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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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  1. Roger Atkinson  •  Oct 11, 2014 at 11:49 pm

    When I get a grocery receipt, the product purchased is listed. The scanner accesses an inventory number that includes the product name. Why not make certain products (like soda and chips) ineligible for food stamp reimbursement? Then the funds would have to be spent on healthy products. Another benefit would be that food stamp purchases could be aggregated by product type. This information could be published so the taxpayers could know where their tax dollars are going.

    • Stephanie  •  Oct 16, 2014 at 9:23 pm

      I think both comments make excellent points. When a food has little or no nutritional value, in our home it is classified as ‘entertainment” not food. If it is not a necessity for good health then it is an extra. I totally agree with both responders to allow wholesome foods only for food stamp recipients. If they have extra money in their budget…..use it for entertainment/junk food. Food stamps should be keeping families from dire hunger and provide temporary help during a rough patch, not provide entertainment. Our government is too weak to do the obvious adjustments needed to the food stamp program. Both of these ideas are excellent and easy fixes toward progress and health. If recipeints don’t like it….go off food stamps!

  2. Richard Hart  •  Oct 16, 2014 at 6:25 pm

    When my wife and I had our son five years ago, I had just lost a good paying job and we both had to take service industry jobs (pizza delivery and waitressing). We were low enough income to qualify for WIC aide. WIC gave us vouchers with very specific rules on what each of them could get for us: one for a gallon of milk, another for fruits or vegetables, another for a loaf of bread, another for a “healthy” cereal, etc… The grocery stores we shopped at even had signs on the shelves labeling items as “WIC approved.” Why is this done with one federal food assistance program but not for another? How hard would it actually be to switch food stamps into a voucher system like the one that already exists for WIC?

  3. david  •  Oct 23, 2014 at 8:05 pm

    I always love hearing from all the hypocrites. What are you eating in your home,liars. Granted some people abuse the system,but the minute you regulate what others can and can not eat,well,guess what, the government will be telling all you other fat a..s what you can not eat,because they,the government are now in charge of YOUR HEALTHCARE stupid!

    The fact is that poor people eat a lot of potatoes,pasta,rice,and other starchy foods that are CHEAP! They can hardly afford meat,let alone fresh fruit and vegetables. That is a luxury to them,but what would you morons know. You all act like they live on sodas and chips. I mean really,use that brain God gave you,if you have not sullied your senses with all those prescription drugs YOU ALL EAT! Another luxury not afforded to the poor! No,go ahead and tell all the poor what to eat,because YOUR NEXT!

    • lisa  •  Aug 12, 2016 at 2:48 am

      OK David, who likes to throw insults. I cooked for a family of six on $60.00 a week for four years – and it can be done. But you have to get you a.. off the couch, plan menus, cook from scratch and spend time cleaning up. Junk food is fast, but expensive and I rarely, if ever, purchased it, soda was a rare treat. Eating out was out of the question. I refused to go on WIC out of personal principle. I bought produce in the summer at Farmer's Markets, we picked and preserved our own, we were active, we ate healthy and we didn't get fat. I bought turkey when it was $1.00/pound – I made it into soups, casseroles and sandwiches. Eggs and beans are also cheap protein, as is hamburger. The government put out the four food groups many years ago, based on faulty science. This high carb/low fat diet has resulted in epidemic obesity and diabetes. More politics and corporate money was behind these recommendations than science. Several documentaries on Netflix chronicles this as well as youtube research presented by leading physicians. The government has been telling us what to eat since the 70's, and many college nutrition instructors feel into lock step. Research that disputed these guidelines was put under the table. The poor did not used to be fat. America did not used to be fat. Believe me you can eat really good with WIC and food stamps. Many of us poor college students were chagrinned at the expensive items "the poor" could afford to purchase with their food stamp dollars. They could also afford to use the emergency room as their primary care physician, while the rest of us sat up all night rocking uncomfortable babies with ear infections, waiting to get into the medical clinic in the morning. Seriously, do you know what it costs to go to the emergency room?! I completely agree with Richard. Those who are are food stamps should be limited on what they can purchase with this money. Of course there are those who scam the system, trade their stamps for bargain cash and buy alcohol and drugs. You need to spend some time working with the poor, maybe you have, but my experience isn't that they can't afford good healthy food, of can't get exercise, or don't have access to free GED tutoring and testing, but often don't want to make the effort. The government makes it too easy to be poor and too hard to work – they can crunch the numbers and know how to work the system.

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