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Question:  What do you think of New York's proposal to ban salt in restaurants?


Mark Bittman:  I think it's moronic.  I think that the problem with salt, to the extent that there is a problem with salt, and this is not really, really clear, but to the extent there is a problem with salt, it's the salt in processed foods.  People who don’t eat a lot of processed foods don’t have problems with salt.  People who add their own salt to food have no problems with salt.  Chefs who make their own – chefs in restaurants who cook from scratch and add salt to their taste or to the perceive tastes of their diners are not adding criminal amounts of salt.  If you want to limit the amount of salt that McDonalds puts in its processed foods, that's great.  I'd like to limit the amount of food they can sell period.  It's not really a salt problem, it's an overall food problem.


Question: Why are proposals to tax sugary sodas important?


Mark Bittman:  Well, I think it is happening, which is really amazing.  The mayor of Philadelphia just proposed a very – the proponents of a soda tax or generally proposing a penny per ounce as an excise tax, which means 12 ounce can of soda might cost a $1.12 instead of $1.00 and a 24-pack case of soda might cost -- might double in price from a sale price of $2.99 or $3.99.  That's really incredible.  The guy in Philadelphia, I think his name is Nutter, but hey it's his name.  The guy in Philadelphia is proposing two cents per ounce, which is really quite amazing because it means a $1.00 can of soda would cost a $1.25.  A 32 ounce bottle of soda that was a $1.00 would cost a $1.64 and so on.


So I think it is happening.  Why is it important?  Soda is the leading source of calories for Americans.  Americans get seven percent of their calories from soda, which is more than they get from any other single food.  And let's think about this, it's non-nutritive.  That is to say no benefit whatsoever.  None.  Like it's not harmless, it's negative.  Secondly, it's a leading cause of obesity in the United States.  I mean, if obesity is a problem, you have to look at where the calories are coming from.  If soda is the number one source of calories in the United States and it's not a beneficial source of calories, it's something people can do without. 


So if you're obese and you're looking for ways to help people figure out what they can do without, soda is a very good start.  So I think the tax is a very smart thing.  There is some research that shows that taxing junk food, which soda is a junk food, taxing junk food is more likely to help people eat well than subsidizing healthy food.  The irony is that if you subsidize healthy food people will take the money they're saving and buy junk food, which is sad but true.


I think the soda tax makes sense.  I think it's happening.  I think it's going to happen this year and next year.  I think it is going to be a swell of soda taxes and I think once the greedy state legislatures realize they can make money on this thing it's going to have even more momentum.

More from the Big Idea for Tuesday, April 06 2010


Government in the Pantry

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