Navajo Nation Council Approves Junk Food Tax

HEALTH

The Navajo Nation Council has approved a 2% increase in sales tax for certain foods sold on the 27,000-square-mile reservation, becoming the first region in the country that may install a so-called “junk food tax.” (Indian Country Today)

This week is Geography Awareness Week, celebrating the Geography of Food! This week, our Current Event Connection blog posts will focus on Food in the News, exploring food as a dynamic, diverse interconnection between health, politics, the environment, and business.

Today, we look at how junk food impacts politics and health on the Navajo Nation. Use our resources to access a collection of grade-specific, standards-aligned “Big Ideas” to supplement align to this and other food content.

Which of these groceries would NOT be taxed by the Healthy Diné Nation Act? Photograph by Bill Branson, courtesy the National Cancer Institute

Which of these groceries would NOT be taxed by the Healthy Diné Nation Act?
Photograph by Bill Branson, courtesy the National Cancer Institute

Fry bread, probably the dish most associated with the Navajo, is NOT an indigenous recipe. It's the result of an horrific forced location in 1864, when the United States forced Navajos and other Indians living in Arizona to make the 300-mile journey known as the "Long Walk" to New Mexico. The new land could not easily support traditional Navajo agriculture. To prevent the indigenous populations from starving, the government gave them canned goods as well as white flour, processed sugar and lard—the makings of fry bread. Click here to read a fascinating Smithsonian article about this complicated symbol of Navajo culture. Photograph by Bruce Dale, National Geographic

Fry bread, probably the dish most associated with the Navajo, is NOT an indigenous recipe. It’s the result of an horrific forced location in 1864, when the United States forced Navajos and other Indians living in Arizona to make the 300-mile journey known as the “Long Walk” to New Mexico. The new land could not easily support traditional Navajo agriculture. To prevent the indigenous populations from starving, the government gave them canned goods as well as white flour, processed sugar and lard—the makings of fry bread. Click here to read a fascinating Smithsonian article about this complicated symbol of Navajo culture.
Photograph by Bruce Dale, National Geographic

This is more like it. A snack of the "Three Sisters"—beans, squash, and corn—is a traditional, healthy Navajo dish. Photograph by Daniel Sone, courtesy the National Cancer Institute

This is more like it. A salad of the “Three Sisters”—beans, squash, and corn—is a traditional, healthy Navajo snack.
Photograph by Daniel Sone, courtesy the National Cancer Institute

Discussion Ideas

 

  • The Indian Country Today article talks about a proposed tax on junk food sold in the Navajo Nation. So, what exactly is a tax? How would the “junk food tax” proposed in the Healthy Diné Nation Act work?
    • According to our glossary, a tax is money or goods citizens provide to government in return for public services such as military protection. There are different forms of taxes: income taxes (based on the money you earn at work); sales taxes (based on what you buy); or property taxes (based on the real estate or goods you own), for instance.
    • The junk food tax would be a sales tax. People buying junk food at stores on the Navajo Nation would be charged 7% of the good’s price in taxes. So, if a customer bought a candy bar priced at $1, it would cost $1.07 with the tax. (Right now, such customers pay a 5% sales tax, so that $1 candy bar is $1.05 with tax.)
    • The public services provided by the junk food tax would include “wellness centers, parks, basketball courts, trails, swimming pools, picnic grounds and health education classes.”

 

  • Why is the junk food tax controversial?
    • Critics say such a tax restricts personal freedom and a healthy, supply-and-demand economic atmosphere.

 

  • Have other nations or regions established a junk food tax, sometimes called a “fat tax”?

 

 

 

  • When does the new junk food tax become law in the Navajo Nation?
    • It may not. Navajo President Ben Shelly still has to sign the Healthy Diné Nation Act for it to become law. He’s vetoed similar measures before, saying such a “tax will be imposed on the Navajo people, not the food and beverage industry or its distributors.”

 

 

  • What kind of impact do experts say the junk-food tax will have on citizens of the Navajo Nation?

 

  • The primary concern among those supporting the junk food tax is the Navajo rate of diabetes. What is diabetes? (Click here to learn about the disease.)
    • Diabetes is a disease that affects the body’s ability to regulate sugar. It is linked to complications including heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and loss of eyesight.
    • Diabetes disproportionately impacts Navajo and other Native American communities, with American Indians and Alaska Natives experiences diabetes at 2.3 times the rate of the white population. It’s the fourth leading cause of death among Native Americans.
    • Diabetes is an expensive disease to treat. According to the Indian Country Today article, it can cost one person an estimated $13,000 per year to treat diabetes and a staggering $100,000 or more per year to treat complications related to the disease.

 

  • The name of the legislation containing the junk food tax is the Healthy Diné Nation Act, but the focus is on the Navajo Nation. What is the difference between Diné and Navajo?
    • Diné is an older name for the people and culture now known generally as Navajo. As with much Native American nomenclature, the relationship between Diné and Navajo (and Navaho), or Indian and Native American, is complex and politically delicate.

 

TEACHERS TOOLKIT

Indian Country Today: Navajo Nation Council Approves Junk Food Tax to Fight Obesity

Nat Geo: Geography Awareness Week

Nat Geo: food-related blog posts

Nat Geo: Food Education resources

Nat Geo: Big Ideas: Linking Food, Culture, Health, and the Environment educator guide

Smithsonian: Frybread

WebMD: Junk Food Facts

Nat Geo: Trans Fats Banned in NYC Restaurants

Investopedia: Pigovian Tax

Al Jazeera America: Exclusive: Navajo Nation report raises concerns on ‘food sovereignty’

Nat Geo: World Diabetes Day

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