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DIANE MEDVED: Feds Say: Food Stampers Too Fat, Spend More Dough

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Somebody said “Do something” about the 47,636,000 people receiving government food stamps. They’re too fat because they buy sodas and junk food, and don’t have the knowledge or access to fresh produce in order to change. Voila: another big government program.

The press release today from the US Department of Agriculture is basically a call for organizations to apply for their slice of a $31,500,000 pie–make that broccoli pie. The government wants to fund programs to lure these food stamp (now called SNAP, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) recipients to veggies.

It seems the Feds keep trying to change poor peoples’ SNAP decisions.

This comes after recent reports that Americans are already health-ifying their snacks–though Pop-Tarts remain their most beloved grab-n-go.
The implication is that SNAP-sters are fatter than other groups, and that they stay that way because they buy junk food instead of produce. It’s not their faults–they’re ignorant and can’t find produce to buy in their “food desert” neighborhoods, now renamed “Promise Zones.” All they need is “incentives” to buy lettuce and squash, and they’ll slim down, get healthier and thereby save taxpayer money on healthcare in the end. This is speculation without research basis,of course.

Nevertheless, over the years, the government has spent millions and millions of dollars in hopes of saving…well, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack boldly asserts it’s “billions.” This round, the funds come via the 2014 Farm Bill: “The Farm Bill builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past five years, while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for taxpayers.”

After the platitudinous self-congratulations, Secretary Vilsack laments, “Too many struggling families do not have adequate access to nutritious food. Helping families purchase more fresh produce is clearly good for families’ health, helps contribute to lower health costs for the country, and increases local food sales for family farmers.” Good for taxpayers? Not so much. SNAP cost them–us–nearly $80 billion (with a B) in 2013 alone. That doesn’t count this new $31 million, of course.

While pushing produce, the governments program evokes another food: alphabet soup. The money’s a carrot-on-a-stick for groups to start ever more bureaucratically-overseen programs (each one with an external evaluator and internal evaluation), under the auspices of FINI, the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive program: “FINI is a joint effort between NIFA [National Institute of Food and Agriculture] and USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, which oversees SNAP… Funding for the FINI program is authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill. 

Are you confused yet? If so, there’s a webinar Oct. 2 to explain.

It’s condescending to assume that SNAP-sters buy junk because they don’t know better, and need an “incentive” to buy veggies. Good health, it seems, is not enough.

I doubt there’s any American child or adult who attended school who escaped learning about nutrition. It’s true that if consumers steep themselves in media, they may be bombarded by ads for sweets–as well as admonishing doctors and commercials for “healthy” and “nutritious” ingredients.

Even McDonald’s touts fresh apple slices for kids. And this week, the chain cleverly provided lines of would-be purchasers of the new Apple iPhone 6 freebie fruit (or apple pies).

I think there’s money to be made in a device grocers install near various types of products to “incentivize” purchases. When a shopper’s hand reaches for soft drinks, cookies or sugary cereals, it’s zapped with low-dose current. When his hand approaches zucchini, plums or avocados, he gets a puff of happy pheromones.

Hmm, maybe I ought to apply for a grant. After all, the USDA seeks programs that “Test innovative or promising strategies that would contribute to our understanding of how best to increase the purchase of fruits and vegetables by SNAP participants…” 

I realize my idea, while meeting the criterion, is a tough sell. Unfortunately, those eeevil grocers are in cahoots with the nefarious processed foods industry, and want you to buy items with the most profit for them–so while they say they support SNAPping up celery, they prefer carts filled with Mallomars and ice cream.

Ummmm, no. Could it be that SNAP recipients’ higher rates of obesity and related diabetes have a more complex cause? Could faulty assumptions about the causes of obesity and poverty underlie this $31 million program to make produce appealing to the poor? There’s a lot of money resting on those assumptions; perhaps they should be proven sound first.

Read Diane’s blog here

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