I moved to D.C. a little more than a month ago, before that I used to live in Chile. I was born there and saw the country develop and grow economically and socially.
I remember when the government passed the labelling law, I was in my twenties at the time, and I shopped on the supermarket for groceries regularly, so I started noticing an apparent patron, something that I knew existed but didn’t really see until it wasn’t there anymore: Characters. More specifically trademark characters: that nice little tiger that sold you cereal, a dog or a rabbit that competed for your childhood affection with their fruity cereal, a happy meal “gang” in a fast-food chain, all of them gone.
I was an adult, not really the target for this State measure to consume less sugary foods, but still, I felt it, I noticed it, and in a world where publicity tries hard to get things to go unnoticed, this was a massive deal at the time (and still is) in my country.
That was one of the few measures that were adopted in Chile a few years ago, during the same time we received labels, black and notorious, that warned us about sugar, fat, salt and calories, all of them, or none, could be found in the broadest array of products, and last but not least, a sugary drinks tax.
The objective was clear and explicit. Chile’s growth and economic stability have granted a lot of us many opportunities while leaving a vast majority to fare for themselves in a country where eating healthy is mostly a privilege due to long working hours, the low price on fast food, and high prices on healthy foods. Obesity keeps growing, and child obesity was starting to become an issue to the point where Chile surpassed Mexico, leaving us with an unwelcome second place only surpassed by the U.S.
I was finishing law school when all of this happened, and the debate over this law was fierce, industry interference, lobbying and threats about fewer jobs and less growth, but most importantly, the argument of the novelty of it all, no other countries have ever put on place a law like this, so there were concerns about doing something so extreme without actual proof that it would work.
A few weeks ago, news broke that sugary drinks consumption dropped a staggering 24% in Chile, no other measure until now, has taken such a significant toll on sugar consumption, I had already moved when the news broke, my trips to the grocery store had already started from my new house, and when my need for breakfast took me to the cereal aisle, I noticed it: the characters, back again, appealing and colorful, in my life.
Maybe this time I’ll pay more attention.