March 22, 2013

Regarding Charles Lane’s March 19 op-ed column, “Munchies instead of meals”:

In addition to making millions of Americans obese and sick, our junk food and drink crisis costs taxpayers billions of dollars annually through increased health costs and lost productivity.

Mr. Lane is right that a sensible place to start is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and we should take aim at banning one of the leading causes of obesity: junk drinks. But we shouldn’t limit prohibitions to low-income people who depend on SNAP while excluding others who also receive federal dollars for food and drinks, including government workers traveling on official business and soda companies that get tax breaks for advertising campaigns that target children.

If we finally do the right thing and end what amounts to a taxpayer subsidy of the obesity crisis, it should be applied equitably.  

Daniel Zingale, Sacramento

The writer is senior vice president of the California ­Endowment.

Charles Lane’s column brought back memories. In 1970, I (age 7), my sister (6) and my mother (40 and 5 months pregnant) arrived in the United States from Cuba as political exiles. (My father was not permitted to leave.) For years, we depended on food stamps. No matter the weather, the beginning of the month found my mother with her shopping cart and three children in tow, walking approximately 15 city blocks to the supermarket with the best prices in Union City, N.J.

One of the few things we had to look forward to was the opportunity to buy the kinds of things my son today takes for granted: treats like Hostess cupcakes, a bottle of soda or a bakery item. My mother, a nurse who despised soda, candy, chocolate and pretty much anything sweet, allowed us this extravagance once a month, the only time she could afford it, for she herself knew all too painfully well the disappointment a child experiences when candy, trivial but prized in childhood, is out of reach.

Mr. Lane made some good points about nutrition. The fact that Michelle Obama and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg need to remind us of these basic nutritional principles is a sad commentary on how we do not appreciate our bountifulness in a healthier way. But it is painful enough to need food stamps. Let us not make it more demeaning and refrain from dictating diets to those at the receiving end of our largess.

Carmen R. Pomares, Fort Washington

Charles Lane’s column reinforced my concern about the nutrition that our boys and girls are getting — I should say, not getting — in our fast-paced world today. My perspective on the problem is a strictly unscientific one. Looking back over 65 years at the elementary school pictures of my youth, I am struck by the contrast between the seemingly robust-looking kids in the photos and the faces of so many of today’s youth. In my opinion, many of the elementary school kids today have pallid and drawn facial features. Is this my imagination? When I see the munchies that so many parents feed to their children instead of balanced foods, I fear that there may be something to my unscientific observation.

Jim Kirkman, Annandale

As a co-founder of a new grass-roots parent advocacy group promoting better food in the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), I read Charles Lane’s column with interest. I had a similar experience upon examining the food available in cafeterias in Maryland’s top-rated school system. Much as with the Agriculture Department’s guidelines for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the USDA guidelines on school food are no guarantee of good nutrition.

For example, every day of the school year in all 202 of its schools, MCPS sells flavored milk with more sugar per serving than a candy bar offers. This is perfectly acceptable under the USDA guidelines, and because the Food and Drug Administration’s oversight of chemical food additives is not as rigorous as one would hope, this milk comes laden with artificial color and artificial flavor.

“Nutritional common sense” (to use Mr. Lane’s apt phrase) would limit this type of fare to outside mealtime.

Karen Devitt, Silver Spring

The writer is co-founder of Real Food for Kids-Montgomery.