I was visiting recently with a fellow Berkeley parent while at the Washington Elementary School Fall Fair. He wanted to know if I was familiar with Measure D, and wanted to encourage me to support it.
Rather than avoid the topic, I agreed to indulge him and struck up a conversation about the pros and cons of this measure. After all, my family does not consume soda, and we have made healthy eating a cornerstone of our lifestyle. Additionally, I have been, and will continue to be, a huge supporter, with time and money, of Washington Elementary School’s cooking and gardening program.
I was in some of the meetings where this tax was discussed as a direct funding mechanism for BUSD’s Cooking and Gardening curriculum to replace the federal funds being lost as a result of shifting demographics in our community. Despite my typical anti-tax views, this seemed like a reasonable approach, particularly because I happen to believe that there is nothing more important to teach children about than how to grow, prepare and consume healthy nutritious food.
As it stands, despite a lot of lip service to the contrary, Measure D includes no mechanism to insure that these funds will go towards nutrition education for our kids. It also does not include diet soda drinks, for which there is a growing body of evidence suggesting these play a role in obesity and diabetes, while also being known human carcinogens. Excluding diet drinks, which is produced by the same demonic corporations that market the scourge of sugary beverages upon us, is a gross philosophical inconsistency with this measure. If the objective is to improve human health, why would we steer consumers to a worse product that enriches the same corporations? Between the general fund destination of these taxes, and the diet drink exclusion, it is apparent to me that the real purpose of this bill is to simply increase revenue for a city whose fiscal house is in complete disarray.
I asked my fellow parent why he was so eager to continue to shift personal responsibility away from parents and individuals and toward the government. He, like most Berkeley residents I have posed this same question to, looked troubled and confused by this question. He was not eager to engage me in this philosophical debate, and, right on queue, shifted the argument to one of “social justice”, and, characteristically, as a white male in Berkeley, was eager to point out the disproportionate impact that sugary drinks have on the poor and people of color.
I indicated that it is apparent to me that statement may in fact be true, but it is unclear to me how handing a fiscally irresponsible city council additional resources will translate to better health outcomes for these groups. If these products are in fact addictive, and I believe they are, increasing their cost in Berkeley is only going to reduce the amount of resources the poor and minority communities have to spend on healthy food. They won’t eagerly sacrifice their addiction in exchange for broccoli and tofu. And, it will likely drive some people across the border to the numerous local municipalities that won’t have this tax, thereby increasing transportation expenses, and reducing the amount they have to spend on healthy food. I don’t have a public health degree, but as far as I can tell, neither of these options will result in better health outcomes for anyone.
The conversation went round and round for a bit. In the end we agreed to disagree. I believe that the Yes on Measure D campaign has good intentions, and they should be commended for their commitment to addressing a significant health crisis. I am all for reducing soda consumption and improving human health and happiness. I don’t think that this measure will accomplish either of these objectives. The result will be that this toothless Measure will pacify the only segment of the population willing to dedicate time, energy and resources to trying to solve this problem. The net effect will be the appearance of a program designed to help with no tangible benefit to society, an emotionally drained community of activist citizens, and another couple of bucks in the till that will buy the city a few more inches of rope to hang itself with.
Vote No on Measure D.
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