Argument for the In-Class SNAPtastic Debate

On Tuesday, our Nutrition and Society class was split in two and instructed to provide sensible arguments (like those that are occurring, we hope, in the halls of Congress) related to the 2012 Farm Bill and specifically the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — better know as SNAP.

My contribution to the Pro-Reforming SNAP group took the form of bullet points, which I’ve included below:

Conservative commentators and politicians, along with more progressive nutritionists are in agreement.  Federal dollars can do a better job of discouraging unhealthy habits like soda consumption while promoting the habits that more affluent families value, have access to, and more likely act on (i.e. patronage of farmers markets, using skills and free time to cook or recreate, etc.).  And we can start by reforming SNAP.

My primary interest in seeking reform comes out of a concern over health care costs, which clearly aren’t borne by individuals.  This is especially true when individuals participate in Medicaid or Medicare programs, but it’s less evident in the role that other people play in determining an individual’s health insurance premiums.  If we’re really serious about reaping the benefits of preventative care – instead of proclaiming what the benefits are in public forums – we would reform SNAP and the food system as a whole to level the playing field between fruits and veggies, and their largest competitor in the marketplace (highly processed foods whether they be in the sugary, fatty, or salty realms).

We won’t solve anything by banning the SNAP-py purchase of this beverage or the colorful edibles above.

After all, “According to the USDA, 70% of recipients spend their own money to purchase a portion of their household food.”  This means that if you want soda, you get soda.  Instead of installing another bandaid atop the lip of the soda bottle, we need a vision for how to use the Farm Bill, and SNAP specifically to channel funds towards low-income people who value nutrition.  They need support.  And so do farmers, who would love to broaden the Occupy Movement to include chapters focused on occupying new farmers markets in urban deserts

[This is pure embellishment, but the point is that a lot of farmers I know would kill to feed more people, especially the hungry, working poor – they just need to see the federal government, local organizations, and citizens step up to the plate by opening up new markets for their goods].

That’s what’s so beautiful about the Double Value Coupon Programs (DVCP) I mentioned in a previous post.  It provides the incentive that, coupled with banning pop and junk food, could send more people to farmers markets than ever.  Check out the growth of farmers markets in neighborhoods where the program was implemented by foundations and non-profit organizations like Wholesome Wave (see table below).

Farmers Market
SNAP Redemption Before DVCP ($)
YEAR 1 DVCP Programming
Year 2 DVCP Programming
East Atlanta, GA
Hope Street, RI
Billings Forge, CT
61st Street, Chicago, IL

Imagine if SNAP recipients could:

a) use their rollover benefits OR

b) supplement with their own cash OR

c) use a monthly pay-as-you-go framework …

… in order to afford becoming members of CSA’s.

It’s important to recognize that such “solutions” have probably been suggested and would require breaking down other barriers to ensure success.  But barriers like foodie skill-building (e.g. educating people how to prepare meals or preserve excesses), I submit, are barriers for the wider public and not just inhibitors for the poor.

And unless we release a flood of new programs that allow communities to develop healthier food systems, we don’t stand a chance at discouraging what’s easy and what’s causing chronic health problems that affect us all — that is, the mainstream American lifestyle that so many people recognize as the root cause of the problem.


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