logic is toxic in its own right. Accessibility

to fresh produce continues to be a challenge for families across the nation, particularly for those

residing in low-income communities and rural areas. This is a crucial issue as the proximity of

healthy food retail correlates with better eating habits within the neighborhood surrounding these
establishments. Due to the integration of domestic supermarkets in the American food sector

(which may sell primarily packaged food items), it would be unwise to shut down these

franchises completely; the loss of business would hurt thousands of consumers. Instead, the

shelves of processed food products in supermarket chains need to be replaced with healthier

alternatives. In other words, business practices that encourage consumers to make better

nutritional choices are the responsibility of these corporations. Additionally, supermarkets should

only offer their services to businesses that comply with these new rules. This type of system is

not bound by theory. Whole Foods, a supplier of sustainable food and natural food products, is

becoming a common find across America and its system of stricter standards in comparison to

traditional supermarkets is one that it proudly stands by.

There should be a higher standard for what is available in markets that much can be

easily agreed upon. However, free trade naturally encourages competition and thus, increasing

regulations domestically could cause imports for similar products to escalate. To rephrase in

other terms, there could be a rise in foreign processed goods if domestic businesses that

previously sold processed products were unable to meet demand for cheap food. This would be

counterproductive, as the general population would merely buy the same products that have been

hurting their health for years just from foreign sources in this case. However, according to a

study conducted in April 2015 by Dr. Edward Jaenicke of Pennsylvania State University, both

exports and imports of U.S. organic foods have risen significantly, suggesting that the

international community has an interest in this sector as well. The United States Department of

Agriculture (USDA) notes that the number of farmers markets in the U.S. has been escalating

since 1994 (from 1,755 to 8,144 in 2013), which correlates with a strong demand for fresh and

local foods. Therefore, there is an underlying indication that American consumers seek
affordable alternatives to processed food and will support these products if there is a financial

gain from doing so. Whether there are artificial products available or not, consumers will likely

choose healthier options if they are cheaper.

We can clearly see this phenomenon today on a national scale, from supermarkets such as

Safeway in California to QFC (Quality Food Centers) in Washington. There may be aisles with

artificially flavored products, but there are also sections dedicated to wholesome ingredients (not

necessarily organic.) Just this morning, my first grocery-shopping venture to QFC landed me

with a basket full of dried fruit, unsalted peanuts, and rye bread. I did not have to search for long

to find these, as they were merely an arms reach from their traditional counterparts. It is

essential that supermarkets continue to supply these products in order to make them more

accessible to consumers across the country. After all, it is far more likely to find a grocery store

rather than a farmers market in this age of convenient and quick shopping trips.

A Wallet of Green

A reoccurring complaint by consumers is that being healthy is simply too expensive, in

terms of diet and the demands of exercise in particular. The price does not only include a dollar

amount but also time one of the scarcest resources on this planet. This type of logic is fair;

there is no question about it. The industry, according to NPR, spends billions of dollars

marketing junk food and drinks with unnecessary amounts of sugar. Advertisements for

everyday low costs are conventional marketing tools that overshadow smaller corporations.

Progress cannot be made by rarely condoning this type of behavior; businesses have no incentive

to change their practices in the processed food industry if they face weak pressure. Therefore,

why not directly target their financial motivations? Using the basic principles of
microeconomics, a government issued tax against an industry will cause the supply of processed

food to fall and the market price to rise in response; since the primary object of a business is to

earn a profit, it must raise the price to earn the same amount of revenue as before if it doesnt sell

as much (ex. total revenue = price x quantity: if quantity decreases, total revenue will decrease).

The imposition of taxes, in theory, compensates for the negative costs of externalities, which are

the medical consequences of regularly consuming processed food products in this example.

Fresh produce serves as a substitute for processed food, meaning that if prices increase in the

former, the latter will have more customers, as its prices will be lower. As a result, a significant

number of customers will flood the market with products such as fruits and vegetables, which

will open even more opportunities for entrepreneurs to develop their own businesses in this

industry. Buying from the traditional farming sector is better than from big names in the food

industry (such as The Coca-Cola Company) and the revenue raised due to these transactions can

fund future ventures to achieve a healthier America.

Critics of healthy lifestyles rightfully point out that a grocery list composed of seasonal

vegetables and fruits is significantly more expensive than packaged products that can be

microwaved in minutes. The reasoning behind this is all too telling. The truth is that farmers

suffer from higher costs due to their choices to avoid machine-driven factors of production. The

food processing industry uses more efficient methods due to its emphasis on quick solutions to

supply an ever-growing population of consumers. However, business models should not replace

moral obligations. Fortunately, due to the increasing demand for fresh produce and organic

products, the number of suppliers has significantly risen in response. The increase in competition

has helped lower costs for consumers and it continues to do so as time passes. Additionally, there

are nutritional options available, such as canned black beans and brown rice, which are sold in
large quantities at low prices and have fairly long shelf lives. In comparison to industrial

processing, local artisanal processing actually retains the healthy benefits of food and is a

necessary replacement for consumers.

It is inevitable that corporations will not support this tax, but it is vital to mention that

low-income consumers may still harbor concerns. Individuals may fear that they will be forced

to pay higher prices for processed items that used to fall within their budget because the external

costs (including time) of buying and possibly cooking fresh produce are simply too much to

afford. There are countless professionals and workers alike who cannot spend each evening

cooking plates of food with individual ingredients after a 10-12 hour shift. However, there lies a

solution. There are simple dishes that can be prepared ahead of time, so that a weekday meal

does not involve hours of cooking. This habit is known as meal prepping and has become

fairly popular online. Several popular YouTube channels that are intended for individuals trying

to cook basic meals without wasting valuable time include Everyday Food, The Domestic

Geek, and Entertaining with Beth. These resources are easily accessible to the general public

and allow novice cookers to store meals in the refrigerator or freezer until they need to be served.

The convenience of processed food does not have to be lost after a significant shift in lifestyle

after all.

Conclusion

The obesity epidemic is a complex issue that questions the true definition of healthy

and whether it is ones duty to encourage changes in consumer behavior. The promise of the

organic food industry is one that should not be overlooked, despite how it may be perceived in

certain communities. Whether there is a government-imposed tax or a social program, as long as


the search for solutions does not seize in the midst of criticism, progress will be made and a

healthier America will be born.