Monday, February 20, 2006

Columnist Michelle Holmes: Put some strings on food stamp entitlement

The Post-Tribune's Michelle Holmes writes:
In modern-day America, it’s obesity, not starvation, that is harming kids and killing people who should be in their prime.

But food stamps are still buying soda pop, potato chips and deep-fried frozen dinners — and according to cashiers, buying them in droves (the U.S. government can’t be bothered to track purchases).

It’s the all-American irony: Our land of riches is killing us, especially our poorest and most vulnerable.

That’s why it’s time to put some strings on this entitlement, which, in Indiana, has shot up 85 percent in the last five years alone.
In the most interesting sections of the column, however, Holmes gives her main thesis a second thought.
It’s a taboo topic. Politicians and decent folk duck it like the plague. There’s an ugly tone about the question, that conjures up the sentiment: I can have my cake, but you can’t eat yours, too.

Yet what’s wrong with limiting junk food to 10 percent of benefits? Why not reserve 15 percent for fresh fruits and vegetables? Why not say we want our billions to go to building healthy bodies and strong brains, not diabetes, cancer and heart disease?

My friend Aletha, who often uses food stamps to get by, argues it’s cruel and un-American to single out the poor for the nutritional police.

“Nobody ever listens to that darn food pyramid,” she argues. She’s making efforts — weaning herself from the cheap, empty calories so appealing in the freezer case when her benefits come in. But that’s her choice to make, not mine, she argues.

“If you let the government intrude into food choices, where are they going to draw the line?”

I understand her sentiments.
I fear I may be one of the "polititians and decent folk" Holmes has in mind. What bad company those decent folk keep!

1 comment:

Barbara Fisher said...

It is a tough call, Parke.

People are stigmatized already by being participants in the food stamps program. They are subject to obnoxity from check out clerks and other store patrons, because they "hold up the line."

They are already stared at with hostility and their purchases are already catalogued and commented on by store patrons and clerks alike. For whatever reason, people feel the need to judge the food purchases of those on public assistance, which makes it very hard for women who are food stamp program participants to shop without it being a big, ugly, hairy deal.

That said--I was a participant in WIC when I was a young, penniless mother with an out of work husband and a low-paying job for myself and an infant. WIC coupons, as you know, are only useable on certain, "nutrition-dense" foods, and cannot be used to buy soda or other junk foods.

One could argue that pregnant women and mothers of infants are being targeted by the "nutrition police," yes? Yet, that program has done a great deal to help out countless babies and mothers have healthy lives--and as both you and I know, the better pre-natal nutrition a woman recieves, the better off her infant will be. The better nutrition infants and toddlers recieve, the better off they will be in terms of health, later.

The example of WIC may be the wedge issue that can crack open the possiblity of having this dialogue in the arena of food stamps. The fact is, when it comes to governmental interference with personal matters, in WIC--it is at a high level, but it has done a great deal of good, has it not?

Then, what is to say that similar changes to the food stamp program would not also yield such health benefits for its participants?

Yes, it smacks of "the nanny state," but frankly, if it is between taxpayers ponying up for helping to prevent widespread diabetes among the poor (who are vulnerable to it for many reasons), or later paying to have the massive health consequences of a large number of low-income diabetes patients in the coming decades--frankly, I will take a bit of the nanny-state.

I am saying this as a woman who not only was on WIC, but who has also worked very hard trying to counsel women in domestic violence shelters in matters of nutrition, health, and cooking--so I am familiar with both sides of the issue. I understand why no one wants to talk about it.

But, I think it would be better if the issue was discussed, and sooner, rather than later.