Next month, after three years of legislative tug-of-war, the Navajo Nation will become the first place in the United States to impose a tax on junk food. The Healthy Diné Nation Act of 2014, signed into law by Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly last November, mandates a 2 percent sales tax on pastries, chips, soda, desserts, fried foods, sweetened beverages, and other products with "minimal-to-no-nutritional value" sold within the borders of the nation's largest reservation.
Authored by the Diné Community Advocacy Alliance (DCAA), a grassroots organization of community volunteers, the legislation was modeled on existing taxes on tobacco and alcohol, as well as other fat and sugar tax initiatives outside the United States. The act follows on the heels of a spring 2014 amendment that removed a 5 percent tribal sales tax on fresh fruits and vegetables.
The sales tax will generate an estimated $1 million a year in 110 tribal chapters for wellness projects—greenhouses, food processing and storage facilities, traditional foods cooking classes, community gardens, farmers' markets, and more.