Is ‘fat tax’ a new way to fight obesity in India?
A few days ago, Kerala’s policy makers proposed a 14.5% ‘fat tax’ on junk food, burgers and pizzas sold at fast food restaurants in the state, with the aim to curb obesity. The Kerala government is not the first to propose such a plan though. Denmark started the trend by levying a tax on food that contained saturated fats.
A couple of years ago, Mexico introduced a ‘sugar tax’ to reduce high rates of obesity and diabetes. In April, the UK government announced a ‘sugar tax’ on restaurants that served sugary drinks (sugar content above 5gm per 100 milliliters) in an attempt to tackle childhood obesity.
Just a couple of days ago, South Africa’s treasury proposed a 20% tax on sugar-sweetened beverages in a bid to curb consumption of such products. The list goes on. But, the real question is do these taxes serve the purpose? Chefs, across the city, aren’t entirely convinced.
A good idea
Some say the tax could lead to a win-win situation. Restaurateurs also feel that this move will help increase awareness about fitness. “The government will generate extra revenue, whereas the consumers will change their eating habits for good,” says Kshama Prabhu, corporate chef, Bar Stock Exchange.The move is a step in the right direction, and will help curb obesity to some extent, feels Rohan Talwar, owner of Ellipsis, Colaba. Chef Rakhee Vaswani of Palate Culinary Studio, Santacruz (W), however, has her doubts about the diktat. She explains, “A large number of people frequent fast food restaurants because they are cheaper than the other options available in the city. The tax will deter these people from eating such food. But for how long?”
Fat chance of success
Denmark’s ‘fat tax’ policy fell through within 15 months of it being imposed. According to reports, Mexico’s sugar tax has had no impact on the sales. Back home too, many chefs are questioning the move. “Have heavy taxes on cigarettes reduced the number of people who smoke cigarettes?” asks celebrity chef Kunal Kapur, adding, “Levying tax on people for consuming fatty food won’t help anyone, except the government.” Chef Saransh Goila of Goila Butter Chicken, Andheri (W), echoes a similar stance. According to him, if a consumer wants to eat unhealthy food, he or she will do so in any case. “There is nothing that is stopping people from going to a street food place and getting the same kind of food. They could always switch to cheaper, but unhealthier options. Wouldn’t it be wiser to make healthier options cheaper?” he says.
“The choice should definitely be left to the consumer. We can only educate them, and it is our responsibility to raise awareness. They should know the difference between good and bad food,” says celebrity chef Ranveer Brar. Helping the customer make an informed choice would be the ideal thing to do, but we can’t stop them from eating what they want, say restaurateurs. “The consumer should be aware of what is fried or baked, and what is gluten free or rich in proteins,” says Gaurav Dabrai, co-owner, Dishkiyaoon, Bandra (E).
Earlier this month, the US Food and Drug Administation (FDA) introduced a rule that requires restaurant chains of a certain size to display calorie information on their menus. In Mumbai, restaurants like Thai-Baan in Colaba and Ministry Of Salads in Breach Candy, display the calories of dishes on their menus. Is this move more feasible? “It would be a wiser option,” says Brar, adding, “It’ll be interesting if eateries could adjust their portions according to the calorie count. If something is rich in calories, maybe they could serve smaller portions, as compared to those dishes that are healthier.”
However, restaurateurs are also of the opinion that there needs to be an authority to standardise the process. “There needs to be an institute that provides these numbers. Otherwise, it will only encourage malpractice of a different kind,” warns Abhijeet Shetty, partner, Soho Tapas Bar, Andheri (W).