HOME > Chowhound > Food Media & News >


Mark Bittman's take on SNAP (food stamps) and Soda



The buzz from this article has mostly been about Bittman's call for food stamps to stop subsidizing soda. While I agree with him on this point, I wish he'd spent more time on the issue he mentions at the end of this article where he touches on how New York State doubles the value of SNAP "dollars" for food bought at farmers markets and he pushes for that doubling (or incentivizing) for "real" foods in grocery stores such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes.

  1. I think its fine a well to double the value of "real" foods but that doesn't solve the problem that many people who take advantage of food stamps are the working poor. Often they don't have easy access to good grocery stores never mind farmers markets. Many don't have fully working kitchens nor the many kitchen tools we all take for granted. Throw into it working more than one job and balancing those jobs with kids and/or other family members

    Mark often spouts that the poor should "just roast a chicken". I don't believe its as simple as that. My husband and I work full time, are middle/upper middle class and its hard for us to find the time to "roast a chicken" and make a healthy meal. It is a priority for us so we do it but its hard and we have every convenience.

    Many many people do it, hell my parents raised 5 kids with no assistance. Food was tight, disposable income was non- existent but they managed. But they did not have cheaper alternatives. There were no fast food places.

    These days you can feed a family of four for less than $10 at any one of the chains that seem to be on every corner in the urban neighborhoods. Its fast and easy. That roast chicken dinner would cost twice as much and take 4 times longer to prepare.

    56 Replies
    1. re: foodieX2

      Mark often spouts that the poor should "just roast a chicken". I don't believe its as simple as that.

      I agree it isn't that simple. In theory, it sounds like an easy solution. In practice, not so much.

      Through a former job, I visited a local halfway house type of center (I don't what term to use, it is a place where families can live short-term until permenant housing is found, not a open-up-nightly type of place).

      The director took me on a tour of their kitchen and shared with me that nearly all the residents have little to no cooking skills. Simple tasks such as browning ground beef seemed too hard for the residents because no one ever taught them. They think they can't do it so it becomes easier to turn to fast food. Part of the program was a requirement that all residents, children included, participate in meal planning and preparation. The director said it takes weeks for them to stop pushing back and become comfortable in the kitchen.

      In our own lives, I have the opportunity to share part of our beef and pork halves with someone in need. This person was perplexed when I handed it over, they had no idea how to prepare a roast in a crock pot.

      I do think some restrictions on what can be purchased with SNAP are not unreasonable.

      1. re: cleobeach

        As someone who used to be a case manager for welfare programs (including food stamps) this is spot on. Doubling food stamps for "real" foods won't do any good without education. People on food stamps need education about basic nutrition, and the negative effects of eating non-nutritious foods. They need education on how to store food, how to prepare food, etc. Heck, you could feed a lot of people for very little $ on rice and beans, but it doesn't work if they don't know how to cook non-"minute" rice and don't know how to prepare beans.

        They also need education on how to make food flavorful. If they manage to cook something but don't know how to season it, the food won't taste good and it will just encourage them to not "waste" their time in the future and instead go get processed prepared crap.

        1. re: LurkerDan

          absolutely -- I know it's hard to scrape together a couple of hours of free time, especially for the working poor, doubly if they have young kids, but the end result would be so much better for everyone.

          I'd like to see something like a slow cooker or pressure cooker as a "reward" for completing a short course on basic shopping, cooking, and nutrition...teach them AND give them the tools to feed themselves and their families better, healthier food....in such a manner that cooking at home is less hassle and cheaper than packing everyone into the car to go get fast food.

          1. re: sunshine842

            They also need a house to live in with electricity, pots, pans, etc. For the homeless - some of whom live in tents in beach parks around here - they cook on hibachis, but have to buy charcoal, and can keep food in coolers for a day or 2, but have to buy ice. It's not always as easy as some (mis)take it to be. Oh yeah, and you can't pay for charcoal with food stamps.

            1. re: KailuaGirl

              as I posted simultaneously downthread -- teaching someone basic nutrition still goes a long way....whether it's being eaten on the spot, thrown on the grill, or taken home and being put in the refrigerator of a section-8 refrigerator...and we can find exceptions to every scenario. Hopefully eventually we'll stop looking at why it won't work, and start making progress with helping folks however we can manage to do it.

              there are better choices than bellying up to a bucket of chicken, a bag of Doritos, and a six-pack of soda, and feeding your kids that crap.

              1. re: sunshine842

                I was a Legal Aid lawyer for ages and a lot of my clients lived on the beach because they were homeless. No one had a cell phone. I had to go to the beach parks and homeless encampments to find them to remind them of court dates etc. I sometimes took along some food (gov't cheese and peanut butter, powdered milk, and Bisquick were the norms) or juice. They cooked on the BBQ, got fish from the ocean as well as some seaweed and, on moonless nights, a really delicious type of crab. They also ate some wild grasses that were strange to me but tasted pretty damn good - kind of sour with a bite. Their cash budget was used on things like charcoal (although I hooked them up with a local charcoal maker who provided it for free after that - he was a restaurant supplier so made huge amounts of charcoal in his kilns), school supplies, gas for their ancient truck (the kids had to ride unrestrained in the bed), personal sanitary items such as shampoo etc., and occasionally a bottle of good wine to have with a special dinner. Their food stamps never lasted the entire month so they had to hit Food Banks most months. And that was with all the good, free food that the ocean and surrounding hills provided them.

                1. re: KailuaGirl

                  and more power to them!

                  But these are not the folks that this thread is primarily addressing -- they are definitely making the most of their foodstamps, and know how to stretch that to its absolute maximum...and doing it without subsisting on junk food.

                2. re: sunshine842

                  The actual key word in your statement, sunshine842, is "choices". I certainly would not want someone dictating to me which choices I can make regarding the type of food I consume regardless of that food being purchased with money I earned or food stamps.

                  If you were relegated to living on food stamps would you want a vegan dictating that you should not spend that money on meat, cheese or milk? I certainly would not be so arrogant as to order people to eat one type of food as opposed to another type of food. But I believe in allowing people to make their own choices.

                  1. re: Fowler

                    Fowler - by saying you believe in allowing people to make choices, then I'm curious as to what you think about allowing/not allowing alcohol to be purchased with food stamps. If technically the point of the program is to provide calories, that alcohol definitely fits into that category.

                    The reality is that there currently is a SNAP ban on alcohol as it is not considered a "legitimate" way to get calories/prevent hunger. I see no difference in debating the value of soda to reach those goals.

                    1. re: cresyd

                      Hello cresyd,

                      I was speaking of what the majority of us consider food, but there are probably some people that consider alcohol and/or soda their "food".

                      1. re: Fowler

                        If I misunderstood your post about what food choices you were advocating for, then I apologize.

                        If we're talking about what the majority of people consider to be food - then I think that's where there is room to open debate. The discussion on "alcohol as food" essentially ruled that no, alcohol does not count as food. And I think it's fair to open that debate on soda, and could have greater long term benefits to drink labeling in general. Basically making greater effort to draw a greater line between juice/soda.

                      2. re: cresyd

                        Alcohol is already limited to people 21 years old or older. That precludes children getting any of those calories, which in and of itself should prohibit the sale of alcohol using FS. I'm not opposed to people on FS purchasing alcohol with regular cash. To each his own. That cash could have been collected from recycling cans, received as a gift, or earned (remember, the majority of FS recipients are the working poor).

                        1. re: KailuaGirl

                          and I reckon it's the same with soda/chips/junk food.

                          1. re: KailuaGirl

                            Since the post in which I provided this link to counter all of the ignorance appears to have been deleted, I will provide it again. http://blogs.usda.gov/2011/06/24/fact... As you can see (by simply clicking on it and reading) there is a great deal of misunderstanding regarding who it is that recieves SNAP benefits. Mostly these folks are either old, infirm, or working for low wages. A few may abuse the system, but most are truly suffering. Then again, what does an old guy like me know. . . . I think a tea party involves little sandwiches with the crusts cut off.

                            1. re: MGZ

                              just reporting what I see on the streets, all day, everyday...open invite to come see for yourself

                            2. re: KailuaGirl

                              That's not entirely correct. Purchasing/serving alcohol in businesses follows the 21 rule - but a number of States allow parents to determine/oversee alcohol servings to their children.

                              But that was essentially not my point regarding alcohol and soda. While the debate with soda has a heavy emphasis on children and children's health, it's hardly as though soda becomes nutritionally brilliant for adults. My relating soda and alcohol was not strictly related to the consumption by children, but rather a substance determined (by SNAP) as "not food".

                              1. re: cresyd

                                What else would you put on the "can not buy list"?

                                If the problem is calories and sugar/sodium content, then I would venture that most processed foods would fail the test.
                                How about seasonings? Should they be able to be bought with SNAP, or should folks be relegated to bland food, again, for their own good?

                                  1. re: Veggo

                                    To me sodas are the only thing that is really black and white. I don't see anything too egregious about giving a kid a PB&J sandwich, a few chips (or cheetos) and a cookie for lunch.

                                  2. re: bbqboy

                                    There's no "cannot buy" list. Just items one must buy with other money, from working or cash benefits.

                                    1. re: bbqboy

                                      What I think is most interesting about the soda debate is that it opens up more questions and debate about food.

                                      Even if soda is banned, there is going to be have be a discussion on what soda is. Is Sunny D soda? Is Nestea soda? How much fruit juice needs to be in a bevarage to be soda and not juice? So ultimately "soda" won't be banned, but rather drinks with x percentage or quantity of y product.

                                      And honestly, more discussions of that nature I don't think would be a bad thing. Looking at products like cereal - I'm sure there are those that have a percentage/quantity of sugar in them that could logically be taken off of SNAP. I don't think that all "occasion" foods should be taken off of SNAP (chips, candy, desserts, etc) - but I think that there should be thresholds to test what a reasonable/unreasonable amount of certain ingredients are.

                                      Soda is an easy target not just because its a worthless food product, but because mentally it's easy to understand. It doesn't take being a scientist, doctor, or dietician to fully understand that soda isn't exactly part of a healthy diet. But going from that point, I think that further discussions shouldn't be of the nature of "ban call candy" - but rather foods that meet xyz criteria are no longer covered by SNAP.

                                      1. re: cresyd

                                        I agree - its not so clear that any sweetened beverages or even juices are beneficial. if I were raising children today, I would not buy and feed the gallons of apple juice and juice boxes I gave my kids when they were growing up.

                                        Sodas are bad in and of themselves but they are the tip of the iceberg for whole classes of manufactured food products that are good for no one.

                                      2. re: bbqboy

                                        Canned soups are one of the biggest offenders in the high sodium sweepstakes. It has a long shelf life, though, and doesn't require refrigeration or much of a kitchen to be able to cook it and serve something hot to your family.
                                        The high salt content is what makes many foods, including restaurant food, taste good. How about white bread for empty calories and high salt/sugar content? Should we restrict purchases to multi-grain bread with lots of fiber?
                                        Or maybe we can do as you suggest, tongue in cheek. Just require that everyone receiving any assistance must eat and prepare nothing but bland food. That should motivate them to go out and get a job (even though the majority are already working one or 2 full time minimum wage jobs).

                                1. re: Fowler

                                  if and as veganism becomes a lifestyle followed by the average person, then that will become open for debate. But it's not, so it isn't.

                                  But if I were truly in need -- well, yeah -- free vegetables are better than an empty stomach.

                                  The point -- once again -- is that Doritos and soda and candy are calories, yes -- but they are only calories, utterly devoid of anything that will stave off hunger and well-being....stuffing your kids full of high-priced garbage might mean their stomachs aren't growling, but let's not continue with the farce that it means that they aren't hungry.

                                  1. re: sunshine842


                                    I am sure we both agree that nutritional education is absolutely important and a bag of oranges is most likely better for one to consume rather than a bag of Doritos.

                                    However, it is most telling that when I cited an example of one group dictating what another person could not eat, you said that is not open for debate. That is definitely emblematic of people that insist upon determining what others can or cannot eat with their food stamp funds and disagreement is simply not allowed.

                                    You have made some great points but I just cannot agree with a cavalier attitude where one dictates what another may eat regardless of where the money comes from.

                                    1. re: Fowler

                                      No, I said that when the average person follows a vegan lifestyle, then it might become a valid issue. But the average person is not vegan, so it's a straw man discussion that doesn't apply to this situation.

                                      And I also said that free is still a rather powerful motivator to make the best with what you get, and if god forbid I should need government assistance, I'd happily accept free beans and vegetables. Beggars can't be choosers, etc, etc. etc.

                                      Restricting empty calories that come at a high price is hardly making anyone's life miserable, nor is it a particularly slippery slope toward totalitarianism....and if someone wants to use their cash to buy sodas, I'm cool with that.

                                      If you're going to take a pot shot at my statements, you have to take the entire statement, in context.

                          2. re: LurkerDan

                            Very good points. Yes, rice and beans can go a long way, but it's the investing in some onions, salt, pepper, and some other flavors to make it more interesting to eat. Not to mention that under/over cooked rice and/or beans aren't good to eat either.

                            That being said, I think that in general people are very adaptable to the circumstances that they're put in. I learned how to cook in the US in regards to food availability, kitchen equipment, food prices, etc. Then at 26, I moved to another country where all of those things were different. At first it was easier to stick to what I already knew, and if it meant paying more for certain ingredients I preferred and was used to using, so be it. But over time I adapted to the products that were more readily available at a higher quality, expanded my cooking capabilities greatly and stopped reverting to old standby items.

                            I completely agree that the assumption that roasting a chicken or making rice and beans is simply something that "can be done" doesn't take into consideration a number of things. However, if stuff becomes cheaper and more accessible - people will find ways to adapt to use that.

                        2. re: foodieX2

                          "These days you can feed a family of four for less than $10 at any one of the chains"

                          This seems very unlikely Even with a 'dollar menu' it's going to take $12 a day to give each family member 1 inadequate item to eat for 3 meals a day.

                            1. re: foodieX2

                              $30 per day for food seems high. We spend $90 per week for 2. At these calculations it seems as if the family would waste $30 per week on fast food over grocery store.

                          1. re: foodieX2

                            Mark would do better teaching people how to cook the way my great grandmother did: in bulk. Make enough soup stock for the entire week, and then toss some noodles in each day. Voila! Instant diet food, and good for you to boot!

                            1. re: foodieX2

                              The 'I don't have time' argument always seemed like bullshit to me. I worked 80-120 hour weeks and still insisted on finding time to cook nutritious meals - often one-pot wonders that would keep for several days - but nutritious none the less.

                              1. re: mugen

                                did you have children you needed to parent, a house to clean, and a commute on public transport, too?

                                1. re: sunshine842

                                  No children, but a commute, a house to clean, and conference calls at 2 AM. What I mean to say is, "cry moar; I don't buy it"

                                  1. re: mugen

                                    your hearing might be better if you've ever been a single parent with children.

                                2. re: mugen

                                  Again, like I already mentioned to someone else, you KNEW how to make those one pot wonders that would keep for several days. Many people, and not just low income, do not know how to cook even easy things. I have friends with kids (females, in their late 20s/early 30s) that live a middle class life in nice homes, with good jobs, who don't know how to cook and rely on boxed foods. I only know how because I taught myself in my mid-20s when I was single and had some free time on weekends.

                                  It's easy for those of us who know how to do even basic cooking to say "well why can't they just make "_____" (insert random easy to make meal here). But if they don't know how to cook even the easy stuff, it's not going to happen. That's why education is so important.

                                  1. re: juliejulez

                                    that was my point as well. sadly, most of the parents i know rely on Trader Joe's and takeout. my neighbor who has a masters and her husband has a PhD can't cook. she's admitted she can boil pasta and make grilled cheese. they go to costco and buy all frozen and packaged foods. she said she tried to teach herself how to cook this past year but it was just too hard with an infant and a 4 yr old who will only eat cheese and bread.

                                    so at least in my part of the world, it seems a lack of food education transcends socio-economic factors.

                                    1. re: trolley

                                      "a 4 yr old who will only eat cheese and bread."

                                      This is as distasteful to me as buying candy and sodas with food stamps. Another thread though.

                                      1. re: kengk

                                        Agreed, don't get me started on that one....

                                        1. re: kengk

                                          yes, i agree and these are middle class parents who are both educated beyond most people. and sadly, i'm finding out they're not outliers either. i thought maybe she's just finicky but as a mutual friend points out, you're a product of your environment. and if you're parents can't and refuse to learn how to cook, well.... i think she eats yogurt and some fruit but the young child subsides on grilled cheese.

                                          1. re: kengk

                                            You don't really think that eating cheese and bread is as bad as eating candy and sodas, right?

                                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                              Depends on the cheese and bread. Many are highly proceeded and full of the same artificial colors, flavors and preservatives. Many commercial breads have added sugars as well.

                                              Hopefully this was purely rhetoric and the childs diet, when looked at over a longer time period is more balanced.

                                              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                No, it's hyperbole on my part. What if a mother on foodstamps says; my child won't eat anything but snickers and coke?

                                                As I said: it's another thread and a quickly locked one at that.

                                                1. re: kengk

                                                  How about this scenario? My husband used to drink abundant amounts of water. Since he had a stroke, the only thing liquid that appeals to him is cream soda. It's a taste issue, and this is usually dealt with by being happy they drink anything. At first I tried to fight it, but I'm not going to IV route. If not for his glass of OJ in the morning, maybe a cup of hot chocolate if I'm lucky and then about 24 oz of soda the rest of the day, he's getting by. What if we had to go on food stamps (not out of the question in our situation) he wouldn't understand the difference and would dehydrate to the point of hosptialization. I have a feeling social services would prefer the cheaper way of dealing with it.

                                                  1. re: coll

                                                    we can come up with situations that don't fit anything that anyone can throw at us...what if, what if, what if.

                                                    Not trivializing your husband's situation, but it's a little easier to deal with the exceptions than to say "but if this...well, then we can't do anything"

                                                    1. re: sunshine842

                                                      I would just go out and pick up empties from around the neighborhood and cash them in if I had to, I wouldn't let him dry up like a leaf. But what I'm wondering is why soda is so widely hated, and I don't drink it myself. It's not nutrition but it is hydration so it serves a function to some. What I'm also wondering is why I keep wandering away from Home Cooking ;-)

                                                      1. re: coll

                                                        As it applies to this thread, it's simply because soft drinks can't really be called "food". And they aren't very good for you. In my opinion.

                                                        I drink one or two diet cokes every day. I would prefer not to give them up but I could. Unlike the smokes and bourbon. : )

                                                        1. re: kengk

                                                          I too used to think of soda as worthless junk, but am so glad that it is the one thing my husband will drink now. Guess it isn't a big deal to the world in general really, just my own little take on it. Thought I'd throw it into the mix just for fun.

                                                          1. re: coll

                                                            I remember reading a story about some arctic explorers who found a cache of food and took some flour but left the sugar behind because they didn't think it was "food". The story said it would have saved them from starving.

                                                            Don't know if the story is in any way true.

                                                            As you say, sodas have water and sugar so they aren't necessarily devoid of value. Just not a good source of nutrition for most people.

                                                            1. re: kengk

                                                              Better than the stories about people drinking their own urine. I hope I'm never that desperate!

                                                            2. re: coll

                                                              I know I'd read that juices and soda with sugar are not good for hydration, so I went and found this link: http://www.hydralyte.com/dehydration with the answer to the question: "Why are soft drinks, sports drinks and juice unsuitable for rehydration?"

                                                              Sweetness doesn't require sugar, but even non caloric sweeteners have been found to stimulate overeating/hunger.
                                                              That's not your husband's problem, but it is more widely.

                                                              Clearly, you want to get whatever fluids into your husband that you can, but more generally, that's not the rehydration formula you'd opt for.

                                                              1. re: mcf

                                                                Actually he lost most of his appetite, so for us it might work in our favor! It is so weird to have to beg him to eat and drink now, so whatever he wants I'm happy. Not your typical problem, though.

                                                                1. re: coll

                                                                  I know what you're saying, atypical prob and a big one.

                                            2. re: juliejulez

                                              "I can't cook" is an even more transparent attempt to excuse laziness. If your friends have the capacity to read a recipe and to hold a knife, they are capable of assembling (which is the most accurate description) innumerable wholesome meals.

                                              To the extent that you or they disagree, effectively what you are proposing is that they are adults of ordinary competence and intelligence who nevertheless have some inexplicable restriction on the results that Google presents them, so that they cannot even search for basic recipes, and then, in the execution of them, cannot (for example) slice a piece of pumpkin and place it on a baking tray, as a part of assembling a warm, roasted vegetable salad.

                                              I don't care if someone chooses not to cook because he or she cannot be bothered or does not sufficiently value a wholesome, home-cooked meal; that's his or her choice. I do become irritated when what is obviously sheer indolence is sought to be excused with bullshit like a lack of time or skill.

                                              1. re: mugen

                                                I agree that there is no excuse for my friends who have the means to find recipes online (or watch the Food Network, that's how I learned originally), and the ability to buy good ingredients, to not be able to cook simple meals for their families. There is an element of laziness there, for sure.

                                                But when someone is low income working a minimum wage job (sometimes 2 jobs), they probably don't have access to a computer, many of them (at least where I'm from in central CA, and now here in Colorado) can barely read and speak English. So, hopping on the internet to find a recipe on how to roast pumpkin (as simple as it sounds to me and you) isn't really an option for them. Again, that is why education is of utmost importance.

                                                Think back to how YOU learned to cook. Did you learn from your parents? Buy cookbooks and teach yourself? Buy ingredients from the store and experiment yourself? All of these things either require parents who knew how to cook, or to have extra income to buy the books and equipment and ingredients that might possibly be ruined by experimentation.

                                                1. re: juliejulez

                                                  I learned to cook my sophomore year in college. Two friends' mothers were excellent cooks. One of the friends, who became my roommate, worked for his family's fish company twice a week, and I learned how to make the fish he brought home.

                                                  I would have learned to cook anyway. Living off-campus would have meant pizza all the time otherwise (I'm older; there weren't all the Asian options then), and once I was exposed to my friends' mothers' cooking, there was no turning back.

                                                  My other friend showed me how to make her mother's fastest, easiest meal, flank steak marinated in Kraft Italian dressing (plus salad and fresh veg). From there, I figured out marinades on my own. I probably made flank steak once a week for an entire school year. And fish and seafood even more often.

                                                  I also got a copy of The French Chef Cookbook from my mother, who was also learning to cook. This was 1973. Adding Julia to my fish cooking = MMMMMM. Sole Meuniere. Coquilles St. Jacques (which I made with red wine the first time--it *tasted* great); Bouillabaisse.

                                                  As well and as easily as I took to cooking, I know most people don't. None of my best friends can be bothered. They don't eat soda and Doritos, but one eats frozen veg. Another buys prepared foods at Trader Joe's nearly exclusively.

                                                  I decided a long time ago not to judge. I mean, it's not like I have the power to change anyone. I gave up a couple of years after my "You buy bottled salad dressing?" days. What other people eat, from Kraft Catalina to Coke to cannellini, is really none of my business.

                                                  Obviously, some people still want to exert control over others this way.

                                        2. Pardon my French, but Mark Bittman needs to STFU and walk a mile in someone's shoes first. Poor people aren't children and choosing dignity over condescension would go a long way in my book.

                                          Soda sucks and is terrible for you but it's already demoralizing enough for people to BE on food stamps, much less being talked down to about what is appropriate for them to buy.

                                          As for his notion of healthy, well, grains and legumes are the farthest thing from healthy for me. If I was on food stamps and the powers that be decided that was all I was allowed, I'd blow up like a damn balloon and no one would want to be in the same room with me, ifyouknowwhatImean.

                                          33 Replies
                                          1. re: Violatp

                                            the only thing I would counter that with is to ask if you've ever stood in line behind someone buying food with food stamps, whose cart is full of Coke and Doritos and microwave crap...and not so much as a single apple of box of cereal or jug of milk alongside the three or four kids with dirty faces and no shoes.

                                            I didn't (and don't) feed my kids all that crap, and it pisses me off to see others taking the money that they are being given from my (and everyone else's) salary and blowing it on garbage -- and not even cheap garbage at that.

                                            They might not be going to bed with an empty stomach...but it's not much better to send them to bed with a one-way ticket to obesity and malnutrition.

                                            I don't begrudge them the money -- I pray I'm never in a place where I need help -- but I can begrudge them wasting it on garbage.

                                            I have seen folks buying $25/pound shrimp at a seafood market with food stamps -- and not just a little for a celebration - -a five-pound bag of it. That got right up my nose because I was working my ass off 50 hours a week, and I couldn't afford $25/pound shrimp! Want to buy shrimp? That's fine - everybody deserves a treat....but learn to live with the $15/pound shrimp like all the working folks were buying that day!

                                            Just to put it into perspective...I happily slid a $5 across the counter to help out the guy shopping with his kids who came up short -- he had fruit and vegetables and beans and rice and bread...he was doing everything in his power to get the most nutrition out of those food stamps that he could. More power to him, and I hope he's found better days.

                                            I could see something like a limit -- x dollars of junk food per week....but that becomes a nightmare to administer.

                                            1. re: sunshine842

                                              Then you ignored people like me who are on food stamps. Who have rice, beans, fresh fruits and veggies. With nary a cookie or soda in sight. And if I'm buying lobster, it's because lobster is on sale that week and I usually get the smallest lobster as well, it's not an everday thing. I make one pot meals, I make healthy meals. I buy veggies and fruits. I hate being lumped in with the lumps of the world.

                                              1. re: YAYME

                                                all good choices...but the pinnacle cotton candy vodka? Brave soul

                                                1. re: BiscuitBoy

                                                  That bought was with my own hard earned money. And yes it was a waste.

                                                2. re: YAYME

                                                  First of all, I saw these people in this market on a regular basis (they both had a very distinctive appearance) and they bought the most expensive fish and shrimp every single time I saw them. It was only ever two of them, I never heard them mention a party or family or friends in any of their too-loud-to-ignore conversations.

                                                  A small lobster on sale would fit rather snugly into my sentence about "That's fine - everybody deserves a treat."

                                                  So you and your small lobster-on-sale with your fruits, veggies and other actual food wouldn't have gotten so much as a second glance from me. You are not a part of the problem, and I didn't lump you in with them.

                                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                                    It's just the sentiment is all. I feel like being on food stamps, I'm tarnished with the same brush as these people. Hell I even shop local going to the farmer's market when it's in season (the cheaper one not the weekend money blow out) and a local butcher. I have a disability and it's hard to for me to find work.

                                                    I've seen those people too. I've also seen families at the farmer's market brandishing WIC coupons and wooden tokens, I've seen their children excited to get eggplan or the first peaches of the season. Why can't we talk about that? That there are people trying to make healthy choices. When soda and ramen are cheap and plentiful.

                                                    1. re: YAYME

                                                      then YOU are tarnishing yourself (and you shouldn't), because those who fill their carts with sodas and junk food and expensive shrimp are the ones being tarnished here.

                                                      Not those of you who are working your asses off to make ends meet, and just need a little elastic to get there. I have nothing but respect for you and those like you.

                                                      This entire thread is revolving on how to better educate those who don't/can't/won't buy anything but garbage...not those of you who are trying their dead level best, and have enough knowledge to buy and prepare healthy food.

                                                      1. re: sunshine842

                                                        "This entire thread is revolving on how to better educate those who don't/can't/won't buy anything but garbage"

                                                        Not exactly, not entirely... a lot of it is focused on how that can't help many with food stamps who have no adequate storage nor cooking facilities with which to employ such knowledge. Some of the folks failing to make good choices are also doing their best.

                                                        "Best" differs from person to person, and it's a subjective term as used here.

                                                        1. re: mcf

                                                          and an enormous amount dedicated to those who simply don't know any better. Don't know anything about nutrition, don't know how to shop, and don't know how to cook.

                                                          As I've said several places here -- at some point we have to quit looking for a one-size-fits all solution, because there isn't one.

                                                          We need to be helping as many as we can, however we can...

                                                          1. re: sunshine842

                                                            +1 - teach a man to fish....As a product of public schools, I know home-ec was a requirement, and my nephews had it only a few years ago. Is it not offered in all states?

                                                            1. re: BiscuitBoy

                                                              Nope, sadly.

                                                              We had to take a semester each of home ec and shop-- boys AND girls -- so we could make macaroni and cheese, and sew a button on a shirt, and re-wire a light fixture, and fix a door hinge.

                                                              Not a bad thing to keep around, but budgets just aren't there.

                                                              1. re: BiscuitBoy

                                                                Home Ec was never a requirement at my high school in California. It was offered as an elective class, along with music, art, shop, and computer classes. Everyone had 2 elective periods a day. I took the music and computer classes. I graduated in 2000.

                                                                1. re: juliejulez

                                                                  I graduated high school in 1978. Boys took shop, girls took home economics. I should have made them let me take home ec, might have got a date in high school. Doubtful. : (

                                                                  1. re: kengk

                                                                    I graduated highschool in '80. I took both home ec and shop in 6th grade. Both required. Massachusetts. Neither was offered in my (private/alternative) highschool.

                                                                  2. re: juliejulez

                                                                    I'm 60, graduated HS in 1970. When I was attending JH and HS,
                                                                    boys couldn't take Home Ec/Cooking or Sewing and girls couldn't take
                                                                    Metal/Wood shop classes. That changed in later years, but by the time my kids got to JH and HS here in Oregon a few years ago,
                                                                    none of those "practical" classes even existed anymore.
                                                                    From Sexism, to Liberation to Extinction all in 40 years.
                                                                    They both learned to cook when they were very young though,
                                                                    just as I did.

                                                                    1. re: bbqboy

                                                                      my jr. high with required shop and home ec was in the late 1970s in northern Indiana.

                                                                      1. re: bbqboy

                                                                        aha, proves a point I made that was deleted....How did you learn? it doesn't take a village, it takes a coupla parents

                                                                        1. re: BiscuitBoy

                                                                          ...not necessarily genetically related. Lots of people learn to cook from Meemaw, Aunt Rose, or the nice lady down the street.

                                                                          Mom and Dad can't teach you if they're at work, or if they don't know how to cook, either.

                                                                          1. re: sunshine842

                                                                            parents, family, sure....meemaw? From the South?

                                                                            1. re: BiscuitBoy

                                                                              Grandmother (or some other female acquaintance who fills the role of same) whether she's from the North, South, Timbuktu, or Mars, actually related to the cooking student, or anything else.

                                                                              All that matters is that she cares enough to share her time and knowledge.

                                                                              1. re: BiscuitBoy

                                                                                My nieces call my Mom, Mema (or now that they're older, Meem) and they live upstate NY.

                                                                                1. re: coll

                                                                                  Heh I call my mom Meem sometimes. Brother and I always have.

                                                                                  1. re: juliejulez

                                                                                    It's so cute, they're in their thirties now and I love they have a special name for "grandma".

                                                                              2. re: sunshine842

                                                                                Exactly. Nobody taught me. I learned watching the food network and a few cookbooks in my mid 20s. I had been baking since I was very small, but never cooked really. I bought a condo with a beautiful kitchen and felt it was a shame that I didn't use it, so I started to learn. That was 6ish years ago and I'm still learning. But, I have resources available to me that someone low income would not... ie cable television, computer and internet access at home, and the ability to buy cookbooks and cooking equipment, and the most important resource to learn how to cook, TIME. If I had a few kids running around and worked a night shift, I probably wouldn't have had the time or much desire to learn how to cook.

                                                                                My mom is actually a decent cook but she went back to work at a hospital lab (ie on her feet all day) when I was 6, and rarely made meals that involved much cooking... mostly frozen stuff or things like rice a roni or hamburger helper. She never taught me to cook though (I remember an incident in college where I managed to screw up blue box mc n cheese), nor was I all that interested since I was very busy with extra curriculars. Her mother (grandma) only did basic cooking as well, as she was from a well-off family who employed people to do that, and so her mother (great grandma) never cooked either. My dad's mother was a great cook in her earlier years, but as she got older she didn't cook that much, and she passed away when I was 13. So you can see, it's a domino effect.

                                                                              3. re: BiscuitBoy

                                                                                'Everything' takes a village (i.e. a society and/or governmental structure).

                                                                                1. re: BiscuitBoy

                                                                                  I had parents who loved food and eating, whether cooked at home or eating out, everywhere from drive ins and Mexi joints to fine dining. Was taught to make scramble eggs at about 3-4 yrs. old and went from there. Family recipes passed down. My dad died at 6 and mom worked, so my older sister and I made many evening meals. Passed down the same to my son and daughter
                                                                                  who both love to cook and bake. Daughter has worked in many restaurants and helps pay her way through college as a sous chef.
                                                                                  Was taught to sew too,BTW.

                                                            2. re: Violatp

                                                              I've heard this guy on televison. I'd leave off the "walk a mile" part.

                                                              1. re: Violatp

                                                                There are already a ton of requirements about what you can spend food stamps on--for example, my understanding is you must buy the cheapest alternative available. When I shop at an ethnic market, they have stickers on these items (WIC eligible).

                                                                I have been in line behind someone who dared not to choose the cheapest (I think she got a brand name juice concentrate) and I had to listen to the cashier read her the riot act (and it was clear that that sucked).

                                                                I wouldn't really have a problem with soft drinks being ineligible--I have eliminated them from my own diet. As I understand it, the idea behind food stamps is to make sure people are getting the basic food and nutrition they need. Soft drinks are something no one needs that provide negative nutritional value. Why would we subsidize that, exactly?

                                                                1. re: foiegras

                                                                  WIC is a seperate/different program. Yes ago, I did data entry at a social service program office and from what I remember, WIC is a USDA program that is basically a dairy farm subsidy program that benefits women, infants and children (WIC). The requirements are different and yes, the program specifies what products are allowed to be purchased under the program.

                                                                  1. re: cleobeach

                                                                    OK, thank you. If those limits are reasonable for WIC, and I think they are, then I guess I don't understand why they aren't also in place for food stamps. I guess that's the beauty of the federal government.

                                                                    1. re: foiegras

                                                                      The WIC program is for women (especially pregnant women) infants and children. The primary goal, other than supporting dairy farmers, is to make sure the women, infants and children have access to adequate amounts of milk and milk products (cheese, for example) and that pregnant women get enough calcium for prenatal care. For the infants and children milk products are seen as essential to healthy teeth and bones.

                                                                2. re: Violatp

                                                                  Wrong. If you're spending other people's money, you don't get to dictate the terms.

                                                                  1. re: Violatp

                                                                    "Soda sucks and is terrible for you but it's already demoralizing enough for people to BE on food stamps, much less being talked down to about what is appropriate for them to buy."

                                                                    I don't think it involves telling them what to buy with any other cash they might have. It's about what the public will waste money on. Poor folks have either home relief or other dollars in their pockets and can then decide with those how important soda is to them.

                                                                    Since poor folks tend to be obese due to empty and high carb/high calorie foods simutaneous with being malnourished, it's just flat out dumb to subsidize the products that only promote that.

                                                                    I think offering a higher rate of reimbursement for proteins and vegetables makes really good sense, too.

                                                                  2. What I don't understand is that some will happily spend (or use EBT) $20 at a fastfood chain to feed their family of 4, stating it's "cheaper" than buying fresh groceries, when they spend ridiculous amounts of money per month for diabetes medication.

                                                                    I could only imagine the increase of medical costs once their children get the same case of diabetes from eating all the "cheaper" junkfood.

                                                                    It's not really cheaper if you look at the bigger picture.

                                                                    5 Replies
                                                                    1. re: Novelli

                                                                      The whole country is pretty bad at looking at the bigger picture ...

                                                                      1. re: Novelli

                                                                        Yes, because for that same $20, you could buy beans, rice, etc. that would be two or three meals -- not just one.

                                                                        1. re: sunshine842

                                                                          Exactly, but some seem all too happy to feed themselves and their families on 99 cent burgers and burritos, yet plunk down 100-200 dollars a month in cholesterol/diabeties medicine.

                                                                          1. re: Novelli

                                                                            you'll have no argument from me, other than mentioning that the population as a whole has an ugly tendency to do the same thing...

                                                                            1. re: Novelli

                                                                              Actually, many of those folks may also be getting meds paid by Medicaid, or dialysis paid by federal funding, etc... the cost of junk food to us all in terms of suffering and health care dollars that could be put to non preventable disease is huge.

                                                                        2. I agree on the soda. Most food stamp programs won't let you buy cigarettes or liquor, why not soda?
                                                                          And i have to say that I'd support exemptions on certain foods. A lot of these folks are terribly overweight due to an absolute lack of education about nutrition and cooking, and what they're looking for is a lot of flavor. I agree it would be a beaurocratic nightmare to oversee, however.
                                                                          Do we have the right to demand that people cook their own semi-healthy food? Because that's what it seems to boil down to, so to speak.

                                                                          7 Replies
                                                                          1. re: EWSflash

                                                                            No, we don't have the right to demand specific behaviors from food stamp recipients, that gets so demeaning. Nor do they necessarily *have* a place to cook... or even a hot plate, often.

                                                                            1. re: mcf

                                                                              but most of the folks who don't have a place to cook aren't buying much in the way of groceries, either....as they are then, by definition, homeless, and so aren't the main folks we're talking about here.

                                                                              But teaching someone about whole-grain bread and peanut butter over a bag of Doritos and a six-pack of 20-oz Cokes still stands.

                                                                              1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                >>But teaching someone about whole-grain bread and peanut butter over a bag of Doritos and a six-pack of 20-oz Cokes still stands.<<

                                                                                You can keep the Cokes, but I'd take a bag of Doritos over peanut butter and whole-grain bread any day of the week, regardless of my income level.

                                                                                1. re: Jay F

                                                                                  You're missing the point completely.

                                                                                  Help people learn why the bag of Doritos is a bad nutritional choice, and why actual food products are a better choice...both for their health and for not being hungry for a little longer.

                                                                                  I'm fortunate to have never been on foodstamps, but I sure as hell have been at a point in my life where a jar of peanut butter was the choice I had to make because I could make that stretch until payday. The bag of Doritos is gone today...but there are a dismaying number of people out there who just want the gratification of right this minute.

                                                                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                    Oh, I get your point. I was joking. I guess dunning the poor is Too Serious an Issue for jokes.

                                                                                2. re: sunshine842

                                                                                  They're buying as many dollars' worth as others are. They're just not necessarily buying perishables, or stuff they have to store and labor over to prepare.

                                                                                  There are quite a few folks, families with kids, even, living in single rooms in crowded rooming houses, too. They may have very limited or no access to a shared kitchen, and only an illegal and dangerous hot plate or microwave if that.

                                                                                  They aren't exceptional situations, they're common.

                                                                              2. Putting restrictions on food stamp usage is a solution in search of a problem.

                                                                                If the goal of restricting food stamp usage to certain food items or markets is to encourage or discourage certain types of behavior then it is probably one of the most inefficient ways of doing it.

                                                                                Not allowing food stamps for alcohol or soda will not prevent, much less discourage, that type of consumption amongst the socio-demographic groups who receive government aid. It simply makes it harder for them to get it, because it will just mean that they have to barter for their desired foods instead of purchasing it directly.

                                                                                The same rationale applies to foods produced by local farms. Incentivizing these types of foods will not make food stamp recipients want to eat locally sourced foods. If will simply mean that they will buy a bag of locally grown apples and trade it for a big box of Kraft Mac N Cheese, for example.

                                                                                This policy has not made society better, safer or healthier. Only less efficient.

                                                                                3 Replies
                                                                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                                  <Not allowing food stamps for alcohol or soda will not prevent, much less discourage, that type of consumption amongst the socio-demographic groups who receive government aid>

                                                                                  Not true. It will certainly discourage. Your statement is only true if the demand of perfect inelasticity, which is unlikely to be true for most people much less all.


                                                                                  1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                                    This will happen in some cases for sure. And even in cases where people aren't actively trying to go around the loopholes, there will always be the case where most often food stamps subsidize people's grocery bill - not cover it entirely. So the food stamps go to the allowable items, and what little money is left goes to alcohol/cigarettes - and maybe now soda.

                                                                                    But then I don't necessarily see food stamps as being a case of forcing all food decisions on the poor. But that doesn't mean that the government means to be subsidizing soda companies bottom lines either.

                                                                                    1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                                      Unless something has changed since 2000, you cannot purchase alcohol with food stamps. The register where I worked wouldn't even allow a cashier to do it.

                                                                                    2. I've got no problem with restricting the ability to use funds that come from the government to purchase soda. Big Food will prevent it from happening and the old, white men won't have the balls to stand up to them, so, it seems, the debate is purely academic. Nevertheless, I'm curious, will such a prohibition apply to those who take the mortgage interest deduction on their taxes as well?

                                                                                      1. SNAP is a welfare program for the agriculture/food industry.
                                                                                        Bitching about soda pop is barking up the wrong tree.
                                                                                        A lot of resentment and elitism in this thread.

                                                                                        13 Replies
                                                                                        1. re: bbqboy

                                                                                          Do you have an alternative proposal?

                                                                                          1. re: cresyd

                                                                                            I'm all for making sure folks are fed. Seems it should be a basic human right to not starve.
                                                                                            The idea of who is benefiting from the program seems to leave out the biggest recipients-the food industry.
                                                                                            In a very few states, one is allowed to use the benefits for
                                                                                            hot food, i.e. eating out or buying prepared foods.
                                                                                            What would you propose for the homeless who are eligible for food stamps, but have no kitchen to prepare anything?

                                                                                            1. re: bbqboy

                                                                                              I don't know -- how about the soup kitchens and food pantries that exist in most cities, especially in the last few years?

                                                                                              There is no perfect, one-size-fits-all solution.

                                                                                              But at some point there needs to be some forward motion trying to help as many people as is feasible, without someone constantly spouting but no, that won't work for (insert scenario)

                                                                                              Because try as we might, there are some folks who we will never be able to help -- whether by their own choice or something beyond their control. But we cannot use that as a reason to throw up our hands and walk away from the folks we CAN help.

                                                                                              1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                Soup kitchens and church dinners + food pantries exist right here in my little 'ol small town in Oregon. Jobs, not so much, thus a whole bunch of folks, not necessarily homeless, show up for the food.
                                                                                                What I'm not understanding is why it's OK for folks to buy
                                                                                                so-called "junk food" with their own $$ but getting the same
                                                                                                with SNAP so offends folks, if the idea is to put food in people's stomachs. I will heartily agree that people need to learn how the make healthier meals, and that many, especially young folks lack the knowledge base to do so. What I don't understand is the resentment of making sure people don't starve, whatever it is they fill their bellies with.

                                                                                                1. re: bbqboy

                                                                                                  because stuffing themselves with chips and soda is just filling their bellies -- it serves absolutely no nutritional benefit whatsoever. They might as well eat newspaper -- it would probably be healthier.

                                                                                                  We are producing a generation of obese, malnourished children, and given folks money to continue this illfated venture is not helping them or society in any way.

                                                                                                  1. re: bbqboy

                                                                                                    One of SNAP's missions is to prevent hunger - not strictly to put calories in bellies. And as was mentioned in the article that soda actually runs contradictory to that. Given the concentration of simple sugars and salt, soda gives the body calories while actually making the person hungry dramatically sooner.

                                                                                                    The article also mentions that there are obese children who are food insecure/spend time being hungry. This is just tragic combination of being exposed to calories that contribute to weight gain but are still leaving children hungry. Obviously just taking SNAP off of food stamps won't fix all situations for all kids and people will abuse the system. But SNAP doesn't have to be a part of the problem.

                                                                                                    1. re: bbqboy

                                                                                                      I completely agree. I think it's incredibly simplistic for someone who has well paying job and a place to live to complain how someone else uses their money. & it is their money not yours. When you pay taxes, that money is no longer yours. I don't get to tell you where to live, what to buy, what car you should be using even though you are probably using more than your fair share of this country's resources. The elitist and sanctimonious tone of some of the posts on this thread is really disgusting

                                                                                                      1. re: Kalivs

                                                                                                        But when the public at large is paying for the food and the shelter and the medical care of the folks receiving it, then the public at large has some say in NOT feeding themselves and their children empty, chemical-laden calories with zero nutritional value.

                                                                                                        Just like my mom and dad got to dictate what I ate and where I slept when I was under their roof.

                                                                                                        1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                          "But when the public at large is paying for the food and the shelter and the medical care of the folks receiving it, then the public at large has some say . . . ."

                                                                                                          Fundamentally, I agree with you (and personally, I'd be cool with a ban on all high calorie drinks). Nevertheless, where should the line be drawn? Should senior citizens be restricted in what they can purchase to eat? What about those folks that get unemployment benefits? I mean, in a way, we all get money from the State. In some ways, the wealthiest get more than everyone else.

                                                                                                          The whole thing reminds me of the debate over drug testing those who receive "food stamps" that happened not long ago. I mean, if we're to do that, shouldn't we test everyone working for all of the "bailed out" banks? Hell, Jaime Diamon wound up with more government money than anyone who qualifies for SNAP benefits ever will.

                                                                                                        2. re: Kalivs

                                                                                                          When we pay taxes, it is absolutely still our money. We can and absolutely should feel ownership of how it is spent, and I don't just mean SNAP.

                                                                                                          I would agree that the tone of many posts here is unnecessarily judgmental. There is abuse of the system ... that doesn't mean we don't need the system. I'm in favor of all reasonable measures to prevent abuse, but no one in this country should be going hungry.

                                                                                                          1. re: Kalivs

                                                                                                            Simply; well said. Trust me I have been from Driving an Audi A6 to paying for public transit. Being humbled is a great teacher.

                                                                                                  2. re: bbqboy

                                                                                                    I don't resent a single dollar that feeds those in need. I do object to those industries' ability to keep themselves on the public dole by getting government money for dealing liquid crack to nutirition impoverished folks.

                                                                                                    1. re: bbqboy

                                                                                                      I agree. Any restrictions on soda purchases would face opposition from Pepsico, Coca Cola, and the National Corn Growers Association. If we're going use political capital fighting them, I'd rather go after the direct subsidies to corn farmers.

                                                                                                    2. just try to restrict what people can buy using food stamps and watch the junk food corporation lobbyists swing into action. To them a buck is a buck no mater where it comes from

                                                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                                                      1. re: jefpen2

                                                                                                        Exactly. They see government programs as a bottomless source of funds and the buyers are just the vehicle for delivering it to their pockets.

                                                                                                        1. re: mcf

                                                                                                          As I've suggested, when Congress will stand up to the Food Industrial Complex, we may have a chance to create societal benefit. Otherwise, Bittman and the rest of us are barking at clouds.

                                                                                                          Plus, it would be fair to say no one who gets money from the government should be allowed to buy sugary sodas.

                                                                                                      2. I was in line a few days ago behind a young woman who had to put several things back because she didn't have enough money to pay. What I noticed going back was several cases of sodas and boxes of sushi. I briefly considered helping her out in the Christmas spirit but reconsidered given that the number of tats and facial piercings implied a money management problem rather than a general need. That and the fact that she was generally obnoxious.

                                                                                                        Seems everybody has a story about welfare mothers buying prime meat, lobsters, shrimp, etc. and then driving off in a Cadillac. Most of this I think is apocryphal, not to say it has never happened.

                                                                                                        I would support not allowing food stamps to be used for soft drinks or candy.

                                                                                                        7 Replies
                                                                                                        1. re: kengk

                                                                                                          Those tales of lobsters, shrimp, prime rib, and champagne are pure urban legends that were started by Reagan referring to Welfare Queens in Caddys. I'm sure there are occasions when FS are spent on luxury items, but that is usually for a major event like a birthday, baby luau (here in Hawaii), graduation, or anniversary.
                                                                                                          Since it was the holiday season that woman might have been buying those items for a family get together, a school party for her kids. or even just as a way to give her kids and family a treat. I mean, I drink gallons of water a day, but I also like to have a beer on occasion. and a Coke on ice with regularity.
                                                                                                          I like to make sushi and have a kitchen big enough to do wo, but often buy it if it's a last minute thing. I do the same with pork hash and maunapua. I probably eat those things, purchased from others. 4-6 times a year. I usually make my own or do without, eating sensibly etc., but when I get a strong hankering for something... I buy it. I can't see why people on FS wouldn't have the same urges on occasion.
                                                                                                          Since she was obnoxious, though, I would have done the same as you... There are too many other good people out there on whom we can spend our money.

                                                                                                          1. re: KailuaGirl

                                                                                                            "Those tales of lobsters, shrimp, prime rib, and champagne are pure urban legends that were started by Reagan referring to Welfare Queens in Caddys."

                                                                                                            "Welfare Queens" was an incredibly powerful meme long before anyone knew what a meme was. Thirty years later, it still shapes perceptions.

                                                                                                            Anecdotally, the only people I know who are SNAP recipients work.

                                                                                                            1. re: KailuaGirl

                                                                                                              I used to work in a very rough part of the city -- where WIC and foodstamps were far more common currency than US dollars.

                                                                                                              I saw prime rib and $25/pound shrimp and cartloads of junk food being purchased with food stamps. With my own two eyes. Every single week.

                                                                                                              It's not fiction....and when you see the same folks buying the same thing every week, which I did, it's not a celebration or a treat.

                                                                                                              and when I was living in those days of turning the couch upside down to try to find enough money to buy gas to get to work...as much as I wanted expensive stuff, I just didn't have the money to go buy it...so I learned to celebrate with the stuff I *could* afford.

                                                                                                              1. re: KailuaGirl

                                                                                                                To be clear, I have no idea if this woman was using food stamps or not. She just didn't have enough "whatever" to pay for what was in her cart.

                                                                                                                Which I guess raises the other thing that annoyed me, if I had a limited amount to spend, I would dang sure keep up with it as I went.

                                                                                                                1. re: kengk

                                                                                                                  I'm guessing that the iPhone in her pocket had a calculator....

                                                                                                                2. re: KailuaGirl

                                                                                                                  sometimes they are not Urban legends Here in NYC we witnessed russian folks, lady in a fur coat, getting out of a big car in Brighton Beach, a russian neighborhood and purchasing food with food stamps. there is a lot of welfare fraud in some places, especially in communities where cash businesses , legal and illegal, predominate.

                                                                                                                  Acknowledging that this occurs on occasion is only realistic, not uncompassionate toward those truly in need.

                                                                                                                  Since Food Stamps/SNAP is a publicly financed program, the public and government administrators have the right to place limitations on how the money is spent. Id favor some limitation on soda and other highly processed snack candy and fast foods as well as some support for food education (programs like Home Economics, which would be very useful to the poor, have pretty much vanished from schools). I think a rational metric could be designed for food quality. The food industry might scream but better food choices would result.

                                                                                                                  1. re: BiscuitBoy

                                                                                                                    The food bank here offers cooking classes too (taught by chefs) that include free spices. I have packaged the spices before.

                                                                                                                    It's not just low-income people who have lost their cooking skills, but as we all know, it sure does help when you need to stick to a budget.

                                                                                                                    I have also volunteered at a food bank helping people 'shop,' and there were lots of people excited about taking the fresh kale home (I believe it was donated by a market gardener). At the time I wasn't sure what I'd do with kale myself.

                                                                                                                    For every ethnicity in this country, the old foodways are alive and well--among some people. I guess it just takes one person who hates and refuses to cook for all the descendants of that family to lose touch with the old ways. I know at one point my own mother was working three jobs, and that's probably part of it too. If you're never home except to fall into bed, you can't cook for your family.

                                                                                                                3. NY State already regulates the ablility to buy a supersize soda; soon, they'll be regulating how many pounds of sugar, flour, bacon or other pork products, potatoes, and other food items all in the name of "saving" people from themselves and diabetes, colesterol, high blood pressure, any any other medical problem there is. And other states will follow if we allow it.

                                                                                                                  It's not only SNAP receipients who don't eat healthy....those who are not getting the benefits also eat crappy food. So, if you tell a food stamp client they can't buy soda, you may as well tell them that eating too much salt, sugar, grains, artery clogging meat, starches, etc is not good for you and put them and everyone else (non receipients as well) on a ration. That'll solve the government's need to tell people what they can and can't put into their bodies.

                                                                                                                  Give me a break! Either give them the stamps and let them make their own decisions concerning food or don't give it to them.

                                                                                                                  3 Replies
                                                                                                                  1. re: Cherylptw

                                                                                                                    "NY State already regulates the ablility to buy a supersize soda"

                                                                                                                    Not really. They regulate the ability to dispense and sell it in a single cup. The consumer can buy as big a bottle as he or she wants in any store selling it.

                                                                                                                    No one is telling anyone what they can eat, only the point of sale is being regulated.

                                                                                                                    1. re: Cherylptw

                                                                                                                      It's not New York State that has placed limitations on soda sales, it's New York City.

                                                                                                                      1. re: ecustard

                                                                                                                        Thank you, I'd missed that error! Mayor Bloomberg's initiative, specifically.

                                                                                                                    2. I'm in Bittman's camp on this issue. I support modifications to the SNAP program that help the program “alleviate hunger and malnutrition … by increasing food purchasing power for all eligible households who apply for participation” (SNAP website). There have been all sorts of changes in US public health, nutritional science, and the eligible population since the Food Stamp Act passed in the 70s. Why not adjust the program accordingly?

                                                                                                                      I'm also in favor of nutrition education, cooking classes, and eliminating food deserts in urban areas. The food bank I support has very popular classes for their clients that teaches cooking techniques and recipes suitable for a variety of living situations, including motels and informal campgrounds. Hunger is a complex problem not readily solved with any one approach.

                                                                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                                                                      1. re: tcamp

                                                                                                                        Are you advocating mandatory food training, or just for those who decide themselves, or are judged, that they need it? If for everyone, then that would take quite the bite out of their food budget itself, it seems to me.

                                                                                                                        Despite popular perception, I think quite a few recipients do cook at home..older people, or handicapped that have aides or caregivers to do the cooking for them. One size does not fit all.

                                                                                                                        1. re: coll

                                                                                                                          I agree with your second paragraph. Many of the people I've known who have used SNAP, WIC, or other food/nutrition programs are interested in stretching their food dollars in order to provide nutritious food to family members.

                                                                                                                          I think mandatory food training would be logistically challenging to implement, perhaps start with those who are interested. I've never studied the economics of it but I'd think working through the many community and non-profit entities active at the local level would make the most sense. There are already federal F&N educational resources available that local/non-profits make use of: http://www.fns.usda.gov/fns/

                                                                                                                      2. For those that might be interested in helping to give nutrition/cooking education to low income folks, check out cookingmatters.org. They are in most large urban areas and some smaller ones. I volunteer with them as a class assistant, they also have opportunities for chef and nutrition educators. The courses are 5 weeks long and teach basic nutrition and cooking skills to lower income folks. The meal prices are based on what folks get through SNAP and/or the foods that are available at food banks. They also give participants the ingredients to make the meals they learn in class, cooking tools like measuring cups, and education on how to grocery shop.

                                                                                                                        7 Replies
                                                                                                                        1. re: juliejulez

                                                                                                                          Julie, thank you for introducing a solution instead of castigating others for the problem.

                                                                                                                            1. re: Jay F

                                                                                                                              You're welcome. I've found many people like to "armchair quarterback" about how they think problems should be fixed, but rarely want to get up and at least try to help fix it themselves :)

                                                                                                                              I used to work in a grocery store in a low income area. Sure, there were people abusing the system, that will never stop. But for every 1 customer that was taking advantage, there were at least 3 who were trying to do their best to provide for their families and needed the help to make ends meet. To this day, that job was my favorite job ever. Most of our customers were really nice hard working people.

                                                                                                                            2. re: juliejulez

                                                                                                                              Hurray! So glad to hear that this exists.

                                                                                                                              Teach a man to fish, etc., etc., etc.

                                                                                                                              1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                                Exactly, and what's great is, the participants and their children (who get to participate in some of the classes) are excited to learn.

                                                                                                                                1. re: juliejulez

                                                                                                                                  that's so awesome -- I used to work in a kids' cooking school, and I generally find that kids LOVE to cook....and they love to eat what they cook (even if they wouldn't eat it if someone else made it)

                                                                                                                              2. re: juliejulez

                                                                                                                                Thanks Julie. that's very interesting.

                                                                                                                              3. i'm in favor of SNAP modification as long as they add education along with the modification. and by education i mean cooking classes and basic nutrition. classes taught at convenient times and easy access.

                                                                                                                                i jump into this conversation bc when i entered parenthood 4 yrs ago i've met quite a few parents. we're all mid-upper mid class families and i don't know any family in this particular group who has less than a college education aside from two moms who work as a hair stylist and makeup artist. out of the pool of parents i will say more than half do not know how to cook or are trying to teach themselves how to cook. i know, it's crazy. i know several parents who have masters degrees and phd's and eat mostly packaged foods. of course it's from Trader Joe's or Costco but what's the difference? one mom gets takeout every night bc she claims cooking is too difficult. i understand cooking can get tough when dealing with little kids but i'm still surprised everyday.

                                                                                                                                so at this level of education and affluence i feel some of these people need the basic education i'm sure the people needing assistance will need as much support.

                                                                                                                                1. Lost job in 8-09... as a "mature", single woman. Wasn't a high-paying job to begin with (around $30,000/year)... so unemployment SUCKED!! I didn't qualify for ANY other assistance!

                                                                                                                                  Found an agency that had "free fruit/veggies" one day a week. Places like Whole Foods and others donated bread/bakery items. Sometimes slightly dented cans... NOT out of date. Sometimes not the prettiest veggies, but totally edible. Went there one day and they had a TON of fresh beets! Was told to take a lot cuz "clients" won't take them?? I brought home WAY more than a single person would need, cooked them up and canned them.

                                                                                                                                  Just this past Thursday, stopped in. Came home with 5-6 bananas, 4 big baking potatoes and a really nice eggplant.

                                                                                                                                  I know some "disadvantaged" people might not have a "home" (fridge/stove), but imagine what would happen if told to come up and pick up food package... preselected?!? Maybe a whole chicken, lb or 2 of hamburger, onions/celery/carrots,bread, cereal, milk (maybe powdered), some rice/beans, maybe some canned goods??

                                                                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                                                                  1. re: kseiverd

                                                                                                                                    The thing is, you know what to do with veggies like beets and eggplant, and had the equipment and time to can them. Many people do not have that knowledge, time, or equipment and probably barely even know what they are. That is likely why they were passed up, and shows that education is very very important.

                                                                                                                                    Most people will come take food if its offered to them like you describe, but where do you propose these whole chickens and meats come from? Often food banks can only give out what they are given, so unless they are getting donations of healthy foods or money to buy them (not people's pantry cast offs) they can only work with what they are given.

                                                                                                                                  2. A story from Lawrence, Ks. about the way it should be done.
                                                                                                                                    10,000 folks a month in a small city of 100,000.
                                                                                                                                    Folks are hurting.

                                                                                                                                    2 Replies
                                                                                                                                    1. re: bbqboy

                                                                                                                                      EXCLLENT! I agree completely--that's how it should be done. I, too, hope Jeremy Farmer is unemployed in five years. I'm sure he won't be for long. Let's hope five years down the road there is a whole lot less need throughout the country. It's a great goal.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: bbqboy

                                                                                                                                        Wonderful article! It's terribly sad that times are so tough, but this sounds like an idea that needs to be replicated all over the nation! Give people the food they'll use as opposed to the food you just boxed up. People will eat better, and more nutritiously, if they get the foods they are familiar with and know how to cook.

                                                                                                                                      2. As a follow up to this, if Mark Bittman sounds radical to you - then Robert Lustig may sound beyond.

                                                                                                                                        But if you're interested in the science behind the "sugar (soda) is bad" - then this is an interesting summary of his position and the science. http://www.salon.com/2013/01/01/is_su...

                                                                                                                                        I am not a scientist, so I have limitations to actively debating these points. But it is an interesting article.

                                                                                                                                        1. What Keeps Mankind Alive? (Bertolt Brecht-Kurt Weill)

                                                                                                                                          You gentlemen who think you have a mission
                                                                                                                                          To purge us of the seven deadly sins
                                                                                                                                          Should first sort out the basic food position
                                                                                                                                          Then start your preaching, that's where it begins

                                                                                                                                          You lot, who preach restraint and watch your waist as well
                                                                                                                                          Should learn, for once, the way the world is run
                                                                                                                                          However much you twist, or whatever lies that you tell
                                                                                                                                          Food is the first thing, morals follow on

                                                                                                                                          So first make sure that those who are now starving
                                                                                                                                          get proper helpings, when we all start carving.

                                                                                                                                          22 Replies
                                                                                                                                          1. re: Jay F

                                                                                                                                            Interesting, but what does it mean (relative to the SNAP program and fast food...etc). Are you trying to say that we should provide better and healthier food for people or are you saying that we are in no position to purge the sins out of people?

                                                                                                                                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                                              The judgmentality being offered here about the food choices of the poor reminded me of this song about judgmentality.

                                                                                                                                              1. re: Jay F

                                                                                                                                                I think that for some of us, the harsh judgment is more about the lack of decent food choices available, the ability to prepare them, and a desire not to fund empty calories, but good nutrition. This is not a mere judgment on the habits of others; the developmental delays and increased education and medical costs related to poor children growing up malnourished and overweight are huge, and preventable. These kids disproportionately end up in special ed, are often pediatric diabetics and grow up disadvantaged in so many ways, and represent way too big a slice of prison populations.

                                                                                                                                                Poverty breeds a whole host of ills. A lot of them can be traced, at least in part, to malnourishment and the developmental problems it causes. This issue is about so much more than judging someone's food *choices.*

                                                                                                                                                Most food stamp users have other sources of funds with which to make completely personal choices; public dollars should promote good health and nutrition, not junk food and drink manufacturers.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: mcf

                                                                                                                                                  Much as I wouldn't mind soft drinks vanishing from the earth, over-representation in prison populations can hardly be traced to junk food. This is the original broad brush being used right here ...

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: foiegras

                                                                                                                                                    it wasn't portrayed as direct link -- if you read mcf's post in its very well-written entirety, the mention of soft drinks is quite clear as merely a symptom, not a cause.

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                                                      I don't think that's accurate. "... a whole host of ills. A lot of them can be traced, at least in part, to malnourishment and the developmental problems it causes." Causes ...

                                                                                                                                                      Virtually the whole country drinks soft drinks. Whatever they are causing would be universal.

                                                                                                                                                      It has been noted that countries that are the most homogeneous (such as Scandinavia) have the best public assistance. It has been theorized that people are most willing to help those who resemble them closely. There may be a biological basis for this, but it's well worth some deep thought.

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: foiegras

                                                                                                                                                        >It has been theorized that people are most willing to help those who resemble them closely.

                                                                                                                                                        Nail meet head

                                                                                                                                                        I absolutely think there is a lot of truth to this

                                                                                                                                                    2. re: foiegras

                                                                                                                                                      I didn't say that, I said this:

                                                                                                                                                      "Poverty breeds a *whole host of ills*. A *lot* of them can be traced, *at least in part*, to malnourishment and the developmental problems it causes."

                                                                                                                                                    3. re: mcf

                                                                                                                                                      Poverty breeds a whole host of ills, including shame and embarrassment over being poor. When I was with Legal Aid there was a sister organization that used some of the property right behind the building that held my offices (the former 442nd battalion barracks building). That organization went out on Friday nights and Saturday nights and fished. When they brought the catch in Saturday and Sunday mornings we set up a big old drum for grilling, my friend the charcoal maker came down with the bed of his truck filled, I brought a ton of spices from home to work, and clients of mine turned up to not only get fish (and poi when I felt generous enough to buy LOTS of it) and learn to clean it, grill it different ways and with different seasonings, but also to teach what their special skills/recipes were and just to hang out with people in like circumstances but with no shame attached to their poverty. We cleaned ti leaves for wrapping the fish. We sliced lemons that came from a tree that was in a friend's yard. The fish weren't totally free. Those who could afford it paid cash money for the fish they took home. There was no charge for the fish eaten in our parking lot, so no one felt ashamed and all were welcome to come eat. Others went out and helped catch the fish. Still others worked in the kalo loi (taro fields) and the small herb and vegetable farm we had behind my building. Whatever they worked on they got a share of when harvested. It certainly supplemented their SNAP benefits, but it also boosted pride and fostered a sense of community.
                                                                                                                                                      And yes, those of us who could afford it often went into my office with some grilled fish and 2 finger poi and ate it with beer from my refrigerator. My clients got fruit punch mixed from a concentrate from me. They often brought along their own sodas for the kids and beer for the grown ups. The beer was usually purchased with cans collected on the roadside and from beach parks then turned in to the recycling center for cash. They helped clean and beautify the beach and roads while making some money for special items they couldn't purchase with their SNAP benefits. Win win!

                                                                                                                                                    4. re: Jay F

                                                                                                                                                      While I understand the arguments regarding Bloomberg's NYC large soda ban being judgemental and an issue of personal repsonsibility - I really fail to see how a government food assistance program is similar. Like any good program, it has a goal (preventing hunger/starvation/food insecurity) - and to evaluate what products do and do not contribute to meeting that goal should be ongoing and proactive, not to stick with the programs original initiatives when it was formed in 1933 and reintroduced in 1964.

                                                                                                                                                      If you look at the food products available to purchase with WIC (Women, Infant, Child) benefits - the restrictions are severe, but are occasionally adapted to reflect changing relaties of the population and science. Originally WIC really focused on dairy products (esp milk and cheese), now tofu and soy based beverages are also available through WIC - based on the reality that there are a number of women/infants that are allergic or sensitive to dairy.

                                                                                                                                                      SNAP is a government program, evaluating what its goal is and how it is (or is not) achieving that goal is worth judging. This isn't about judging how people choose their groceries (most SNAP/WIC recepients don't rely 100% on those benefits for all of their food) - but rather the program.

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: cresyd

                                                                                                                                                        <While I understand the arguments regarding Bloomberg's NYC large soda ban being judgemental and an issue of personal repsonsibility>

                                                                                                                                                        It is not just a personal responsibility issue here, but a " judgmentality" issue as JayF said.

                                                                                                                                                        I am torn on this issue. On one hand, I like people eat healthier and that a government program should encourage people eating healthier. For the same one dollar, why shouldn't the recipient eat the healthier food, right? It is our money. We should get the most out of it. On the other hand, I understand where JayF is coming from too. Bloomberg's large soda ban, ideologically speaking, is less judgemental. What is not good for you is also not good for me and for any other people. In other words, I am telling you that you cannot drink large soda, but this rule applies to everyone. The issue with the soda ban for SNAP (or similar approach) is that we consider soda to be bad for them (SNAP recipients) but soda is good enough for me and others. So we make that assumption that just because someone is poor or has lower income, he is automatically irresponsible in eating too. As I mentioned above. If we really think soda is bad, then it should be bad for all of us, not just the poors. Instead of making SNAP money more difficult to get soda, shouldn't we make it more difficult for everyone? In other words, raise the tax for soda. This will affect everyone.

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                                                          I dont think that its wrong for a government assistance program that is supposed to be beneficial to recipients to exclude for items that are counterproductive.

                                                                                                                                                          Also dont have a problem with taxing soda, candy and "junk" food at a higher rate - but they are such inexpensive products that the tax would have to be quite large to really change anybody's behavior.

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: jen kalb

                                                                                                                                                            <I dont think that its wrong for a government assistance program that is supposed to be beneficial to recipients to exclude for items that are counterproductive.>

                                                                                                                                                            I know. I know. I am really torn on this. On one hand, as I mentioned above, if a government program encourages or promotes bad food choice and causing people unhealthy lifestyle and health, then we have "blood" on our hand. It is our responsibility. Power and responsibility are the two faces on the same coin. If we have the power to provide food, then we have the responsibility along with it as well. I understand this.

                                                                                                                                                            On the other hand, I have a philosophical issue of setting two standards for people who are on SNAP (food stamp) and for people who are not. Look, if someone says "Overweight people on SNAP should not have soda" then I am more comfortable because that will be a discrimination based on body weight. Maybe we can differentiate based on fasting glucose test..... whatever. But simply a discrimination on all SNAP recipients is a discrimination based on income, and that seems unnecessary. It is as if "You poor people have no common sense and self-control regarding soda. We wealthier people do". Taxing soda will, at least, send the message that soda is bad for everyone. Now, again, I am not saying that Bloomberg is right or that I am supporting this, but philosophically, it is a better argument than the Mark Bitterman's solution.

                                                                                                                                                            <ut they are such inexpensive products that the tax would have to be quite large to really change anybody's behavior.>

                                                                                                                                                            Candy, soda and fast foods and all are cheap, but they are also very elastic on the economic supply/demand scale. I think people's behavior will change actually. Think about McDonald French fries vs typical restaurant French fries. Restaurant fries aren't not any more healthier than McDonald fries, but we don't criticize restaurant fries simply because not many people eat them everyday due to the price. One reason why we attack McDonald so much is, in fact, not because their burgers are so much more unhealthy, but because they are so cheap that even low income people can afford them everyday for every meals. In my opinion, a tax will affect some behavior here. Now, here is a catch as you have suggested, a tax on soda and fast food will actually be a regressive tax -- it will affect the poors more than the wealthy. So from a policy point of view, it will practically target the poors just like what Bitterman wanted. However, I thought at least from the philosophical point of view, it is on better ground. It isn't saying that the soda and fast food are only bad for poors.

                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                                                              No one is saying that certain folks cannot *have* soda. Only that it won't be publicly funded.

                                                                                                                                                              That's a judgment only about the amount of nutrition we want to purchase with the meager assistance we offer, not about the individual rights of the users, who typically have other resources to spend as well.

                                                                                                                                                              1. re: mcf

                                                                                                                                                                <No one is saying that certain folks cannot *have* soda. Only that it won't be publicly funded.>

                                                                                                                                                                Yes, I may have unintentionally exaggerated this point. Instead of absolutely cannot have, the suggested program will target and strongly discourage the SNAP recipients.

                                                                                                                                                                To get back to the point, it is rooted in the idea that SNAP recipients are somehow less responsible. When public officials like Bill Clinton or George W Bush bought their soda, they were publicly funded. Military personals and families can buy soda at a discount price (publicly funded) in military commissary. I believe even prisoners get free soda....etc..etc.

                                                                                                                                                                "Coupon for free Coca-Cola product. Commissary and military exchange customers can download an Internet coupon for a free 20-ounce Coca Cola product redeemable only on Dec. 16 and 17 at a commissary or military exchange. This promotion celebrates the 125th and 70th-year anniversaries of the Coca-Cola Company and USO, respectively, as well as these organizations’ historic relationship with the U.S. military"


                                                                                                                                                                So, you see, the suggested program by Bittman won't be a debate between "publicly funded" vs "private spending". It would simply be "SNAP recipients" vs "the rest".

                                                                                                                                                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                                                                  "To get back to the point, it is rooted in the idea that SNAP recipients are somehow less responsible. "

                                                                                                                                                                  No, it doesn't. It is rooted in the idea that the government is being *more* responsible for promoting better nutrient value with public dollars.

                                                                                                                                                                  Frankly, since most food stamp recipients also have income or benefits in cash, it exerts no control over how responsible they are in their habits, only how responsible the government is for helping recipients, not corporations eager to stay on the public dole, and advertising in a targeted way for those dollars.

                                                                                                                                                                  I have no desire to personally manage or parent recipients or to judge the choices they make, having not walked their paths in their shoes. I have a huge interest in providing for decent housing, education, nutrition and health care for all, and funding the beverage industry with public health/welfare dollars takes away from that.

                                                                                                                                                                  I think we should kick the beverage and junk food industries out of our military and school programs, too.

                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: mcf

                                                                                                                                                                    People who receive SNAP benefits as well as cash still don't make enough to reach the federal poverty level. That cash is usually used for rent, utilities, gas, auto insurance, cell phone bills ( some of them live out in the boonies like I do where there is no regular phone service, or don't have a house at all). IF they have a house, and IF they have a computer, then they also have to pay for the internet. I can't imagine a responsible parent not providing a kid with internet service and word processing on a computer for school reports etc. Anyone wanting to stay informed really does need the internet these days.
                                                                                                                                                                    Sorry, I went a little far afield. The bottom line is, those cash benefits are spoken for well before they are received and there's no flexibility in most of those budgets.
                                                                                                                                                                    When I was little we were very poor. Us kids used to go scrounge for bottles in empty fields to redeem at the neighborhood grocery store. The owner, who also worked there, knew us and our parents. When we redeemed our bottles he would sell us a 6 pack of beer for the 6 parents, and always find a way to give us kids a soda as a reward for our hard work. That would usually be on a Friday or Saturday when our 3 families (we lived in 3 houses next door to each other, my house was in the middle) would scrounge the refrigerators, pool our resources, and have a dinner for all of us. We also had vegetable gardens and raised chickens for eggs and to kill for their meat. I didn't realize then just how gawdawful poor we were. We didn't have welfare back then (or perhaps my parents were too proud to ask for it) so sometimes there wasn't food. I wouldn't wish that on anyone, kid or adult. I especially wouldn't wish it on any adult who was unable to feed his/her own hungry children. Oh yeah, and all our parents worked...

                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: KailuaGirl

                                                                                                                                                                      "Sorry, I went a little far afield. The bottom line is, those cash benefits are spoken for well before they are received and there's no flexibility in most of those budgets."

                                                                                                                                                                      I'm very well aware, having also worked with disadvantaged folks.

                                                                                                                                                                      But some have jobs, some are budgetary wizards who do manage to squeeze more out of their benefit dollar than others, often going to pantries and soup kitchens as well as using food stamps, putting a lot of energy into thrift store shopping, etc. Some folks in need are very savvy about building flexibility into a very low budget. But not everyone has the skills or creativity, or even mobility to do so routinely.

                                                                                                                                                                  2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                                                                    Maybe all of those decision you refererence to publicly fund soda drinking should be re-considered. that would be a logical extension of any public health assessment. Nobody's liberty is being threatened by a decision not to fund this type of activity. I would imagine that there were cigarette deals, too in former times.

                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: jen kalb

                                                                                                                                                                      <Maybe all of those decision you refererence to publicly fund soda drinking should be re-considered. that would be a logical extension of any public health assessment.>

                                                                                                                                                                      Yep. That is probably the case, and it is up for discussion. Targeting SNAP recipients is, well, targeting SNAP recipients -- as opposed to military personals, prisoners...etc.

                                                                                                                                                                      <Nobody's liberty is being threatened by a decision not to fund this type of activity. >

                                                                                                                                                                      Well, technically there is, but I won't get into that. Liberty (Right) and responsibility are something to be balanced.

                                                                                                                                                                      < I would imagine that there were cigarette deals, too in former times.>

                                                                                                                                                                      You are absolutely correct. I believe cigarette were free for soldiers during World War II. You can smoke as much as you want.

                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                                                                          Cigarettes and other tobacco products, as well as booze, are highly subsidized at the base stores and commissaries.

                                                                                                                                                    5. I have worked in a grocery store and I have been a social worker. I've seen firsthand how people spend their food stamps from both perspectives....

                                                                                                                                                      Half of the consumers buy nutritious food....half buy crap. Most places have programs that will teach SNAP recipients to cook. In Indiana, it's run through the Purdue University Cooperative Extension. Most of my clients took the class. Most still bought two cases of Mountain Dew every month with their SNAP benefits. Not Big K or Sam's Choice....brand name soda. Because they could. That really used to burn me when I made $6.50 an hour and couldn't buy name brand soda myself.

                                                                                                                                                      Personally, I think it would be more economical from a tax payer perspective to run SNAP like WIC and give vouchers for classes of actual food (ie: pick a box of cereal, pound of meat or protein, etc.) Some processed food could be included, but in limited amounts. They still get to make choices, but are limited to the better choices. Tax payers feed more people more nutritiously with less money = win/win for everyone.

                                                                                                                                                      It will NEVER happen because Big Ag has it's greedy little paws in the SNAP program and will NEVER give up soda. Way too much money wrapped up in feeding our nation's poor an over-abundance of corn by-products. So, while I agree with Bittman on the soda thing....I'm pretty certain it will never change without a severe overhaul of our lobbying system and Congress. Call me a pessimist, but I don't see that happening anytime soon....

                                                                                                                                                      1. Food stamps, which were created during the Nixon administration, have been credited as the single greatest factor in reducing childhood malnutrition in the United States. I have no use for folks like Mark Bittman who seem to think that it is proper for them to impose their values on others. Yes, soda is not especially good for you, but then neither is too much red meat, etc. However, once someone who has properly been determined eligible for food stamps receives them, it is no business of Mr. Bittman, or anybody else, what "foods" that are permitted to be purchased using Food Stamps an individual chooses to buy.

                                                                                                                                                        5 Replies
                                                                                                                                                        1. re: dinwiddie

                                                                                                                                                          "Yes, soda is not especially good for you, but then neither is too much red meat, etc."

                                                                                                                                                          That's a really inapt analogy, since one will die without adequate fat and protein, but not soda. One wants to provide nutrition, not corporate lobby rewards with food stamp dollars.
                                                                                                                                                          What recipients buy in addition with their other funds is not our business.

                                                                                                                                                          You seem to have the idea that food stamps are a personal gift rather than a nutrition program that seeks to make sure folks in need are adequately nourished. Since the allotment of food stamps is so meager and doesn't often last the month, public policy should be to promote the goal of maximum nourishment with public dollars.

                                                                                                                                                          As Gary Taubes documented so well with assiduous review of the relevent research, the poor are the most obese simultaneous with being the most malnourished. That's what paying for soda and junk food promotes; a permanent disadvantage.

                                                                                                                                                          And red meat *is* good for you. Just don't have soda or fries with that. :-)

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: dinwiddie

                                                                                                                                                            "Food stamps, which were created during the Nixon administration, have been credited as the single greatest factor in reducing childhood malnutrition in the United States."

                                                                                                                                                            IMO, why not continue and extend the value of the SNAP benefit in the most cost-effective way possible by applying public health knowledge (soda has no redeeming nutritional value and consumption is linked to obesity) in a reasonable way? To me, this isn't a rights question. It is an evidence-based way to make the SNAP program more effective.

                                                                                                                                                            1. re: dinwiddie

                                                                                                                                                              Yes! +1. I usually I like Mark Bittman and he has some great recipes. I used to enjoy watching his videos on the NYT (when access was free), and found most of his articles interesting and informative. However I, like you, am utterly opposed to others imposing their values and beliefs on me or upon the poverty population (those eligible for SNAP benefits). Leave me and those poor people alone, let them cook what they want and are familiar with, and drink the occasional soda.

                                                                                                                                                              1. re: KailuaGirl

                                                                                                                                                                I'm with you, KG. I'm with you. An imposition is exactly what it is.

                                                                                                                                                                1. re: KailuaGirl

                                                                                                                                                                  " Leave me and those poor people alone, let them cook what they want and are familiar with, and drink the occasional soda."

                                                                                                                                                                  Leave them alone, seriously?

                                                                                                                                                                  No one is saying they can't have the occasional soda, just that they should find other than nutrition bucks to buy it. No one is saying they can't cook what they want, either, only that better options and more skills should be made available to those who want to use them.

                                                                                                                                                                  I've never liked Mark Bittman's recipes or his dimwitted, ill informed ideas about nutrition and food policy. I've never missed Molly O'Neill so much in my life. But I don't want to see public food stamp dollars earmarked for junk for folks who are typically malnourished and raising malnourished kids.

                                                                                                                                                              2. It appears this thread has run its course and is straying into areas of politics that we don't cover on Chowhound, so we're going to close it now.