Mexico Confronts Obesity Issue with New Soda Tax, Junk Food Tax

Mexico, recently famed in headlines for an obesity epidemic, made history this past month by imposing a tax in the upcoming year on soda and junk foods. 

The new tax in Mexico, scheduled for 2014, will bring a national tax of one peso per liter—roughly 10 percent—on sugar-sweetened beverages and 8 percent on junk food, according to a New York Times op-ed piece.

Countries such as Finland, Hungary and France have already passed similar legislation aimed at public health. Even Britain’s Conservative-led coalition has considered such a tax.

The Mexican soda tax, which is set to go into effect Jan. 1, 2014, will apply to all foods with added sugar, not including dairy products such as milk or yogurt. The junk food tax will be on high-calorie foods that have 275 calories or more into 100 grams of food like chips, candies, pudding, peanut and hazelnut butters, milk, sugary cereals and ice cream.

Federal regulators in the country have also announced their intention to issue rules to regulate television advertising of junk food products, fried foods and other unhealthy options from appearing at certain times of the day when a larger number of children might be watching.

Earlier this past month, there was talk about Mexican Coke losing its much-appreciated key ingredient, cane sugar, and it being replaced with old-fashioned corn syrup.

Social media sites experienced a stir of people who were angry and saddened by the rumors. Some people even claimed that they would soon begin hoarding cases of Mexican Coke before their beloved soda was no longer the same.

But Arca Continential, the Mexican Coke bottler, clarified and said changes to how the soda would be sweetened would only occur to soda sold in Mexico because of the soda tax that will soon be active.

It’s been my experience that Mexicans are big soda drinkers. Just about every Mexican restaurant/café/bakery/establishment that serves food I’ve been in sells soda.

Mexicans drink an average of about 707 8-ounce servings—roughly 44 gallons—of soda per year, according to Beverage Digest. Trailing not too far behind are Americans who consume about 701 servings of soda.

Like some people, I think this is a good step for Mexico and perhaps more countries—like the United States—should follow.

I live in Pilsen, where a majority of residents are Mexican or of Mexican descent, and I’ve lost count of all the bakeries, ice cream shops, candy stores and taco shops I see on a regular basis. Don’t get me wrong, I love having these options and sense of Mexican culture so close to me, as do many of the surrounding residents I’m sure, but it does concern me how few healthy options there are in the neighborhood.

There’s an all-natural juice bar at the Pink Link Damen stop, and I’ve been told there’s a woman who sells organic food at her shop on 18th Street. There are also two health clubs on Cermak Road—that I know of—where people can meet twice a day to consume Herbalife teas and shakes in place of a meal if they desire. But compared to all the other not-so-healthy options, these places can easily be camouflaged in the neighborhood.

As Mexico begins to address the importance of health and fighting obesity, I wonder if Mexican immigrant communities in Chicago—such as Pilsen, Little Village, Albany Park, the Back of the Yards—will take steps in the same direction? 

[BOOK REVIEW] Enrique’s Journey: The story of a boy’s dangerous odyssey to reunite with his mother

For my International Reporting in Public Affairs class we each had to read a book written by a journalist. I chose to read Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario because 1. A great deal of the book takes place in Mexico and Central America, and 2. I’ve always heard it’s an amazing story beautifully told by a great female journalist.

Here is my review:

Few people truly understand the treacherous journey undocumented immigrants face when migrating to the United States—much less that each year thousands of children, too, have endured the deadly excursion in search of the mothers who left them behind.

The Los Angeles Times reporter Sonia Nazario takes readers on a chilling expedition that details the many difficulties and challenges hopeful migrant children, mostly from Mexico and Central America, face along the way in Enrique’s Journey.

The story begins in the outskirts of Tegucigalpa, Honduras where Lourdes tells her son, 5-year-old Enrique, that she is leaving him and his sister, 7-year-old Belky, with family for while. Lourdes is going to the United States to find work in order to provide her children with a better life. Her children don’t understand why their mother is leaving but Lourdes, terrified of the risky journey ahead, thinks it is the only way to keep her family from poverty. Once Lourdes makes it to the United States, she begins working and is soon able to send her family money, clothes, toys and letters, but for Enrique no gift she sends can take the place of his mother being physically present in his life. Time passes and Enrique, who after being sent from family to family member begins to rebel, grows resentment toward his mother. “Why did she leave me? Why hasn’t she come back? Does she not love me?” he asks himself. Enrique turns to substance abuse to forget his problems and numb his pain. After about a decade without his mother Enrique decides he will go find her; he needs to, he tells himself and his family. The trek through Mexico to the United States will not be easy, he knows, but other migrant children in search of their mothers have done it before and Enrique feels he must at least try.

While some journalists might sit a desk and make phone calls for a story, Nazario completely immersed herself in Enrique’s journey. In the course of five years she spent a total of six months in Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico and North Carolina retracing Enrique’s steps and conducting extensive interviews with the other people featured in the story.  She rode on top of the freight trains, walked around immigration checkpoints, hitchhiked with truckers—just like Enrique and the other migrants had.

Nazario did not abandon the journalistic style of storytelling. Much of the book reads like a well-researched newspaper article with examples, numbers, detail, people and quotes, but the story is told in long-form journalism.

Nazario especially does an exceptional job in her use of sensory images while depicting scenes in the story:

“By early afternoon, it is 105 degrees. Enrique’s palms burn when he holds on to the hopper. He risks riding no-hands. Finally, he strips off his shirt and sits on it. The locomotive blows warm diesel smoke. People burn trash by the rails, sending up more heat and a searing stench. Many migrants have had their caps stolen, so they wrap their heads in T-shirts. They gaze enviously at villagers cooling themselves in streams and washing off after a day of fieldwork and at others who doze in hammocks slung in shady spots near adobe and cinder-block homes. The train cars sway from side to side, up and down, like bobbing ice cubes.”

From being robbed, raped and beaten by Mexican authorities, gangsters and fellow migrants to the kindness and generosity offered by some of the village people on the road to el Norte (The North), Nazario carefully documents the epic journey, telling the story as though she’d accompanied any of the migrant children more than once.

By sharing Enrique’s story and the stories of many other migrant children, Nazario gave immigration, a complex and much debated issue, a human face.

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