Food stamp program needs junk food reform

Oct 2nd, 2009 | By | Category: Columns, Featured Articles, Opinions

by Zach Becker

Soda pop. Potato chips. Candy. Pork rinds.

What do all these foods have in common?

Besides being totally unhealthy, all of the above are also food stamp eligible.

In other words, millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars are going to feed the junk food addictions of our nation’s poorest.CandyBars

And this is for a program designed to help “low-income people and families buy the food they need for good health,” according to the USDA website.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, illnesses attributed to obesity accounted for 9.1 percent of all U.S. medical expenses ($78.5 billion) in 1998. Half of those costs were billed to Medicare and Medicaid.

The taxpayers are getting drilled both ways.

Granted, you can buy fruits, vegetables, milk, bread and other healthy products with food stamps cards.

However, I’ve worked in several grocery stores and I can tell you that in my experience the majority of food stamp money went straight to the pop, chip and candy isles.

Even if my experience is an aberration and the majority of our food stamp recipients do use the money for healthy food, why do we even make junk food an option for the program?

Toilet paper. Deodorant. Tooth paste. Shampoo.

What do these have in common?

None of the above products are food stamp eligible.

However, I would say all of these products are much more essential to “good health” than pop and candy.

It is not that I oppose a person’s right to eat junk food if they want. Heck, I love junk food. I just don’t think the taxpayers should be footing the bill.

Food stamps don’t cover alcohol or cigarettes. People on the program have to pay for those products out of their own pocket. Junk food should be in the same category.

Obesity is a big enough problem in this country right now. Our food stamp program is only making it worse. Time to end pork rind spending. Cut the junk.

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10 comments
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  1. I work for a grocery store and yes most people on food stamps will buy tons of soda, chips and candy.
    They can even use their ebt cash aid card to buy cigarettes and alcohol.

    I just cant believe that they are able to buy those things and let the tax payers flip the bill.

    Not only that they buy expensive meats and cheeses that I am not able to afford. I have a job therefore I dont qualify for food stamps. Its ok I like my job but I just wonder if they were only able to buy real food and not junk maybe their food dollar will go further and we can stop paying so much in taxes. Its a win win.

    Regulate the program already.

    Fed up in California.

  2. I consider myself to be a very liberal person, but I completely agree with the article and posting above. If people want to eat junk food, fine, but why should my taxes have to pay for it? I work hard for not a lot of money.
    If the government is paying for food for hungry people, they should be paying for FOOD and not crap. Also, and I know this is going to sound “bad” – why are all the people I see on food stamps fat? I live in NYC, a slim city in general. Why in the poor neighborhoods with lots of people on foodstamps – as in they are not able to afford food – obese? That doesn’t seem to make a whole lotta sense

  3. I disagree, that all I can eat with a few exceptions. I have major stomach problems. I do better eating hamburgers, hot dogs (Skillet method), Pop tarts, white bread, candy bars & Hawaiian Punch. If I eat fruit, vegetables or other healthy food, it would mess up my system real bad. Some people have restricted diet that would included some junk food that you would want to band. Like diabetics. Diabetics, may not be able to eat a candy bar, but would need one in case of an attack. I don’t have diabetes. Some people are allergic to certain foods. According to my doctor, he was shocked that I was healthy, even though I am a little heavy.
    Another problem, is healthy food is to expensive. That is also a major problem even with people that are not on food stamps/

  4. i do agree with this post. i don’t think food stamps should have eligibility to buy junk food/cigarettes/alcohol. thanks ridiculous. i even passed by a jack in the box today that said ‘ebt accepted’. and if a person does have health problems and only can disgest hamburgers/hotdog than i think it should have a doctors note before purchasing. that’s just my opinion. because obsesity is a problem in the us.

  5. Food Stamps are nice and handy if you want some fast meals.:*-

  6. Let us do fact checking here, rather then knee jerk and have ridiculous statements, who defines what junk food is, is mac and cheese junk food? How about high calorie fruit juices that have more sugar than coke or how about chicken pot pie and salty food?

    Junk food is mislabeled, fruits can be junk too, vegetables not so much, if I buy mango and yogurt and can make a fatty calorie laden drink. Furthermore, fruits and vegetables are more expensive, we have people who are damned if they do and damed if they don’t, they need to raise the benefits if they want only fruits and vegetables, but let’s go back to what is junk food. People need to pay attention to his because there is a lot of knee jerk nonsense here.

    If you have ever read “don’t eat this, eat that” you are well aware that many fast food restaurants have high calorie items, however its not the soda and candy bars, its typical things like sodium, cheese, salsa, avocados, lots of meat, that make it bad.

    For instance in Minnesota, kit kats are not taxed because they are made with rice, their proposal would not ban that from food stamps. How about granola, should that be banned, that can be turned into junk food and sure enough if you ever eat granola its very high calorie and one bowl can make you full. Raisins can also make you fat and add too much sugar to a food dish.

    If somebody buys the ingredients and makes pies, cupcakes, should we stop a person from buying sugar all together, but then what about eggs and whole milk?

    I do agree process foods should be discouraged, but there seems to be a misconception and knee jerk reaction by groups about this, furthermore calories and ingredients count, in certain cases a scoop of ice cream or a candy bar can be better for you that a yogurt smoothie (eat this , eat that), but that latter which may contain tons of saturated fat over a 2 day period will be perfectly acceptable.

  7. Supposedly people on food stamps need this resource because they must survive. However, I am sick and tired of working hard and continuously getting stuck in line behind someone with a handy dandy Red White and Blue debit card while they buy name brand food, soda, candy, chips, etc. There needs to be a certain amount, brand, and type of food that can be bought with the card. I am sick of the entitlements in this country. Its not fair and they are thieves. God Bless America – we need it!

  8. Mary, while I am not sure about brand name food, soda, candy, chips, are much CHEAPER then fruits and vegetables, what you propose is a damned if you damed if you don’t, you would want to cut folk’s food stamp benefits, never mind high unemployment, but force them to buy more expensive food.

    It is true there is abuse, but its unlike what politicians will try to make you believe, for instance TANF represents less than 2% of the budget and has not been indexed for inflation, yet republicans will make comments and lies about how its a lot of money, and how minorities were the main beneficiaries , when whites were the main one.

    You can also get laid off tomorrow, get cancer, have an accident, etc , be careful before you criticize , by the way if you are capitalist, how do you feel about fat and lazy ceo’s , the game can be switched, the beauty of course of capitalism in defense is that it helps everybody because its an incentive, “hard work” is a misnomer, should bill gates not be rewarded even though he doesn’t toil like a day laborer or a waiter, even though the later may not benefit to society.

    Think about it, given that your hard work does not entitle you to any sort of entitlement but may benefit you and society as a whole, whether a free market or a welfare state.

  9. FactChecker, while I agree that a lot of healthy food is more expensive than chips, soda, and candy, those items provide nothing but empty calories. From a nutritional standpoint, such food is virtually worthless, and doesn’t even assuage one’s hunger unless you consume a lot of it. And one CAN eat healthfully on a tight budget–it just takes a little more effort and awareness when perusing the grocery aisles. Believe me, I know, I work in the grocery business.

    Yes, not all “junk foods” are obvious. Canned soup, for example, tends to have very high levels of sodium. But canned soup still has nutritional value and will actually nourish you, unlike potato chips. Certain fruit juices may have high levels of sugar, but they are still more nourishing than soda. The examples you provided–granola, raisins, mango yogurt, etc–might contain sugar or a lot of calories, but they are still more nourishing than candy.

    People should be able to eat what they desire, but when taxpayers are footing the grocery bill, I’m all for imposing a few restrictions on what can be purchased with the money. No one is telling anyone they can’t eat “junk food,” but by making those items be paid for out of pocket instead of with food stamps, it would encourage the nation’s poorest to eat healthier food. Something we all should be doing, really. It wouldn’t even take many restrictions–just eliminating soda pop, potato chips, and candy, which are obvious junk foods that provide almost no benefit, would help.

    It isn’t a matter of criticizing or penalizing individuals for their food choices. It’s about ensuring that the food stamp program–taxpayer money, mind you–is used to help low income people buy the foods they need to live and thrive. Chips, soda and candy do not help that goal. Rather, they detract from it.

  10. I wonder if the term “junk food” is off-putting to people as goes the saying that one person’s junk is another’s treasure 🙂 I do think that it has been widely established in the health community, however, that HEAVILY PROCESSED foods tend to be less healthful for people. That is to say that they are lower in nutrients and often filled with unhealthy additives, sugar, sodium, and other ingredients that have long been linked to chronic diseases like obesity, heart disease, kidney disease, diabetes and (related comps like amputations, and blindness). The poor tend to be the most uninformed and vulnerable to these ills and many of these folks are becoming disabled and indefinitely dropping out of the labor pool at younger and younger ages. Sadly, the only winners here are the various manufacturers of these products, some who’ve been shown to take advantage of everyone from suppliers to their employees in the US and abroad (the “Food Inc.” docu gives a great depiction).

    A “heavily processed foods” exclusion is one that should be fairly easy for nutritionists and economists to isolate and exclude from food stamp programs if we really wanted to do it. Participants who still desire to purchase these foods could still freely purchase them out of their personal funds. That’s their right; and, I think it is important to remember that the food stamp program is not an earned loan, or wage, it is a type of subsidy or “bailout” program for those who (for whatever reason) require assistance with their food purchases. Americans are lucky to have it, but they also have the right NOT to participate if they so choose (and many who would qualify do).