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Soda Tax an ‘Opportunity to Change Richmond’s Destiny'

Posted: Sep 16, 2012

Ed. Note: Come November residents of Richmond, California will have a chance to weigh in on the national debate over sugary drinks. A ballot initiative would, if passed, impose a tax of one cent per liter on all soda sold in the city, with the funds intended – though not legally required – for the construction of playgrounds and other health-related facilities. Doria Robinson, a third-generation resident of Richmond, says the tax would help address rates of obesity and other health-related issues in the community that are skyrocket. Taking on soda, she says, would help make Richmond “a better place to live.”

Richmond Pulse: What was your initial response to the possibility of a sugar sweetened beverage tax in Richmond?

Doria Robinson: Actually [City Councilman] Jeff [Ritterman] came to me a couple years ago saying that he was interested in this idea of a soda tax and he was wondering what I thought of it. I started thinking about it and I really started to actually look into the way that we spend our money. The kids that are comin' to my programs buy this $2.00 soda thing every day. They're already spendin' a ton of money on a beverage when they have free water. What's 16 cents on the $1.99 that you already spent for your sugar water? I started to think this could be something really good. It was an opportunity for us to change our own destiny by all throwing in just a little bit.

RP: But is soda really the problem?

DR: If you're going to focus on one thing in particular to make the biggest impact and change on your health, soda is a great thing to focus on. It's the single biggest way that people are taking in empty calories. It offers you nothing. Maybe a little bit of thirst quenching. But sometimes it even makes ya' more thirsty because of all the stuff that's in it.

I am pre diabetic. … Diabetes runs on both sides of my family. When I found out that I had really high sugar levels in high school the first thing I did was stop drinking soda. I just stopped and my glucose levels just immediately balanced out. If you can choose one thing that makes a really big impact, soda is a really great thing to choose.

RP: If it’s so bad, why are so many people drinking soda?

DR: Marketing, marketing and marketing. When I was growin' up, people did not drink soda the way they do now. We had it on special occasions -- picnics and birthday parties, and, ya' know, it was the special thing. People drink it instead of water (now). In fact, they don't drink water. They think drinking water is weird …

RP: Why is this issue of sugar in our diet important to the community right now?

DR: Every year it seems like the kids are getting bigger and bigger. Last year we had to order 4 and 5X t shirts for our summer youth apprentice program. It feels like if we don't change now, all these youths are gonna' just have such intense health problems. And then compound that with all the preexisting poverty and lack of education and whatnot. That's not a world that anyone wants to live in and if we don't say the time is now, it's just gonna get worse and worse and worse.

I feel like there's an empowerment piece that we need to get at … it's like each person has the power to take back their life. If you're struggling and you're uncomfortable and you're havin' real troubles; you don't feel good about your body, you don't have to be the victim of your body. Think about what's the best choice you can make for your health and actually exercise that choice …

RP: What advice would you give to people who want to improve their eating habits and reduce their sugar intake?

DR: I would say start small. Choose one thing that's, ya' know, easy to focus on, easy to release. If you're somebody who usually loves drinkin' your Coke, figure out somethin' else that you really like to drink. Maybe you like smoothies or maybe you try some things. Figure out the thing that you like, that's less harmful. And switch it. And then really enjoy it. Bring it more and more into your life. That’s the way that I've been able to kinda' take back my health … I swing towards being overweight and I have the same struggles as everybody else does, right?

Figure out what those things are in your life, the things that don't leave you feelin' like your gut is gonna' bust, or that you're just so satiated ya' have ta’ take a nap. The things that actually give you energy when you take 'em in. Move towards them, bring them into your life more and push the other stuff out. When we drink sodas we're feeding [them] our lives. We're feeding the soda company our lives. It's not giving us anything. We can't even use the sugar. The energy that comes in, it's too much. Our body can't use it. And it's not giving us anything but a burden. It's giving us a debt of bad health. It actually is putting us in health debt.

Doria Robinson is Executive Director of Urban Tilth, which works with schools, community groups and businesses in Contra Costa County to develop community gardens. She is also head of the the Richmond Food Policy Council.

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