Make no mistake. Big Soda knows exactly what sugary drink taxes can do: reduce consumption, raise awareness, and cut into their bottom line.
In the wake of the sugary beverage tax repeal last month in Cook County, Illinois—home to Chicago and a Real Food Media home base—we’ve been talking about what this means for soda tax momentum across the country. We knew Big Soda would spin this as a victory for “the people”—the people it most definitely does not represent. That’s why we were thrilled when The New York Times published our Op-Ed on what we think it will take to win.
Big picture: taxes on sugary beverages are not about shaming people for drinking soda or being paternalistic know-it-alls, though Big Soda sure has invested millions in propping up that message. Remember, these are the same corporations that target their marketing to youth of color, particularly black youth, who see more than twice as many ads for sugary drinks than white youth while also experiencing disproportionate health impacts. They’re the same corporations running aquifers dry in India and Mexico. Big Soda, and Coca-Cola in particular, spends millions influencing elected officials around the world, like the $6.5 million the company spent on Brazilian congressional candidates. They are not populists; they are profit-seekers.
Just like Big Tobacco, Big Soda is dumping millions into stopping these common sense public policies at every level—local, state, and international. Check out Kyle Pfister’s analysis based on leaked emails that expose industry strategy; it is damning.
While the Cook County repeal is a disappointment, it’s an important reminder. Sugary beverage taxes are not an end in themselves. They’re part of a larger movement to reclaim our food, our bodies, and our communities from the damage of industrial food. To succeed in this broader fight, we have to build a people-powered movement that is mighty enough to rival Big Soda’s billions.
Keep grinding, keep at it.
Christina, Anna, Tiffani, and Tanya