March 19, 2013
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Healthier food for the poor? (Deb Lindsey/The Washington Post)

Food-judging and mooch-judging combine today in the comments to Charles Lane’s column proposing that the USDA block  federal benefits from being used to pay for particularly empty calories like soda and Cheetos.

Lane based his argument on a Sunday Post article by Eli Saslow that showed how the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — formerly known as food stamps — has totally transformed the way people shop in one town in Rhode Island. One grocer estimates 25 percent of his sales each month come on the day benefits arrive, and he hires workers especially to deal with the monthly SNAP boom. As taxpayer-funded benefits, they’re already social engineering, Lane argued, so why not use them as a tool against the obesity epidemic and diabetes, which hits poorer people disproportionately? Why not ensure people will be healthier, especially if their healthcare is taxpayer-funded, too?

Overwhelmingly, commenters agreed! The arguments against the proposal tended to be generalized ideological problems with it, not practical or specific to this issue (i.e., the ever-growing nanny state …).

flyover22 argues that further complicating the system just makes government more wasteful:

It must be tough to be a liberal. Give people money and they do what they want and don’t do what you want. Liberals are cat herders. Now the solution is to add more strings. The money is good for more of this but not that. How about bonus SNAP money for “proper” purchases. How about SNAP by BMI obesity measures? How about in-house audits? The government can hire 1 million SNAP Inspection agents (one for each 47 people on SNAP) to score their eating habits. How about $50B in taxpayer money to study, for four years, the purchasing/eating patterns of 27M SNAP users to determine how unhealthy the users eat to determine how much more money should be added to ObamaCare (but only after another 5 year, $120B dollars study). What about government food service which provides only nutritious food and junk food of big donor companies? Ooops that is already the school lunch program.

(… perched as it is on a slippery slope):

GaryEMasters

“Junk food” is only the tip of the ice. Later on they will go after all corn products, wheat (gluten) and even other basic food groups like dairy. I am surprised beans are not on some list. Soon enough it will be tofu and distilled water for people to live on.

Everyone else, though, was a big fan — both of the sentiment that the state has the right to restrict purchases it funds…

erinoconnell

It is a fair question. The State is funding the unhealthy foods that lead to childhood diabetes, and then funding the health care to treat that diabetes. It is hard to ignore the link. I agree, cut sodas out altogether.

limnetic792

The gov’t regulates which car [in terms of safety features, emissions, etc.], privately owned and paid for, I can drive on public streets in order to protect the safety of others. Why can’t they regulate what foods are paid for by tax dollars?

… and that getting ANYONE to eat healthier is better for us all.

republicanatheist

Stick with a healthy diet of beans, grains and healthy legumes. It’s much cheaper. Meat is a luxury in much of the world. We shouldn’t be subsidizing its purchase here.

edbyronadams

If people ate beans and rice, there probably wouldn’t be any need for the federal subsidy.

limnetic792

Limit the types of foods available to SNAP (just like WIC already does) and the corner stores in those neighborhoods will have it in their financial interest to start carrying those products. Let the market figure out how to take advantage our tax dollars flowing into these poor neighborhoods through food subsidies.

Many readers want to take the idea even further.

alance

Millions of the morbidly obese would be skinny if the government had outlawed High Fructose Corn Syrup ten years ago. That is impossible because of the food industry, Big Ag, and the FDA and USDA.

ericcallenking

Let local farmers get in on the welfare supply deal. If farmers where able to feed people directly in exchange for SNAP payments they could supply much more food than a grocery store by cutting out the middle man. The local farmer prospers, the food stamp holder gets fresh local food, and the environment benefits by connecting the customer and farmer without trucking food hundreds of miles. I used to work on a farm in Idaho, at harvest time if you wanted you could collect sacks of potatoes that the harvester missed for free, if you go right to the source, the farmer, food dollars stretch a long way.

ttbelllein

At my Kansas farmer’s market, food stamps receive double their value in buying power. I don’t know if this is a national program or not, but I like the idea of it.

ATL_CR

The larger question is should the government subsidize farming? Corn? Beef? If you just follow the supply chain of corn and to a lesser extent sugar — you could trace most causes of health problems here. If the government shouldn’t determine what eat or drink in terms of banning sodas in NYC, the same argument should stop the government from subsidizing corn – which in turn has the effect of encouraging the population to eat corn.

There are some pretty amazing stories out there about what eating healthier has done for people — omega 3 supplements might make prison populations less violent, and cutting out all animal foods have reportedly been as effective as surgery for some battling heart disease — but the most amazing of all is that the idea of OTHER people cutting down on soda consumption has, as you’ll see below, healed this nation, just a little bit.

testadom

I am as liberal as they come and I agree with this article. There is no reason for us to subsidize junk food. You want to eat it? Go ahead, but do it with your own money, just like beer and cigarettes. He is right. It’s supposed to be a nutrition program to help people who can’t afford good food. We don’t need to subsidize Coke and Frito-lay.

Cindybin

Finally a liberal that I like.

Harry Bounel

Me too!

Wow. Talk about cutting junk food being good for your heart.