Why Do My Taxes Subsidize Fast Food?

Why is a hamburger cheaper than a salad?

What are the real costs of the processed foods and inexpensive chicken, hamburger and fish that I buy at the local grocery store?

After completing the Nutrition Politics and Policies course, I took a few weeks to do some deep breathing.  The amount of information that is presented outlining the standard governmental policies of subsidizing industrial food production operations with my tax dollars while systematically creating regulatory barriers for local farmers and producers left me feeling like Luke Skywalker taking on Darth Vader and the Death Star.

A great read to understand these issues in a readable and engaging way is “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan.  The bottom line is that the industrial food chain is and has been for decades subsidized by our tax dollars.  Corn and soy beans are cheap and these are fed to animals — cattle, pigs, chickens — in CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations).  These animals are packed in, such that it would be difficult for even the coldest heart to deny that it is cruel, fed in a way that makes them sick and then given high doses of medication to keep them alive until they are successfully fattened using growth hormones and ready for slaughter.

The real issue here is that this food is not the healthiest choice for human beings for a variety of reasons.  The tragedy of it all is that we, as consumers, are encouraged to buy it because it is cheap and tastes good (thanks to food additives that have been show to create addictions… I bet you can’t eat just one!).  We pay less at the fast food joint or at the grocery and yet pay more in taxes to support the economic externalities (environmental damage from the CAFOs, health costs due to bacterial resistance due to antibiotic overuse, obesity, diabetes II, heart disease, etc.)

I am wondering if there is a box to check on my tax return to subsidize organic foods?  Can we give tax breaks to local farmers for growing local, cleaner foods?  Can access to a CSA (community supported agriculture) become a standard perk at every work site?  Can businesses who create waste pay for the cleanup, making the price to the consumer more realistic?

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