By Jane Bauer
“Sugary drinks are blamed for increasing the rates of chronic disease and obesity in America. Yet efforts to reduce their consumption through taxes or other measures have gone nowhere. The beverage industry has spent millions defeating them.” Robert Reich
The ritual of beverages: morning coffee, glass of wine with dinner, champagne for celebrations, hot chocolate for first snowfalls and a lime margarita once your toes hit the sand as you embark on a holiday. Most of us are quite committed to the ritual of our drinking habits, whether it is a ‘grande non-fat chai latte’ from Starbucks at the airport or your favorite brand of beer when watching your favorite sports team.
In this issue our writers explore beverages. Mexican classics such as coffee, chocolate, beer and pulque. I was driving through my village while contemplating what to write about for my editorial when I spotted a six-year old boy I know coming out of the tienda. Barefoot and with a little puppy nipping at his heels, he struggled to hold the 2-liter bottle of Coca-Cola he’d just purchased. Ugh how could I have overlooked the most important beverage crisis that Mexico faces.
After the implementation of Nafta on January 1, 1994, Mexico saw a dramatic rise in consumption of sugary beverages and processed foods.
“In addition to dramatically lowering cross-border tariffs, Nafta let billions of dollars in direct foreign investment into Mexico, fueled the growth of American fast food restaurants and convenience stores, and opened the floodgates to cheap corn, meat, high-fructose corn syrup and processed foods” (New York Times, Dec. 11, 2017).
The rise in diabetes and obesity in Mexico was a huge factor before the pandemic, but has never been more paramount than now, given that these conditions make people at much greater risk.
One of the ways that junk food has infiltrated small communities that have traditionally been very self-sufficent – growing corn, fishing, relying on the vegetation found around the village – has been to offer inexpensive non-perishable products and incentives such as free refrigerators and even low-interest loans for expansion.
A new development is stickers on processed foods warning people about high sugar and fat contents. Whether this will lead to a reduction in consumption of such foods has yet to be determined. The state of Oaxaca did implement a law making it illegal to sell junk food to minors. Enforcement is another beast entirely.
“In the rural Oaxacan town of Villa Hidalgo Yalálag, citizens have physically blocked chips and soda delivery trucks from entering since April, saying they don’t want outsiders to bring in the coronavirus or junk food” (NPR ,September 14, 2020).
I don’t know if that is the answer, but I do know we need to start asking the question.