Parks and Recreation
Season 5, Episode 2: “Soda Tax”
Created by Greg Daniels and Michael Schur. Post by fffab74
A hilarious take on growing soda sizes, as Leslie, councilwoman for the town of Pawnee, tries to combat obesity by imposing a soda tax. But is this (possibly “paternalistic”) measure justified?

Themes: Business Ethics: Corporate responsibility. Freedom, responsibility and paternalistic measures. Essential freedom vs. Actual freedom.

Teaching tips:

This clip can be used to introduce a discussion focused on corporate responsibility: Are fast food places responsible for the potentially harmful effects of their menu offerings?

Most of my students will originally support the view that people are free to choose what they eat. Nobody forces anyone to eat at a fast food place; if this happens to be harmful, only the customer is responsible. But they will feel a bit uneasy regarding very big fast food chains such as McDonald’s.

The discussion can be made more interesting by introducing the distinction between “essential” and “actual” freedom. My”actual” freedom may be drastically narrowed if I lack true options, because of lack of resources (money, time, education, location). An inner city child may have a single parent who must work many jobs and is rarely at home, and the only place she can have a decent meal may be the McDonald’s on the way from school. Is that child really free to choose?

Questions for discussion:

  • Is the “soda tax” proposed in the clip justified?
  • Is the trend for ever-increasing soda sizes real? If so, what could be the reason behind it? Is it something that should be fought, or is it actually a bonus for the customer?
  • What responsibility do big fast food chains have regarding the health of their customers? Is this responsibility the same than small or family-owned fast food places?
  • Has their been a shift in the understanding of corporate responsibility?
  • Are the regular customers of such places really free to choose? Is their freedom impaired in some way?

Also see:

  • The most famous reference here is the movie Supersize Me!, which seems to have freaked out a whole generation of diners. Also the book Fast Food Nation (2001) and the movie based on that book.
  • Teenagers’ Suit Says McDonald’s Made Them Obese” (New York Times, 11/21/2002). This article is a  little old, but good to get the conversation rolling.
Please leave a comment (below) or send us a note! If you send further ideas on how to use a specific clip, we’ll move them to the body of the article.