The Navajo Nation, a 27,000-square-mile area spread across New Mexico, Arizona and Utah, will become the first place in the United States to levy a tax on “junk food.” The Healthy Diné Nation Act of 2014 will assess a 2% tax on products with “minimal-to-no-nutritional value” sold within the reservation’s borders. This includes pastries, chips, soda, desserts, fried foods, and sweetened beverages. It is anticipated that the legislation will raise approximately $1M a year, which will be distributed for a variety of “wellness” projects: “greenhouses, food processing and storage facilities, traditional foods cooking classes, community gardens, farmers’ markets, and more.”
The Navajo Nation is classified by the USDA as a “food desert.” The Nation has among the highest rates of unemployment and poverty in the United States, and poor health outcomes. Proponents of the legislation hope that the tax will help alleviate the area’s high rate of chronic disease.
Denisa Livingston, a community health advocate with the DCAA, has been leading grocery store tours in Window Rock, Arizona to educate government officials and community members about how the layout and inventory of local markets affects buying patterns. “I’ve been telling the councils, food can either empower us and make us strong, or it can kill us,” she says. “Healthy food is not just our tradition, it’s our identity. This is the start of a return to food sovereignty.”