Sunday, April 17, 2011

Banning Use Of Food Stamps For Soft Drinks

What do you think? Should sugary drinks be placed on SNAP's ineligible list? I'm against it. At least, I haven't been convinced.

This is not the same as banning soft drink vending machines in schools. These are adults - working adults, disabled adults, seniors - people who have paid and are paying thousands of dollars in taxes to protect themselves in times of need. Unemployment Benefits and Social Security Benefits fall into this category.

I wouldn't like my boss telling me what foods I could purchase with my paycheck. How does he know what's best for me? If you're going to ban soda for health reasons, why not ban chips, candy, cookies, and cake? Or meat and cheese ("saturated fat" as the USDA calls them)? Or grains? Or bread products? Or soy products? Or dairy? Each of these foods has a group that advocates against their consumption. And then, as you ban specific foods, how do you manage programs like Meals-On-Wheels or Adult Day Care which allow food stamps?

If you're going to restrict at all, why not ask the recipients of the program what they prefer? They're the ones who have to live with it. "We have $x to allot. Which items would you like to have that cover, and which will you forfeit?"

That's if you're running the SNAP program solely as a nutrition program. I can't help but see government-sponsored food programs as a type of subsidy, in part. They are as much about using tax dollars to boost particular agricultural sectors as they are about attending to citizens' nutritional needs.


virginia said...

you've convinced me (to be against the ban).

Bix said...

I was just thinking out loud. I do see the other side but ...
Sweetened drinks are a great way to provide fluid and calories to undernourished seniors too. The woman in the photo is getting a juice drink ... would they be banned? I don't know...

manu said...

I take that there it's the same as in europe where in the poorest areas the few stores they have sell only the most processed and fastest food and processed crap.

By eliminating soft drinks it's like as much as 30% of the calories in that store, eliminate cookies and chocolates and burgers and hot dogs and it's the other 30%.

Even if the poor wanted decent food were would they find it?

Bix said...

Oh boy, manu, there you go. That's it in a nutshell.

Unknown said...

I wonder if there's a hidden reason behind this: People paying taxes complain to their congress critters about seeing EBT used for junk food.

BTW, we recently had a new pizza delivery flyer on our door, proudly advertising they accept EBT.

How much food could be purchased with the price of a delivered pizza?

Anonymous said...

I somewhat agree with you but on the other side of the coin, my husband works at a grocery store and sees the fattest, laziest, dumbest people coming through his line buying all sorts of crap on food stamps. Not just a case of soda, but a whole cart of soda. Not just a little box of kool-aid, but 20 boxes and 10 pounds of sugar to make it with. Not just some frozen taquitos to give the kids as a treat, but a box of frozen taquitos for dinner every night of the week. Occasionally they don't have quite enough on the card to cover the food- invariably they put back the one or two pieces of fresh produce.

These are the same people who are driving a new Mercedes or Lexus with dealer plates, and have a brand new iPhone and a designer-label purse. I sure don't feel like it is an injustice to them to tell them what they can and can't eat with MY tax dollars.

caulfieldkid said...


You are expressing frustration based on a select data set. But your overall premise touches on a bigger issue. When someone is given funds by the government, how much control of those funds does society maintain vs. the freedom of the individual?

They have already been limited to food items. Should they be limited to only healthy items? Who defines healthy? What about foods that are only unhealthy in excess? If someone should not be allowed to purchase certain foods with public funds, on what basis should they be allowed to purchase them with private funds? Why give them funds at all; would sending boxes of pre-selected food be more efficient/healthier?

What's more important, letting someone maintain some basic freedoms of choice or making sure subsidy funds are spent in a manner pleasing to the populace?

Then again, maybe I'm missing your point. Maybe there should be a basic test administered to measure competence before allowing someone food stamps. The "fattest, laziest, dumbest people" could be relegated to a different program. Maybe your argument is that their inability to make basic, good food choices for themselves, should keep them from receiving benefits all together. If they die early deaths from malnutrition, surely it's no more a loss than society paying for them to live three extra years getting fatter and dumber on our tax dollars. Anyone who isn't smart enough or willful enough to either work sufficiently for their food choices or use public funds "wisely" doesn't deserve to eat. Is that your basic premise?


Anonymous said...

"Anyone who isn't smart enough or willful enough to either work sufficiently for their food choices or use public funds "wisely" doesn't deserve to eat."

Pretty much. They don't deserve to eat whatever they like, on my dime, and become an even greater burden on our health care system.

You might be frustrated too, if you and your husband worked three full-time jobs between you to put (healthy) food in your children's mouths, and saw leeches such as these every day, contributing nothing to society, only taking.

the government does not have a great track record in defining healthy, for sure. But I feel confident that limiting soda is not going to cause any nutrient deficiencies in anyone anytime soon.

"Why give them funds at all; would sending boxes of pre-selected food be more efficient/healthier?"

Sounds good to me. I bet about 75% of those on food stamps would un-enroll themselves from the program.

Anonymous said...

by the way, your idea for sending boxes of pre-selected food made me think of this. There is one guy my husband sees in his store all the time who uses his food stamps for nothing but meat. Carts and carts of meat. One day he came in wearing a shirt that said "BBQ Heaven." A little sleuthing revealed he is the owner of said BBQ Heaven, a trailer BBQ joint downtown. So he uses his food stamps (about $1200/month) to buy meat for his BBQ business. What's worse, he also comes in with other people who use their food stamps to buy him meat and he gives them cash. My husband has actually videotaped this and tried to report it to the welfare authorities, but they didn't care.

Bix said...

As I understand it, banning soda from food stamp purchases (and taxing it) is being considered as a way to help low-income people lose weight. (At least, that's the stated reason.)

That's where I'm trying to be convinced. Food stamps are usually a temporary thing. And as long as healthier foods (say, fruits, vegetables) are more difficult to come by for this group (financially, logistically), I doubt this weight loss will come about.

I know some studies find increasing the cost of soda results in weight loss ... I still have a hard time with it.

caulfieldkid said...

Sorry for hijacking your post Bix. I'll digress.

To the point: I don't see how it would accomplish the goal of helping those within the program lose weight. Whenever you create a vacuum, unless you then fill it, something else will come along to take it's place.

The studies you mention about the increased cost of soda, I'm curious as to how long they lasted. I can see a short term weight loss until one finds another sugary substitute to give them one's "fix."

I don't disagree with Anon that there is much gaming of the system and waste involved in these programs. I just have a philosophical difference of opinion on the proper ethical framework in which changes must be made.

I also think that helping the poor maintain a healthy weight/nutritional diet is a noble goal. I just don't think this hits the mark. If it wont work, there's no point in even moving the conversation forwards as to the ethics of it all.


Bix said...

Good points. I liked the vacuum analogy.

I was thinking of other reasons people are considering this (artificially raising the cost of soda or junk food).

One may be to get manufacturers to stop selling cheap food, to reformulate it or make it healthier in some way. Does that work? I don't know but I don't like seeing it carried out on the backs of consumers like this because it's regressive, it affects lower-income people disproportionately.

Another reason is what Shreela said, politicians responding to some vocal group. With the soda tax, you even raise revenue.

Angela and Melinda said...

People can use their own money for whatever they want to eat. But when you're talking about public funding, you're in the realm of "public health." The point of public health is keeping the public as healthy as possible so that they don't become a great fiscal drag on the economy, particularly through the economic sector of health care. According to Mark Bittman, we could save a trillion dollars by not having to treat avoidable (preventable) diseases. See his article here:
He cites a study by the Amer. Heart Assoc. about the cost of heart disease alone, and that's just one of the preventable diseases he mentions--see here:
So, when we're talking about our tax dollars at work, I think I would come down on the side of prohibiting foods that not only are bad for folks but that don't have *any* positive contribution to make to health (like soda).

Ronald said...

The tax is just hitting at an unpopular group, the poor. Why don't we get rid of the poor and solve the problem?

"Are there no prisons?'

'Plenty of prisons,' said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.

'And the Union workhouses.' demanded Scrooge. 'Are they still in operation?"

Maybe we could tax the poor enough so they would be forced to no longer be poor and have to make more money. We could have a surcharge if you make less than a certain amount each year to force them to make more. If they can't pay up we could use them as bus people at the many, many fine expensive restaurants that are in cities. Or maybe have them clean our cars while we dine on fine wines and expensive food. I am sick of the poor who force me to give part of the money I earn to help ease their suffering. Those selfish bastards. What do they think this is a rich country with supposed Christian values who have plenty to share. My 401K took a real hit this year and I am forced to vacation locally this year. Oh the indignity!

Bix said...

I'm not as optimistic as you Melinda, that increasing the price of soda (essentially) will lead to lower healthcare costs.

If we care about public health and lowering healthcare costs we would be expanding access to healthier foods. ... We could expand what WIC covers. We could cut the cost of produce to recipients. We could subsidize the growing of of fresh fruits and vegetables. We could modify "crop insurance" and other subsidies we pay for the growing of crops like corn.

I think these would have more of an impact on Americans' health, and subsequently the cost of healthcare, than adding a few cents to the cost of soda or nit-picking a food list. Those, as was said previously, are fraught with ethical problems.

Bix said...

Well, Ronald, that was a trenchant argument.

Compassion and generosity may be Christian values, but I sometimes wonder if they are American values.

caulfieldkid said...

Dr. Mel,

I do understand your sentiment: "I think I would come down on the side of prohibiting foods that not only are bad for folks but that don't have *any* positive contribution to make to health (like soda)."

So let's just say this does become a point in legislation. What would I do if I were a soda company? I don't know about you, but I would fortify my drinks with vitamins. It worked for the cereal companies (see WIC). Some might consider that a step in the right direction. I don't know. I think it might end up making things worse (for numerous reasons).

Just sayin'. . .

caulfieldkid said...

What next Ronald? You want us to start selling our children for food? :)


Ronald said...

CFK, Sounds like a modest proposal to me.

Why doesn't the government charge the soda manufacturers for the harm their products are causing? They do it to tobacco companies. Is it that it would affect portfolios instead of the poor, and we can't have that since portfolio owners have much more political clout. So fatten up those kids.

caulfieldkid said...

I didn't realize food stamps were in this wide of use:

Bix said...

Holy cow, what's Oregon doing at 20%? Is that a senior population?

Anonymous said...

I am a single mother of 2 using food stamp assistance to help feed my children while I am in nursing school (I am a straight A student... and about 20 lbs underweight, by no fault of my own... so thanks for the "everyone on food stamps are fat and stupid" analogy....) almost all of what I buy with food stamps is healthy food... fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grain pasta and breads, unprocessed meats and cheese. Every meal my children AND myself have something from all of the food groups. But I do still get SOME fattening items (little debbie snacks and pop... because otherwise I would be even more underweight). So it would not be a good thing for me if these were not options for people on food stamp assistance. Why ruin it for people like me who are using it as intended (to help us while we are getting on our feet) because of a few fat, irresponsible jerks? Let's take this attitude into a few more areas...

Ban all priests from being near little boys because of the priests who were raping those kids. No parent should ever be able to touch alcohol (EVER) because some parents get drunk and beat their children to death. Make gasoline and glue illegal because some people huff. Don't give any student loans because some people don't care to pay off their's.....

Okay so I am not saying to actually do these things... I am just making my point.

Bix said...

To Anonymous right above me, you made that point well.