Junk food: The Working Class Hero

By Diana Maricruz Perez Santos

 Everything depends upon the context in which it is applied. As experts on the subject, we know junk food is characterized by providing “empty” calories that promote weight gain and that this may be reflected in chronic degenerative diseases for those who consume them. However, we often forget that they are a food. A kind of food accessible for the most disadvantaged sectors. They do not consume for pleasure, they consume for necessity. So junk food is good or bad? Here I share my opinions about the controversy of taxing such foods in Mexico.

Eating to live” is not the same as “living to eat”

Some days when I have lots of work I may go several hours without eating and it is terrible; the empty feeling in your stomach, the headache … I really can’t grasp that this is the condition of life for thousands of individuals on the planet. Today, news has kept me thinking a lot about that: the government of Mexico (the country where I live) has decided levy a tax on junk food and sugary drinks.

Arguably the intentions are good if we only focus the increase in diseases such as diabetes in the population, but on other hand we must  recognize junk foods are the most accessible food and many Mexicans of the working class eat junk food in order to survive every day. The increased the value of this type of product may have a negative impact.

 Science at the service of the homeland

To paraphrase slightly the motto of my alma mater: “The technology in the service of the homeland.”(“La técnica al servicio de la patria” in Spanish) The food scientists in my country know the reality about malnutrition and this is the main reason for investing in developing foods (like junk food) fortified with vitamins and minerals trying to provide better nutritional quality to the population. Currently  there are products with these features in the market.

Imposing a tax on food, no matter what kind of food, should be banned. I can ensure that affected people will not opt for more healthy food, they will choose the cheapest option that may be  lacking in safety measures, resulting in the same or worse health problems in the organism that consumes them.

I am not denying the existence of national programs to combat hunger, but an increase on the food most accessible is not a good idea. Who will watch over for people who didn’t apply to this type of programs? Here is where I recognize that eating is a luxury of which we should be grateful.

How do you feel about taxes on “junk food”? Will they help combat obesity and it’s effects? What role should junk food have in consumers lives?

Photo Credit: http://obrasparanuevoleon.wordpress.com/2013/05/02/festejaran-a-albaniles-con-motivo-del-dia-de-la-santa-cruz/

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  1. Dear Diana,

    While many effort can be done to prevent junk food consumption, I think educational works best. With tax in-place, if junk food companies willing to absorb the cost of taxes, it will workout right for the consumer. I understand that there is a certain population that grab junk foods without looking at the price; although price could be a driving factor towards purchase. It is the crave that drive junk food consumption.

    A question I always like to know the answer, does being a food scientist/ nutritionist meant no junk food?

    • Diana Maricruz Pérez Santos Reply to Diana

      Hi Felicia:
      Thanks for sharing your point of view. I totally agree about education being the most important tool to help the consumer choose food. About the topic of this post, yeah big food companies will absorb the tax for a while until the people digest this increment. This would probably not continue forever because it is not good business. Now, I think one option for the food companies could be to reduce the size of the products so that they are below the range set by the government for taxation, and thus avoid being taxed. However, only a few companies in Mexico are able to do that. Mexico mostly has small companies which work with research centers to develop food products (big companies have their own research facilities) and it will difficult for them to change the package size. Finally about your question, I didn’t understand exactly what you are asking me, but I eat junk food and I also am involved in the production of junk food, and I don´t think that’s bad. We improve the kind of food that we eat, and we cannot control (and I think people won´t like being controlled that way) how much people eat.

  2. Floirendo Flores Reply to Floirendo

    Hello Diana,

    One of the first things I learned in food science is that there’s no junk food. Having said that, there are foods that are rich in carbohydrates and salt and little else. While I do agree that levying taxes on them will just urge consumers to choose cheaper but not necessarily healthier foods, we need to understand if the taxes were originally meant to just curb the consumption of such foods. Maybe the taxes were also meant to make the companies manufacture healthier foods? How will the added revenues be used by the government?

    Product development may be a useful tool to improve the perception of these picker-upper foods, and improve the nutritive content.

    • Diana Maricruz Perez Santos Reply to Diana

      Thanks Floirendo for sharing your opinion. Yes, all kind of food is food. I didn’t thinking that maybe this could be an opportunity for food researchers. About this topic, the real intentions of Mexico new government isn’t the health of the population. The Mexico government wants using this excuse to obtain more money from the people. Healthy processed food is too expensive for the bigger part of Mexicans ( food scientists need work on it), thus people will need pay the tax. My madness and my motivation to write this post is the fact that the government try to take advantage from one of the basic needs to live.

  3. Thank you Diana Maricruz Perez Santos for a very thought provoking article.

    I come from South African and I find it interesting to hear other countries take on how to solve hunger related issues. According to World food programme 805 million people in the world do not have enough food to lead a healthy active life. That’s about one in nine people on earth. Many Stable foods and crops in South Africa such as mealie meal have had essential nutrients added to them so the poorer population in the country still receives certain vitamins and minerals. If working class Mexicans eat Junk food in order to survive every day I think it is very wise to Implement a government subsidized programmes where the so called “junk Foods” are produced with certain essential nutrients in order to try keep the the population as healthy as possible.

    The fact of the matter is that nutritious foods have become very expensive to produce so lower class citizens cannot afford them. The South African government has encouraged subsistence farming which is self-sufficiency farming in which the farmers focus on growing enough food to feed themselves and their families. This could be a good way for working class Mexicans to receive those vital nutrients that would not normally be found in junk food.

    Thank you
    Jessica McLean u15012990

  4. Dear Diana

    I found your article on junk food as a “hero” for working class Mexicans very interesting.

    I understand that fat tax is a tax that is placed upon fattening food, or beverages in order to discourage unhealthy diets and offset the economic costs of obesity. On one hand it is cleaver as the more expensive the product is the less it will be consumed and the less health related diseases will occur however i feel that this is unfair to the working class Mexicans as they cannot afford healthy and nutritious foods and rely on junk food in order to fill their stomach’s.

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