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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A Meat Eater’s Guide to Better Health and Greener Eating

Note to readers: I’ve been incredibly busy with studying and taking the GREs while getting my nutrition certificate. Now that I am finished both, I’m back and even more revved up to share my newfound knowledge. Start checking back regularly. And comment! 

New York Times columnist Mark Bittman sung the praises of the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) newest release in his article “More Weight on Less Meat.” Of their Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change and Health, Bittman writes that it is “a comprehensive report that suggests what’s become a common refrain here and elsewhere: we all need to eat fewer animal products – not just meat, but dairy as well.”

Like many vegetarians, I hardly expect those of us who do eat meat to change into tofu/seitan/tempeh guzzlers overnight. Yet it is hard to deny the benefits of eating less meat to both our health and environment, so I am with the EWG here. You don’t have to go vegan to do your body and the earth a solid. Carnivores take heed, eating less meat can still significantly and positively impact your health and the environment.

EWG’s full report is about 20 pages long with 3 1/2 pages of references. If this sounds intimidating, they have a handy at-a-glance brochure that summarizes their report in 7 pages that are approachable, understandable, succinct, and most importantly, compelling. The large print and colorful bubbled facts could put even zealous carnivores in a pensive state.

I encourage you to go through this brochure and take a look at the reported facts and figures. Their “lifecycle assessments” measured by environmental analysis firm CleanMetrics are innovative. I do, however, have a  few issues with this brochure. Below are my top three contentions taken from the report that I debate as misleading or incomplete.

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The Linchpin To Going Green Is On Your Plate

Going green gets literal.

You’ve replaced all the bulbs in your house with energy efficient bulbs, started biking and walking places, collected reusable cloth shopping bags, switched to a hybrid car, bought a share in a community garden, use natural soaps and detergents, and recycle down to your last biodegradable straw and spoon. You, like many others, know that going green is better for the environment, and it is.

But it’s not the whole story.

You’ve surely heard of carbon emissions, the front liner and resident bad guy. The dastardly gas that we all blame for making the ozone into swiss cheese. Endless news broadcasts and policy debates revolve around efficient cars and factory emissions. While I applaud the (sortof) effort that several governmental administrations have expended, there is a far bigger pollutant that policy makers have been ignoring. Move over, carbon, there’s a new villain in town, although it’s technically not new, and goes by the name of methane.

Quick science review: each harmful gas is measured by it’s global warming potential (GWP). It measures how much heat gases trap in the atmosphere. The potential of a gas depends on the time span in which its effects are considered. Carbon is the system’s baseline at 1. If we take a look at methane’s GWP over a 20 year span, its GWP is 72. Methane traps 72 times the heat that carbon traps. Methane accounts for just about half of Earth’s manmade warming, yet almost no attention is paid to this massive pollutant. Animal agriculture makes a 40% greater contribution to global warming than all the transportation in the world combined; it is the number one cause of climate change.

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GMO should stand for Governmentally Modified Options

It actually stands for genetically modified organisms. Technically, all organisms are genetically modified either by natural selection or by farmers cross-breeding or cross-pollinating for optimal products. What I’m referring to is the process of genetic modification by genetic engineers. As in, putting some caterpillar genes in some corn genes to make the plant resistant to caterpillars. Mmm.

Was hungry for corn. Now, not so much.

If you want to know if what you’re buying is a genetically engineered (GE) product, reading the label won’t offer much insight, unfortunately. GMOs aren’t labeled. GE ingredients might or might not be included in your food. “Non-GMO” is labeled, however. According to Mark Bittman, author of “Why Aren’t GMO Foods Labeled?” (food safety and food politics guru), unless your food is labeled “Non-GMO,” it probably contains genetically engineered ingredients. Whole Foods statistics put the prevalence of GMOs in our crops at 93% of soy, 93% of corn, 93% of canola seeds, and 86% of cotton.

Scientific evidence hasn’t yet conclusively proved GMOs are immediately harmful to everyone who eats them. Evidence also hasn’t proven that they’re safe in the long term, either. We do know that you risk of an allergic reaction and eventually adapting the antibiotic-resistant properties of GMO products. Do people know this? Not really. The information isn’t widely circulated.

Truth: Neither the FDA nor the USDA require GMO products to be labeled as such, because, “they don’t want people to think the foods are different.”

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