07 February 2012

Soda, Sugar, and Subsidies

(My altered version of this lesson plan from PBS. For use in the agriculture or economics unit.)

I start with a can of sugary soda that they're all familiar with and probably crave. How much would they pay? We read the ingredients. Which ones come from farms? (They should recognize 'corn' in 'high fructose corn syrup.') How much of their money do they think makes it to farmers? Would they pay more for a healthier soda? Would they pay more so the farmers get more money?

Because of subsidies, no matter how much they pay for that soda, the farmer gets the same. Subsidies do two things: they help farms out in a bad year, and they put a cap on crop prices. It's almost like an insurance policy that the government creates for the farmers and consumers.

Sounds good, right? Unfortunately, subsidies (and the farm bill in general) only help certain crops, and ignore others. For example, let's say you play the guitar, and your brother plays the piano. Do you think it's fair if your mom pays for your brother to get piano lessons, but tells you that the guitar just isn't as useful as the piano, so you have to pay for your own piano lessons.

This leads to a debate among students. Maybe the piano is a more useful skill to have. Maybe corn is more important to our country.

Another thing the farm bill does is discourage sugar imports. Corn syrup is incredibly cheap vs cane sugar, so soda manufacturers and candy makers use it almost exclusively. Is this a problem? Is cane sugar any better? This is where the taste test comes in. The whole class tastes the same soda, one has real sugar, the other has corn syrup. Which do they prefer? Which do they think has the real sugar?

In the end, students may only remember getting to drink soda in class. Or they might accidentally retain information about the farm bill. Maybe sugar is a moot point, since we're trying to cut down on any sort of sweetener, but nevertheless it introduces a whole world of politics, agriculture, and economy into their previously ignorant lives.

1 comment:

  1. So what was the consensus? Did cane sugar taste better than corn syrup?