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soda disobedience
what would thoreau do if faced with a soda tax?
by jeffrey d. walker

Somewhere back in high school or college, I can't remember which, I was instructed to read Henry David Thoreau. Much like anything else I was told to read in school, I didn't enjoy it much, nor did I appreciate it much. Yeah, I was that guy – didn't like to read. I still don't. But in Thoreau's case, it went beyond the simple "I don't want to read a book for school" feeling, and ventured into the "man, I really hate this bastard" realm.

In hindsight, I realize now that I didn't actually hate Henry David Thoreau. I think the problem was sheer disappointment. I mean, Civil Disobedience: that title held so much promise. I thought we were being assigned something akin to The Anarchists Cookbook. Boy was I wrong.

But the test of the power of the written word is how much it sticks with you over time; when messages are burned into your mind in such a way that even time and alcohol can't erase them. And it seems that Thoreau's writing did have such an impact on me. Certain messages of his have resurfaced during the course of my life to guide me when facing its quandaries.

For example: in Walden, published in 1854, Thoreau recounts an episode where he is accosted by the tax collector. Like Wesley Snipes, Thoreau hadn't paid his taxes in a few years. And like Wesley Snipes, Thoreau was put in jail. Only, Snipes is doing years, while Thoreau only did one day, being released the next because an aunt (or someone) paid his taxes for him, which is not very hardcore at all.

Now, I'm no Nostradamus, but I'm pretty sure that Wesley isn't going to wax prose about the whole failure to pay taxes thing. On the other hand, Thoreau was totally the sort of guy to write about what he thought about something. He really comes across as self-important that way. I mean, and I didn't know the guy or anything, but I just get the feeling that Thoreau was just way too pleased with hearing himself talk, and that he could barely hold himself back from elaborating at length on whatever subject was at hand. I'm a little the same, which also explains why I might have thought I hated him.

Anyway, Thoreau later said that he refused to pay because the taxes would be used to support the Mexican-American War and slavery. The message here, seemingly, is that if taxes are unjust, or being used unjustly, you are justified in not paying them (although you might get thrown in jail).

Message received!

For those reading past this point who also live in the State of New York, please note that nothing in this message should be considered legal advice. In adopting a page from Thoreau's book, this article encourages a little civil disobedience in regards to stupid taxes. The proposed tax in question is the one recently suggested by Governor Patterson, referred to as "The Obesity Tax" by the New York State Commissioner of Health, Richard F. Daines [see video below], but I call it "The Soda Tax", because my adoptive home state is thinking about messing with the price of my precious soda.

[Daines explains the health benefits of the proposed tax]

In a nutshell, New York wants to add an 18 percent tax to all non-diet sodas, as well as juice drinks with less than 70% juice. All I can say is, "thanks, fatties!"

Any of you who actually know me probably know that I drink too much soda. Oh yeah - you don't maintain this level of crazy naturally! It takes dedication and carbonated, caffeinated beverages! Dr. Pepper is a personal favorite, with Cherry Coke nearby. Pepsi and Coke are standards, with their step-brother RC. Cheerwine and Sundrop are southern regional favorites that New York doesn't even have in stock to tax. Mountain Dew sometimes causes my stomach to feel like it's going to blow up. Nonetheless, I drink them all with glee!

And I'm not a fatty. I mock the fat. Seriously; 3, 4, 5 or more increases in pants sizes isn't a surprise. You fatties had to notice somewhere. But you didn't care, did you? You just let it keep going and going... super-size it. Value meal it. Snack-cake it. Sure, it's fun!

But now you've done it. You've alarmed the governmental authorities. First they took the trans-fats out of my french fries, and now this. Because certain people don't know when to stop eating or drinking, now I'm going to get taxed for pleasures that so-far have not cause me to balloon out of control. I'm being taxed because you lack self control. Thanks a lot!

Or, am I going to get taxed? You better believe I'm going all self-important, Thoreauesque on the government now! I'm totally going to Thoreau-it-up on them!

First of all, if you're going to tax the fat, tax the fat. A simple weigh-in, ala The Biggest Loser should be fine. If you're off the charts, your taxes go up. If I get fat, I will pay it, too, but why should I now?

Ok, I don't really want to tax fat people. But, I'm just making a point. Taxing soda isn't going to fix the fat problem (in my opinion), becuse there's way more than soda and cheap juices that lead to the problem.

But I also don't want to pay a tax on soda because other people apparently have a soda drinking problem.

Still, I also don't want to go to jail. So, stealing the soda is not a viable option.

Therefore, I have two possible solutions to this problem that will hopefully avoid jail and taxes, and allow me to peacefully resist New York's soda tax, should the same come to fruition.

#1: buying soda out of state. Oh yeah, like I said, Cheerwine and Sundrop are some of the options not even available in New York. So, I'll simply have to stock up on these (and any other) sodas when I make trips out of state. Of course, there's always purchasing the same online and having them shipped, but this is cost-prohibitive usually because of the shipping. Not to mention, technically, I believe that you're supposed to pay sales taxes for online purchases in the state you're in even if the items are coming from out of state. So, you should watch that.

But for the very resourceful, I offer option #2: making your own soda. Like IM's own Erik Lars Myers, I've been brewing my own beer for some time. (This is another fun hobby that may prove useful if and when the government ever decided to re-visit prohibition). Coincidentally, if you are using a carbonation in brew making, you're pretty much ready to brew and serve soda from the fountain in your own home. That's self-service and self-reliance, something I'm sure Thoreau would have approved of and discussed at length.

Of course, if you don't have such equipment, there are some lower-tech alternative (for example, see this link, and other such suggestions easily found on the internet).

Sure, you may consider this a long way to go to avoid taxes. Still, if you learn anything from Thoreau, you must learn the importance of resisting oppression and wrongfulness. I submit to you that the Soda tax is bogus, and that it is your duty to resist the same. I wish you godspeed, and good soda disobedience.


A practicing attorney and semi-professional musician, Walker writes for his own amusement, for the sake of opinion, to garner a couple of laughs, and to perhaps provoke a question or two, but otherwise, he doesn't think it'll amount to much.

more about jeffrey d. walker


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erik myers
1.14.09 @ 9:23a

YEAH! Make your own soda! Nothing could be easier!

I like this idea of making soda with yeast because it technically would mean slightly alcoholic soda... and hey.. cool.

But yeah - if you can force carbonate something you can make 5 gallons of your own soda in an afternoon.

If we had more DIY stuff available we'd have fewer stupid taxes. Logic behind that? None. But I'll stick by it because it makes me sound standoffish.

jeffrey walker
1.14.09 @ 9:44a

I made a ginger ale one time with yeast, and also a Root Beer for my wife. The alcohol is so slight it's not even noticeable, but the ginger flavor was SUPER strong (real ginger). The Root Beer, I used an extract, so it just ends up tasting like whatever extract you buy.

However, for mimicking Coke (etc.), I think you really have to used forced carbonation. I plan on upgrading to this in the Spring. I'll keep you posted.

russ carr
1.14.09 @ 10:04a

My mother, an admitted ginger fiend, has taken to making her own ginger ale, grating hunks of the fresh stuff and then cooking it into a thick, potent syrup. Then she just mixes a couple of glugs with club soda on a glass-by-glass basis.

mike julianelle
1.14.09 @ 1:46p

Dr. Pepper is the greatest drink on earth.

I agree that this new tax sucks. But I will avoid it most of the time because a year or two ago I made the switch to DIET Dr. Pepper. Before you mock, let me explain. Diet Dr. Pepper, unlike Diet Coke - which tastes like plastic - has a favor that bears EXTREMELY close resemblance to the original. There's a BIT of an aftertaste, and I do sometimes indulge in the hardcore stuff, but it is easily the best diet soda out there. You compromise VERY LITTLE in flavor for some improved health. Cutting regular soda out of your diet goes a long way towards reducing sugar intake and can reward you with a quick drop in weight, and now in NY will save you some money.

So if you have to do it, go for DDP. It's a small price to pay, certainly a lot less than 18%.

jeffrey walker
1.14.09 @ 1:52p

I do appreciate the tip. Still, and this is probably a personal problem, I don't want a drop in weight!. I would attribute that fairly regular sodas, beer and peanut butter consumption are 1/2 the reason I can barely maintain my 124 lbs. status. Weight gain is never my issue; if anything, each time I get a cold and /or stomach flu, I have to struggle to not waste away.

Point being, this tax, designed to fight obesity, might well cause me to drop to an unhealthy weight. That's not making me healthier...

mike julianelle
1.14.09 @ 2:11p

Yes, I have seen you in person, you are a twig. Point taken.


russ carr
1.14.09 @ 5:26p

Best NON-ALCOHOLIC drink, perhaps.

sandra thompson
1.14.09 @ 7:15p

I'm not getting into this soda war thing, except to just say that Dr. Pepper is the best soda there is or ever has been. I don't drink soda any more. I drink juice and water. I don't live in New York. Nobody's threatened to tax anything I drink down here in Florida yet. When they do I'll write y'all about it. Good luck with the homemade stuff. Most homemade stuff is way better than storebought.

mike julianelle
1.14.09 @ 8:59p

Russ, I definitely drink more beer than I do soda, and I love me some beer, among other alcoholic drinks, based on flavor alone, it's the Doctor, hands down.

lisa r
1.15.09 @ 12:18a

My mother, an admitted ginger fiend, has taken to making her own ginger ale, grating hunks of the fresh stuff and then cooking it into a thick, potent syrup. Then she just mixes a couple of glugs with club soda on a glass-by-glass basis.

That sounds intriguing---I love ginger ale. I wish we could get Blenheim ginger ale up here. That, and Cheerwine.

russ carr
1.15.09 @ 11:54a

Blenheim is THE best ginger ale, ever. EV. ER.

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