Thursday, September 14, 2017

Where are the dairy checkoff reports to Congress?

The fluid milk and dairy checkoff programs are required by law each year to submit a Report to Congress. But these reports have gone missing since 2012.

Under the federal government's authority, the public-private checkoff programs collect several hundred million dollars each year in mandatory assessments from dairy producers, to be used for industry projects and marketing initiatives such as "milk mustache" posters, "Got Milk" ads, Domino's and Pizza Hut marketing partnerships, and other fast food industry collaborations. The USDA reports play a key role in transparency for these federal programs.

The most recent report on USDA's website is the 2013 report covering the 2012 checkoff activities and budgets. When the annual reports stopped appearing, I assumed USDA had simply delayed sharing them on the website. This blog first pointed out their absence in 2015, more than two years ago. Finally, in answer to my Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request this summer, USDA told me in July that it would not share any documents, because the department had never published the reports or submitted them to Congress as required.

This morning, the lead story by Catherine Boudreau for Politico's Morning Agriculture covers this issue.
The Agriculture Department hasn't published legally required annual financial reports on a $400 million dairy research and promotional fund for the past four years, lending ammunition to farmers and other groups pushing for more transparency in checkoff programs.
A USDA spokeswoman told POLITICO the reports on the dairy checkoff are in the final clearance stage and should be posted within the month. The 2016 report is still in the works, she added. But the agency declined to explain the yearslong delay. In July, USDA turned down a Freedom of Information Act request for the documents from a Tufts University professor, saying that it had no records to send because the reports hadn't been published.
One of the best things about the annual reports, when they were still being published, was the independent evaluations by leading agricultural economists such as Harry Kaiser at Cornell and Oral Capps and Gary Williams at Texas A & M. At the 2016 annual meeting for AAEA, Kaiser and I organized a lively discussion of checkoff programs and nutrition.

The Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM), which advocates for reform of checkoff programs, also wrote about this today. The OCM points out that former Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack now is the CEO of the checkoff-funded U.S. Dairy Export Council.

I share the view of others quoted in the Politico article, suggesting that Congress should strengthen oversight over these programs and make both their finances and activities more transparent.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

12.3% of U.S. households food insecure in 2016

USDA reported today that the rate of household food insecurity fell during the economic recovery of the last five years of the Obama administration, from 14.9% in 2011 to 12.3% in 2016. The annual statistics are based on a national household survey each December, which asks about 18 different experiences related to food security during the year.

The new statistics represent modest improvements after a period of exceptionally high food insecurity in the United States. From the time the survey measurement began in the mid-1990s until the mid-2000s, the rate of household food insecurity never exceeded 12% [typo corrected, 4pm]. Then, during the Great Recession, in the last year of the W. Bush administration, this leading measure of food-related hardship jumped from 11.1% in 2007 to 14.6% in 2008, the largest ever single-year increase.

Although it is sometimes said that USDA no longer measures "hunger," one of the 18 survey items is a direct question asking survey respondents whether they went hungry during the year: The statistical supplement to the new USDA report shows that 4.0% of household respondents reported being hungry in 2016.

In the late 1990s, the United States and many other countries adopted goals for cutting food insecurity and hunger by half. Yet, the rate of food insecurity is higher now than it was at the time those goals were set. In the longer term, there has been no national progress toward reducing food insecurity and hunger.

A bi-partisan National Commission on Hunger in late 2015 made a series of sensible recommendations for reducing U.S. hunger. The report includes several compromises on themes that are likely to appeal to Republicans and Democrats alike, including protecting the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) from deep cuts, promoting dietary quality, and supporting work for program participants. At Brookings, the economist Jim Ziliak has recommended an agenda for modernizing SNAP (.pdf) that includes a benefit increase.

Yet, as Congress takes up the next Farm Bill, which will reauthorize SNAP, there is serious concern that leadership in both the House and Senate will support a more punitive approach with a focus on budget reduction at the expense of the poorest Americans. If that happens, it is easy to imagine that rates of household food insecurity could reverse course, end their recent brief turn toward national goals, and climb once more.

In my view, Americans of all political persuasions, Democrat and Republican, whether oriented primarily toward the social safety net or toward market-based solutions, should express high ambitions for reducing food insecurity and hunger in the United States.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

By the numbers: word counts in CDC nominee Brenda Fitzgerald's column for Coca-Cola

The Trump administration last week named Georgia Public Health Commissioner Brenda Fitzgerald as the next leader of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a crucial federal public health agency. The CDC is based in Atlanta, so she won't have to move far.

Politico's Morning Agriculture briefing today noted that Dr. Fitzgerald has previously worked with projects that received $1.4 million dollars from the Coca-Cola Company, also based in Atlanta. Politico gives credit to a tweet from Russ Greene for noting her contribution of a 2013 column on childhood obesity to the Coca-Cola website.

Dr. Fitzgerald's column on childhood obesity follows the traditional sugar-sweetened beverage industry script with perfect rectitude, to an extent that seems remarkable for a public health official. The industry's story line prefers to emphasize physical activity rather than sugar or beverage intake as risk factors for childhood obesity, and in particular never to mention the association between sugar intake and Type II diabetes. Here are my word count statistics for Dr. Fitzgerald's column:
  • obesity: 4
  • health or healthier: 6
  • movement or moving: 7
  • physical activity: 6
  • diabetes: 4
  • beverage: 0
  • soda: 0
  • sugar: 0
  • sweet or sweetened: 0
  • calories: 0
  • intake: 0
  • consume or consumption: 1 (a reference to fruits and vegetables!)
From a sugar-sweetened beverage industry perspective, it's a perfect score.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Major media spread strange dairy checkoff story about Americans thinking chocolate milk comes from brown cows

The Washington Post on June 15 reports the story, good for a laugh at stupid Americans and their ignorance about where their food comes from:
Seven percent of all American adults believe that chocolate milk comes from brown cows, according to a nationally representative online survey commissioned by the Innovation Center of U.S. Dairy.
It was then covered by a dozen other media sites, but the reporting is mostly weak. The whole thing seems like an industry organization's attempt at humor that went awry when it was picked up and taken seriously by more major media than intended.

None of the stories that I read noted that the Innovation Center of U.S. Dairy is a checkoff organization -- part of the network of dairy and fluid milk checkoff organizations loosely overseen by USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service and funded by more than $100 million each year in mandatory assessments that the federal government forces dairy farmers to pay into a common fund for marketing, promotion, and other purposes. The Innovation Center has an interest in educating Americans about real dairy products, so they think well of sweetened dairy beverages (chocolate milk is real milk) and don't think so well of soy milk and other non-dairy alternatives.

The Washington Post and other media imply that 7% of American adults are so dim that they think chocolate milk comes from brown cows, because chocolate is the same color as the cow. Before accepting this account of the survey result, we should all demand to read the actual questions and response frequencies, because this may be an exaggeration. For example, many cows actually are brown, so if the survey question asked whether chocolate milk can come from brown cows, a large fraction of Americans might answer "yes" -- and they would be right. If the survey question was at the end of a long survey and many people were clicking quickly by that point, it is easy to imagine 7% of respondents clicking this response at random. The context would clarify.

But none of the stories report the actual survey questions. Hilary Hanson at Huffington Post did better than most reporters in noting this:
One problem ― it’s tough to gauge the survey’s reliability. It’s possible, for instance, that some people were simply trying to be funny while answering the question.... The center, though, was unable to provide a full copy of the survey. And when asked about the survey’s methodology, McComb only said it was “conducted online.”
If you read the NPR version of the story, an interview by Audie Cornish, it sounds as if the interviewee Jean Ragalie-Carr is imprecise about the actual content of the question, leaving a listener to wonder if there was a multiple choice question with non-sensical options.
JEAN RAGALIE-CARR: When we asked them, where does chocolate milk come from, they indicated that they thought it came from brown cows.
SHAPIRO: Seven percent of Americans thought that.
CORNISH: Jean Ragalie-Carr is president of the National Dairy Council, which commissioned the survey. She says they put that question to a thousand people and gave them several options for how to answer.
RAGALIE-CARR: Well, there was brown cows or black-and-white cows, or they didn't know.
Cornish did quote another person with a bit more skepticism, but without really questioning the initial dubious story line:
CORNISH: Registered dietitian Lisa Cimperman says while she thinks some people were having a little fun with their answer, she's also not surprised that some might think chocolate milk comes from a brown cow.
Oddly, NPR reported interviewing the president of the National Dairy Council, which also is a checkoff organization (a fact that many Americans probably don't realize). But, the Washington Post article now has a correction at the bottom:
Update: This story originally said the survey in question was commissioned by the National Dairy Council. It was actually commissioned by the Innovation Center of U.S. Dairy, its sister organization. The Post regrets the error.
This update made me wonder if one checkoff organization (the National Dairy Council) requested a little more distance from a statistic that another checkoff organization (the Innovation Center of U.S. Dairy) was promoting.

The media should go a little slower in sharing a self-serving dairy industry meme, and we should all wait for more information about this survey before taking this result seriously.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Choices Magazine explores 3-way connections between farm labor, immigration, and health care

Choices Magazine, the outreach magazine of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association (AAEA), has a special issue exploring the triangle of connections between farm labor, immigration reform, and health care policy. Philip Martin at UC Davis writes:
The Trump Administration has promised to make it more difficult for unauthorized foreigners to enter and work in the United States and for undocumented workers to access health care services. Such policies, if implemented, could have serious negative repercussions on the agricultural sector, which relies heavily on immigrant workers. Replacing foreign workers could be complicated due to difficulties in sourcing and hiring domestic workers to replace displaced undocumented workers. Additionally, the health deterioration of farm workers could negatively impact labor productivity, the sector’s viability, and the nation’s domestic food supply.
Cesar L. Escalante and Tianyuan Luo focus on the implications for laborers -- and the farmers who hire them -- of reducing access to health care. Thomas P. Krumel, Jr., has an interesting article about immigrant labor supply in the meatpacking industry, including its implications for meat prices.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Storm Lake Times wins Pulitzer for courageous reporting about agriculture and political power

The Storm Lake Times, a tiny newspaper in rural Iowa, became the topic of headlines around the world this week after it won a Pulitzer Prize for its reporting on the local political power of agricultural interests.

In this piece by Art Cullen, for example, the paper explored how the Farm Bureau funded the county-level legal defense against accusations that excessive fertilizer use had polluted local water supplies. The Farm Bureau's "generosity" came with a catch.
Buena Vista County officially is a Farm Bureau county. The Farm Bureau and Iowa Corn Growers have pledged to cover the legal bills of Buena Vista, Calhoun and Sac counties as they defend themselves against a lawsuit filed by the Des Moines Water Works over pollution of the Raccoon River. The supervisors are expected to happily agree. The BV supervisors looked like the cat that just swallowed the canary upon announcing the deal.
They are happy that Farm Bureau is setting the terms of the legal defense and not the elected officials of our county. We have given up our franchise.
The supervisors believe they have no choice but to allow Farm Bureau to pay the bills and thus call the shots. They already called one shot: In the Farm Bureau engagement letter proposed to the counties, it states that the counties shall not claim that farmers are liable for pollution claims in the lawsuit in order to hold drainage districts or the county itself harmless.
Let us pause for a moment of appreciation for everybody whose work requires them, on occasion, to speak a hard truth.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Tufts/UConn RIDGE concept papers due March 13 (reminder)

The Tufts/UConn RIDGE Program supports innovative economic research on domestic nutrition assistance programs.

As a reminder, the 2017 submission cycle concept paper deadline is Monday, March 13, 2017 by 5PM EST. Slides and a recording are available for a February 2 informational webinar for potential applicants. Additional details are available below and on the RIDGE funding page

The RIDGE Program aims to broaden the network of researchers applying their expertise to USDA topics. We seek applications from a diverse community of experienced nutrition assistance researchers, graduate students, early career scholars, and established researchers who bring expertise in another research area.

Full details are available in the 2017 Request for Proposals (RFP)

Important Dates for the 2017 Submission Cycle
Concept paper due:                                 March 13, 2017
Full proposal (by invitation) due:                May 15, 2017
Funding period (up to 18 months):             July 11, 2017 – January 10, 2019

For additional questions, contact

How much does a nutritious diet cost?

Jeremy Cherfas, host of Eat This Podcast, led this lively conversation about the cost of a nutritious diet:
Recently I’ve been involved in a couple of online discussions about the cost of a nutritious diet. The crucial issue is why poor people in rich countries seem to have such unhealthy diets. One argument is about the cost of food. Another is about everything other than cost: knowledge, equipment, time, conditions.
My own opinion is that given all those other things, the externalities, a nutritious diet is actually not that expensive. But that’s just an opinion, so I went looking for information, and found it in a paper entitled Using the Thrifty Food Plan to Assess the Cost of a Nutritious Diet, published in the Journal of Consumer Affairs in 2009. The very first sentence of that paper is:
How much does a nutritious diet cost?
Parke Wilde, author of that paper, is an agricultural economist at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Boston, and I really enjoyed talking to him for the podcast.

Friday, January 27, 2017

U.S.-Mexico agricultural trade helps the U.S. economy and nutrition for consumers

For the United States, trade with Mexico offers many benefits for the economy and dietary quality for American consumers. 

Regarding the economic benefits, a recent August 2016 article in the magazine Amber Waves, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture -- by USDA economists Steven Zahniser, Adriana Moreno, and Arturo Ruanova -- emphasizes the contribution of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Gradually, from 1994 to 2008, they write, NAFTA removed tariffs and quotas, while at the same time reconciling rules on both sides of the border about how food safety is protected:
Together, this sweeping trade liberalization and ongoing regulatory cooperation made possible a dramatic increase in U.S.-Mexico agricultural trade.
The results included an enormous jump in export sales to Mexico, benefiting U.S. farmers. A chart in the Amber Waves article shows that agricultural trade with Mexico is nearly in balance, with agricultural exports equal to or exceeding imports in most years.

USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service has a page devoted to agricultural exports to Mexico, with statistics, links to agricultural trade offices in Mexico City and Monterrey, and a guide for exporters who seek to do business in Mexico. The top 5 U.S. export industries are dairy ($1.3 billion), pork ($1.3 billion), beef ($1.1 billion), poultry ($1.0 billion), and prepared food ($707 billion). Producers in these industries are important to the U.S. agricultural economy, and they are politically influential.

Like the Amber Waves article, USDA's FAS notes the role of NAFTA in this trade:
Under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Mexico and the United States have eliminated all tariffs and quantitative restrictions on agricultural goods and have strengthened scientific ties to eradicate diseases and pests, conduct research and enhance conservation.
Moving beyond just agricultural products, the office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) has a web page devoted just to trade with Mexico. For U.S. producers, Mexico was the second-biggest export market in the world. Total U.S. trade with Mexico is more in balance than trade with several other countries. In 2015, U.S. exports to Mexico were an astonishing $240 billion, almost double our exports to China. Meanwhile, U.S. imports from Mexico were $294 billion, much less than our imports from China. Our trade deficit with Mexico is just $54 billion (much smaller than our deficit with China, Germany, or Japan, for example).

For nutrition, federal government sources place a heavy priority on increased consumption of fruits and vegetables. For example, the Healthy People 2020 initiative lists fruit and vegetable consumption as "Leading Health Indicators" and proposes ambitious goals for increased consumption.

USDA data on food imports show that fruit imports from Mexico increased almost 6-fold from 2000 ($0.8 billion) to 2014 ($4.7 billion). Similarly, vegetable imports from Mexico increased 3-fold from 2000 ($1.7 billion) to 2014 ($5.4 billion). With increased tariffs or reduced trade with Mexico, fruit and vegetable prices in the United States would be much higher. The consequence of reduced agricultural trade with Mexico would be that Mexicans would have more fruits and vegetables (and less beef, pork, and processed food), while U.S. consumers would have less fruits and vegetables (and more beef, pork, and processed food).

I always read with great care the large literature by public interest advocates who raise serious concerns about agricultural trade with Mexico. For example, Tom Philpott at Mother Jones describes conditions for agricultural workers in Mexico as "heartbreaking." Food and Water Watch argues that provisions for sanitary/phytosanitary rules in existing and proposed trade agreements are too weak. I hear the point of each, and yet think that reduced trade is not the remedy. I do not think the workers in Tom's story are helped by shutting down the U.S. Mexico border, and I think Mexico is capable of producing food to the same standards as producers in Florida or California. Looking forward beyond the hardships that excellent public interest sources have noted, we can improve labor and food safety standards without exaggerating differences across the border as if we had our own house fully in order.

In short, U.S.-Mexico trade is important and beneficial to the U.S. economy and nutrition. You can hear this view from me, and (as of this writing) you can hear it from the steady, sober online data sources maintained by the federal government.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Tufts/UConn RIDGE Center releases Request for Proposals (RFP) for economic research on U.S. nutrition assistance programs

Please share this week's announcement with potential researchers:
The Tufts/UConn RIDGE Center seeks to support innovative economic research on domestic nutrition assistance programs and to broaden a network of researchers applying their expertise to USDA topics. The RIDGE Center seeks applications from a diverse community of experienced nutrition assistance researchers, graduate students, early career scholars, and established researchers who bring expertise in another research area.

Full details are available in the 2017 Request for Proposals (RFP). Additional information will be provided during the RIDGE Center Information Webinar for Applicants, Thursday, February 2, 2017 at 2PM EST. Please provide your email to receive information on joining the webinar.

Important Dates for the 2017 Submission Cycle:
  • Request for proposals release: January 23, 2017
  • Informational webinar for applicants: February 2, 2017
  • Concept paper due: March 13, 2017
  • Full proposal (by invitation) due: May 15, 2017
  • Funding period (up to 18 months): July 11, 2017 – January 10, 2019
For additional questions, contact
Here is our October announcement about the start of this Center:
Medford, Mass./Hartford, Conn.- A new center at Tufts University and the University of Connecticut will focus on economic research aimed at enhancing food security and dietary quality for low-income Americans through the nation’s nutrition assistance programs.

The research center brings together the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts and the UConn Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, two institutions with long records of research leadership in this area.

The Tufts/University of Connecticut RIDGE (Research Innovation and Development Grants in Economics) Center will be funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (for one grant cycle immediately and potentially up to 3 grant cycles in total).

Parke Wilde, associate professor at the Friedman School, will serve as the RIDGE Center Director, and Tatiana Andreyeva, associate professor in the UConn Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, and Director of Economic Initiatives for the UConn Rudd Center, will be the RIDGE Center Associate Director.

“Nutrition assistance programs have a central role in making sure all Americans have access to sufficient – and sufficiently healthy – food for their families,” Wilde said. “This Tufts/UConn RIDGE Center will help build the diverse network of researchers needed to study what these programs do and how they can do it more efficiently.”

“The new center will offer competitive small-scale grants to support innovative research on nutrition assistance programs. The center’s mission is to further strengthen and expand the research community through vigorous outreach, mentoring and networking with established scholars and promising new talent in the field,” Andreyeva said. “We will aim to fund a diverse group of experienced and emerging researchers, representing a range of backgrounds, disciplines and regions of the country.”

The new RIDGE Center funding offers an exciting opportunity for a diversity of new and experienced researchers in the area of nutrition assistance, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), and child nutrition programs. The Center will help connect researchers from around the country to current information about USDA program and policy interests, offering promise for sound research with real-world usefulness.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

American Enterprise Institute (AEI) report on poverty, hunger, and U.S. agricultural policy

In a new report for the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Dan Sumner, Joe Glauber, and I consider all the different ways that farm programs could affect prices or incomes, which in turn could affect poverty and nutrition for low-income Americans. We conclude:
Despite occasional claims to the contrary, farm subsidy programs have little impact on food consumption, food security, or nutrition in the United States.
It might surprise you to hear that this is a widely held view among researchers and policy analysts in agricultural economics. Interestingly, it depends little on a person's political ideology.

Strongly market-oriented economists tend to describe farm subsidy programs as an ineffective use of tax dollars. Ryan Nabil and Vincent Smith write this week in Inside Sources:
There is no poverty and nutrition alleviation rationale for U.S. farm subsidies because they do not have any meaningful effects on poverty. These programs simply transfer government monies mostly to well-off folks who can afford competent lobbyists but are in no need of government handouts.
At the same time, the Environmental Working Group writes this week:
Last fall, an EWG investigation debunked the agriculture industry’s claims that American farms “feed the world.” In fact, fewer than 1 percent of U.S. exports go toward feeding the hungriest nations.
Now, a study by three leading experts shows that federal farm subsidy programs such as crop insurance don’t help feed hungry Americans either.
An analysis by Joseph Glauber, Daniel Sumner and Parke Wilde for the American Enterprise Institute confirms that farm subsidies don’t improve food security for poor Americans – even for those who live in farm country.
Before reaching our conclusions, Joe, Dan, and I tried to contemplate a wide array of ways that somebody could say farm programs help the nutrition status of the poor in the United States. For example, perhaps the programs lower prices of beneficial foods (but they don't), or perhaps they help the income of poor farmers (but they go mostly to more prosperous farmers), or perhaps they help farm workers by increasing labor demand in certain industries (but the least labor-intensive industries get more subsidies).

In a spirit of open communication across diverse traditions, especially this particular week, I look forward to participating in the AEI event this Monday, Jan 23, connected with the release of this report.

Monday, January 16, 2017

A more constructive approach to SSB restrictions in SNAP

An old debate

First, let me review the harsh back and forth in a somewhat typical week of debate about sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs) in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

The New York Times this week published an article about "lots of soda" in the shopping carts of SNAP participants.

This drew fire from the magazine Jacobin ("Reason in Revolt"), where Joe Soss noted several problems with the NYT article. For example, the NYT listed "milk" first among beverage choices for nonparticipant households, but the original USDA study (.pdf) showed no significant difference in the ranking of food choices for participants and nonparticipants.

The NYT reporter, Anahad O'Connor, said "cities, states, and medical groups" have urged changes to SNAP, such as restricting soda purchases. Meanwhile, O'Connor said, industry organizations have spent millions opposing the changes, so USDA has refused to approve the proposals.

One would think from the NYT article that all the good folks favor the restrictions, and all the bad folks oppose. O'Connor didn't say that the list of supporters for such proposals also includes conservative critics of SNAP, who sometimes include such proposals in an agenda that also has budget cuts, nor that the list of opponents includes anti-hunger organizations, who are concerned that the proposals would increase program stigma and food insecurity by discouraging participation among eligible people.

In truth, people who care about poverty, hunger, and health are painfully divided about SNAP restrictions.

A more promising discussion

Second, let's consider a different approach to this policy discussion.

I have a wish that leading anti-hunger organizations would more sympathetically consider supporting a pilot project that includes SNAP restrictions.

Here is a draft set of principles, which, if met, might make such a proposal deserving of support by anti-hunger organizations, legislators who care about food security, and the USDA.
  1. the policy to be piloted places a high value on both nutrition and food security, combining a policy of interest for public health nutrition goals (the SSB restriction) with policies of interest for food security goals (such as enhanced benefits for some participants who currently receive too little);
  2. the pilot is a true pilot (pilot scale, with genuine empirical curiosity about the outcome, and no assumptions in advance that the outcome will be favorable);
  3. the outcomes for the study include reduced SSB consumption (intended outcome) and questions about perceived stigma and SNAP participation (possible unintended outcomes);
  4. the pilot policy does not have other food choice restrictions beyond the SSB restriction (no hints at more broadly paternalistic plans to convert SNAP into WIC); and
  5. the research protocol has a trigger, enforced by the Institutional Review Board (IRB), ending the pilot in the event of any evidence that the pilot proposal threatens household food security.
I wish such a pilot SSB restriction were not caught up in our poisoned partisan struggle over the safety net more broadly. This is merely a small reasonable revision of the definition of SNAP eligible foods to exclude soda. It is not about "banning" soda, just about altering what can be purchased with SNAP benefits. If the proposed policy turns out to threaten food security, almost everybody in the public health nutrition community would drop their interest in it. And, if the proposal turns out to be successful, and perhaps even popular with SNAP participants themselves -- who may appreciate the health halo associated with the revised program -- then it may merit support within the anti-hunger advocacy community.

Update (Jan 19): A clear and empathetic essay from Marlene Schwartz at the Rudd Center published yesterday in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

MLK Day reflection: 8 places I love in Georgia's 5th Congressional District

Today, Martin Luther King Day 2017, feels like a good day to list some of my favorite places in Rep. John Lewis' 5th Congressional District in Georgia, from a visit one year ago, in January, 2016, which I will long remember:
  1. Emory University, where I learned about local food initiatives at the Wholesome Wave annual summit;
  2. the Eastside Trail, where a fun bike ride showed that Atlanta is capable of sustainable alternative transportation, beyond its car-centric reputation, for those who seek it;
  3. the Antioch Baptist Church North, full to the rafters with holy music and powerful Word, and totally welcoming to a (white) Christian visitor from out of town and (of all things) his Jewish friends who joined him for the church service out of ecumenical interest;
  4. the Center for Civil and Human Rights, which hosts the single most dramatic experiential exhibit I have ever witnessed, in which the visitor sits down at a lunch counter and puts on earphones (and to even say what happens next would be a spoiler);
  5. the Atlanta History Center, famous for Civil War memorabilia and the Margaret Mitchell house, but which also was packed with Hispanic visitors on the day I visited, because of a special program for Día de los Reyes Magos.
  6. the World of Coca-Cola, a museum dedicated to proving that any product, no matter how empty of nourishment, can be converted by a sufficiently bold and brilliant huckster into the subject of an advertisement so moving that it brings tears to the eyes of the most hardened food policy analyst;
  7. the Martin Luther King memorial and gravesite, because even young nations such as ours deserve a pilgrimage destination; and
  8. the Amtrak Station, because though I am flying less, our divided country fortunately is still bound together by old rusty infrastructure links that predate our current disregard for the environmental challenges of our times.
I will try to live the next four years with one foot in our democracy's painful contemporary struggles and the other foot planted in the better America that sometimes is hidden in plain sight. This is how I will try simultaneously to do good and enjoy life. Some may slander this good and profoundly American place, but the 5th Congressional District in Georgia has something to teach us.