One of the things that USDA does really, really well is research designed to develop a basis for food assistance policies. Its Economic Research Service is one of the best kept secrets in American government. Here’s what the ERS investigators have done, discovered, and published over the last 10 years. Best of all, you can access their publications from an electronic data base.
Currently browsing posts about: Food-assistance
Today’s New York Times tells us that food banks are having a hard time meeting the need for their services. Food donations are down, and the number of people needing emergency food is up. I have heard this story over and over in the years since I first started writing about hunger policy. As Janet Poppendieck explains in her timeless book, Sweet Charity, food banks and emergency food–helpful as they are–are bad public policy. The Times article is excellent evidence for the need for better anti-hunger policies in the United States. It’s too bad things have to get so bad before anyone notices.
Food banks, according to the New York Times, are encountering “distressing trends.” They are overwhelmed with increasing demands but warehouses are empty. How did this happen? Food banks started as a way to help food companies dispose of excess inventory–almost out of date products, those slightly damaged, or otherwise unusable–and feed people in need of assistance. As inventory control methods have improved, companies have less to give away. And government donations for emergency food assistance also have declined. But wait! Is feeding the poor from these kinds of donations good public policy? Shouldn’t we have a better and more reliable system for making sure than no American goes hungry? Just asking…
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.
Thanks to Kerry Trueman of Eating Liberally for pointing out the investigative report in today’s Washington Post revealing how lobbyists for the infant formula industry induced the Department of Health and Human Services to tone down ads describing health risks to babies that are not breast-fed. These anti-public health lobbying efforts emerged in the wake of Congressional Hearings demonstrating widespread political interference with statements of health officials that might adversely affect some company’s products or the Bush administration’s ideology. The Post article links to two letters from a lobbyist, Clayton Yeutter, who in classic “Revolving Door” action used to be Secretary of the USDA under George Bush I. My favorite statement in his April 21, 2004 letter: “For our government to give all those mothers [those who cannot breast-feed] a guilt trip would just be appalling.” He goes on to explain that the proposed campaign would “send a risk-oriented message to [women in the WIC program]…that most of them will find incompatible with what they’re being told by USDA, and will at best confuse them, at worst frighten them.” Those of us who have followed lobbying efforts by infant formula companies (I describe the resulting boycott of Nestle formulas in Food Politics and more recent lobbying activities in the baby food chapter of What to Eat), will not be surprised. Breast feeding may be good for babies, but it is not good for formula companies–and they know it.