Melina Packer

The Politics of Pop: Soda Tax Policies and Social Anxieties

Advocates champion sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) taxes as a powerful policy solution to the perceived problem of obesity, while critics maintain SSB taxes are both regressive and ineffective. This project explores and complicates this debate by comparatively analyzing anti-soda campaign content and imagery in two US cities: Berkeley, California and Boston, Massachusetts. Low-income women of color are especially targeted in weight-centric campaigns such as the soda tax effort, frequently characterized as the most overweight and unhealthy population in the greatest need. Given recent scholarship and activism challenging the construction of obesity as a disease, Western women’s particular histories of weight-based discrimination, and low-income populations and people of color’s historic social marginalization, my analysis of two soda tax campaigns––“Berkeley vs. Big Soda” and “Fatsmack” (Boston)––reveals the extent to which anti-soda and anti-obesity rhetoric reflects and perpetuates deeply entrenched social anxieties regarding the (physical) space low-income people and women, particularly those of color, may occupy.