USDA upholds use of food stamps to buy soda

Food stamps can be used to purchase sugary beverages like soda? You bet, it’s America!

New York proposed the USDA ban the use of food stamps to purchase sugar-sweetened food and beverages through their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Seems logical doesn’t it? The USDA didn’t agree. They prefer incentives to bans. In many cases, they work. In the case of taxpayers supporting those on welfare to make choices that ultimately put a strain on our health care system? Not so much. In my opinion, this is too cut-and-dry for this kind of wishy-washy reasoning for rejection. Here’s some of the reasons it didn’t pass, pulled from the letter written to Mayor Bloomberg from Jessica Shahin, an associate administrator in the Agriculture Department.

  • The proposal was “too large and complex.”
  • It would be difficult to determine which beverage products would be eligible under the proposed ban
  • It would be difficult to identify the impact on a reduction in obesity rates
  • Forcing compliance from retailers that sell sugary beverages would be difficult

Personally, I think our government has performed much more complex tasks without the sorry excuses listed above. Not buying it. As I recall, Obamacare is over 1,000 pages long. Sounds a hair more complex to me.

In a class on the American Welfare State at Columbia, the main message driven home was that in comparison to other, better functioning welfare states, such as those in Europe, ours is generous to a fault. It incentivizes those on welfare to stay on welfare. Make no mistake, I believe everyone has a right to food, but to which foods? For how long? Welfare assistance isn’t a government service meant to support a person or a family indefinitely, it is supposed to function as a temporary lift from an unfortunate situation. It should be such that you should never want you or your family to be on welfare. (Not that anyone wants it in the first place.) That’s where other states have been successful where we have failed. Being able to purchase sugary processed foods and drinks detracts from the incentive to get off of welfare.

The fact that those on welfare are incentivized to stay on welfare, in addition to the fact of imminent health risks that SNAP inadvertently encourages, are facts that need to change. I agree with the ban’s apologists. Targeting the demographic with the highest numbers of obesity rates only makes sense. It’s disappointing to see yet another logical and well-positioned policy proposal rejected for reasons of “consumer freedom.” No doubt the Center for Consumer Freedom and the food industry played a role here. (As I learned in Stuffed by Hank Cardello, the food industry masquerades with the CCF, giving generously to spread the message of consumer choice, while bombarding us and our kids with addicting ingredients and incessant advertising.)

Even if the ban were passed, however, would it solve the whole problem of people purchasing foods that make them sick? Of course not. Do we want people to want to get off of welfare so they can purchase their favorite candies? Definitely not. People look to the government (unfortunately) for nutrition advice. The government needs to send a clear message only healthy foods, defined healthy by the government, can be purchased through food stamps. Soda is not healthy. Both diet and regular pose significant health risks.

Having to buy fruits and vegetables isn’t a punishment, it’s a gift, albeit a seemingly simple one. Fruits and vegetables can prevent and reverse disease. This kind of purchasing power with food stamps is the kind that our government should stand firmly behind.

Maybe the next proposal will help remove the sugar haze keeping the SNAP program from requiring healthy choices.

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The Food Movement Elements

In my newest read, Food Politics by Marion Nestle, Nestle identifies the five elements of the food movement. Knowing these five categories also means you know the five approaches to our nation’s efforts towards making over our food systems.  The food movement is picking up speed and more spotlights are on it every day. Knowing the categories below is exceedingly helpful for putting current events and local efforts into context.

The following descriptions come from Food Politics by Marion Nestle on page x of her preface to the 2007 edition.

The Good Food Movement: This is what Farm Aid calls the demands for local, organic, or humanely raised food produced by family farms. Includes the Slow Food Movement and opposition to genetically modified foods and irradiated foods. 

The Farm-to-Community Movement: Aims to connect farmers to local communities through…

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