by Marion Nestle
Sep 20 2007

Should food stamps only be used for healthy foods?

I’ve been mulling over this comment, posted a few days ago: “I am a physician, bone-weary of asking my patients about their diets, only to be told they consume 6 to 12 sodas a day plus chips/candies/cakes which they say they buy with their food stamps. Why can’t we get the food stamps program modified like the WIC program, where it will only pay for certain foods, i.e. fresh veggies, fresh fruits, low-fat dairy products, beans/legumes, fresh poultry or fish, whole grain breads and pasta. No soda, candy, cake, chip, pie?”

This is a difficult issue, one with which food advocates struggle mightily. I’m curious to hear what readers think of this? Weigh in, please.

  • Andicane

    Amazing comments here, really. My family recently became eligible for FS, which was a huge relief to us. I am disabled, my husband returned to school this year to learn a trade, meanwhile he left his FT job and is searching for a PT job that will fit to his class schedule. We’re looking forward to it being over already, as we’ve had trouble paying basic bills and keeping up our home. We just keep looking ahead to the light at the end of the tunnel. Along with our 2 children, we are Vegan and try to live as green as possible and have no problems feeding ourselves on FS.

    I do not buy prepared food, let alone junk. I cook and bake everything myself. I use our FS to buy flour, soy/rice milk, tofu, soy, fresh fruit, vegetables, rice, grains, beans.
    No sugar cereal, never soda (we drink tea, water, soy/rice milk, or fresh made juice from real fruit), no chips, no candy bars, none of this garbage. We also don’t buy cakes, as I make my own, chemical-free, dairy and egg free. I bake my children their own crackers, soft pretzels, and cookies once in a while as treats. We focus on eating fresh fruit and vegetables mostly, once in a while I make mock cheese items, or mock fish sticks, or chicken fingers using tofu. I make my own pasta, soups, breads, all from basic ingredients. My children are home-schooled so I need not worry about the unhealthy public school food being shoved at them.

    I plan my meals easily. It’s cheap not having to rely on meat or dairy products as food, or quick boxed items. My family eats healthier than anyone I know, regardless of income. So all this eating healthy is expensive is absolutely not true.

    I walk to the store, through a very dangerous neighborhood. I have no choice. Heavy things? Use a handcart, or a kids toy wagon, plain and simple. What has to be done has to be done.

    I buy what I need for the week, or every 2 weeks, based on my planned menu, use up everything, then go for another order. Whoever is buying food that is expiring before they use it isn’t making proper use of items. Nor do I give into miracle foods, as eating healthy and exercising daily surpasses any fads. Also I would never waste money on tiny bags of chips or single drinks if I did consume them, as they cost more than buying one large juice, or one large bag of chips and simply packing it in a reusable container. It costs more money to the person buying multiple snack/lunch packed things as well as adds more garbage to the environment. As if we need anymore garbage floating around in the ocean (Great Pacific Garbage Patch, anyone?).

    I wish more people bought food like me whether they use FS or not. I learned to cook on my own, for my own health and the health of my family. It isn’t hard to follow a recipe and take 30 minutes to make a meal that doesn’t come out of a box, or get thrown into a radioactive microwave (look it up, not a healthy way to eat at all). I’ve witnessed plenty well-to-do families, like the recent Mom with her Chanel bag in hand, decked out in jewels, buying nothing but frozen pizzas, chips, dips, sodas, and other junk with her private school uniformed children eyeing candy right behind her. The rich, even the middle class, do not have superior eating habits to the poor.

    I think the harder issue is why do we have this junk food in the first place? When did we stop taking the time to prepare food or care about what we eat? It isn’t about which class we are in, people in general eat poorly.

    It isn’t right, and it isn’t the fault of people alone, but these companies and industries lining shelves with this filth. It’s not just there on the shelves, but on TV (which, we don’t watch), on billboards, in magazines, and in weekly mass mailed coupons.

    In my supermarket an entire aisle is dedicated to soda. A monster sized aisle dedicated to sugar water. How absolutely ridiculous. People are starving to death every 3 seconds and we have bags and boxes of processed junk overflowing on our shelves, and as an added kick recently a lot of it changed packaging to appear healthier.

    But it’s so easy, right? that’s another key convenience. Maybe if people stopped rushing about, cared about what they put in their bodies, and spent a little less time staring at the TV or being on their computer they could make a menu, walk to the store, buy the right food, come home and cook. Like it’s impossible! Yet so many people act like it is.

    By the way, on another note I visited the food pantry today. We receive one bag of food for the month. It contained a can of fruit juice that is mostly corn syrup, two processed hand-sized hams, 4 packages of Easter marshmallow peeps (it’s November), and 4 cans of vegetables, 2 cans of tuna, 2 boxes of instant mac-n-cheese, and 2 cans of corn syrup tomato soup. I’m thankful for the vegetables, the rest I’ll pass on to someone else in need. That was the best bag we’ve received yet. I’ve previously received items YEARS past their expiration date. Molded bread, rotted frozen meats, even an exploded can of biscuits, frozen, and 7 months expired. Never rice, no beans, no fruits. This is what the poor get to eat.

  • Susan

    I plan to apply for FS/Snap next week. I am afraid of being humiliated by my employers and/or coworkers when they find out. But my hours in 2 jobs have been severely reduced. I am over 50 but not yet at retirement age.

    I think some people do buy too much junk food.

    But some people don’t have stoves, fridges, cooking utensils. Some foods take so long to prepare that it costs too much in utilities to prepare them.

    Personally my health is bad now – so I buy alot of those 1 dollar frozen meals – I can put them in the microwave and have a quick meal.

    I would prefer to cook good meats and vegetables (very expensive here) – but it would raise my electric/gas bill too high to cook some foods.

    So I understand both sides of the argument.

    My main concern is my employers will humiliate me when they discover I applied for FS/Snap.

    Any responses?

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