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No food stamps for Faygo
October 7, 2010 6:14 AM   Subscribe

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has asked federal permission to ban the use of food stamps to buy sodas and sugary drinks in New York City. In an op-ed in the New York Times, the city and state health commissioners argued in favor of Bloomberg's proposal, saying the practice amounts to "an enormous subsidy to the sweetened beverage industry."

Bloomberg and the state health commissioner previously sought unsuccessfully to impose a tax on sugary drinks.
posted by ekroh (234 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Perhaps they should work on making healthy food and drink be more economically feasible for the poor and the rest of society.
posted by nomadicink at 6:19 AM on October 7, 2010 [17 favorites]


But will he let them eat cake?
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 6:20 AM on October 7, 2010 [20 favorites]


Perhaps they should work on making healthy food and drink be more economically feasible for the poor and the rest of society.

You can do more than one thing at once you know.
posted by The Whelk at 6:20 AM on October 7, 2010 [24 favorites]


Perhaps they should work on making healthy food and drink be more economically feasible for the poor and the rest of society.

Do you have a substantive disagreement or critique?
posted by OmieWise at 6:22 AM on October 7, 2010 [6 favorites]


Please explain to me why Bloomberg shouldn't run for president.
posted by cavalier at 6:23 AM on October 7, 2010 [7 favorites]


This is, admittedly, not an exact comparison, but if since we've decided to regulate tobacco, alcohol, etc., I see no reason not to regulate sugar, too.
posted by oddman at 6:23 AM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm predicting the GOP will eventually break into two parties over this: one which hates welfare more than it loves soda, and one which feels the other way entirely.
posted by gerryblog at 6:27 AM on October 7, 2010 [14 favorites]


The Flaties and the Fizzies?
posted by The Whelk at 6:27 AM on October 7, 2010


First step in his presidential run.
posted by R. Mutt at 6:27 AM on October 7, 2010


That's okay. Soon all these drinks in New York City will be sweetened with healthy, natural corn sugar.
posted by Deathalicious at 6:27 AM on October 7, 2010 [27 favorites]


cavalier: enormously wealthy people can't run for president because they don't understand the problems of everyday people.

(above statement applies only to Democrats)
posted by leotrotsky at 6:29 AM on October 7, 2010


This excludes fruit juices which have a similar amount of sugar. Interesting.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 6:30 AM on October 7, 2010 [25 favorites]


Perhaps they should work on making healthy food and drink be more economically feasible for the poor and the rest of society.

Um, exactly, how? By lowering the price to say $0.15 a pop (ha!)? That will go a long way to making them drink MORE.

Having been on food stamps back when I was much, much younger, I did what I could to make them worth more by not buying crap food, and getting only what was on sale (and a good value) or even better, the day-old-bread stuff. I still do that today, and I'm far beyond food stamps.

Sadly, not everyone does this, and in cases like this where people are using stamps to basically get junk, I think this is needed. I would also go as far as to suggest that they extended this ban to cover other forms of "junk food" such as candy bars and frito chips. Or go whole hog and suggest that food stamps can only be used for fruits, veggies, grains, dairy, and meats.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 6:31 AM on October 7, 2010 [8 favorites]


The ban would affect beverages with more than 10 calories per 8 ounces, and would exclude fruit juices without added sugar, milk products and milk substitutes. A 12-ounce soda has 150 calories and the equivalent of 10 packets of sugar, according to the health department. City health officials say that drinking 12 ounces of soda a day can make a person gain 15 pounds a year.
So would drinking 12 ounces of milk or juice.
posted by smackfu at 6:32 AM on October 7, 2010 [11 favorites]



cavalier: enormously wealthy people can't run for president because they don't understand the problems of everyday people.


I'm mixed on Bloomberg's run as Mayor, but it's been okay-to-good overall and he basically gave a friend of mine a blank check to do a big art thing as part of a Forth Of July celebration for his employees so I gotta give em that.
posted by The Whelk at 6:32 AM on October 7, 2010


And the 15 lbs is just (150 calories x 365 days) / (3500 calories per pound) = 15.6 lbs.
posted by smackfu at 6:34 AM on October 7, 2010


nomadicink: "Perhaps they should work on making healthy food and drink be more economically feasible for the poor and the rest of society."

Healthy food has never in history been cheaper. Unfortunately, garbage food's price has dropped even more so over the years due to corn subsidies and the like. It's cheaper to eat like shit and price rules for many people.

I like this guy.
posted by notsnot at 6:34 AM on October 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


Here in the city of Washington that was a proposal for a tax on soda to the tune of one cent per ounce, but it was shot down after industry lobbying.
posted by exogenous at 6:35 AM on October 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


"Perhaps they should work on making healthy food and drink be more economically feasible for the poor and the rest of society."

Water (effectively free) and milk (already subsidized through WIC) are the only two drinks recommended as healthy by nutritionist Robert Lustig and colleagues (here, at 1:09:39)
posted by Alt F4 at 6:35 AM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Please explain to me why Bloomberg shouldn't run for president.

Because he'd treat his terms donuts. Buy the first two, and then be all, "Fuck it, I'll buy a third one just for fun."
posted by milarepa at 6:36 AM on October 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


Considering the Cronenbergian imagery of the DOHMH's latest sugar-awareness ad campaign, I'm surprised anyone in this city is still drinking soda. Except me.

Also: I love the fact that you can use food stamps at home-made food stores. That's how all the old Russian ladies -- my grandmothers included -- too old to cook still get to eat Russian food instead of having to live on whatever it is other people buy with Food Stamps.
posted by griphus at 6:39 AM on October 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


I like Mike! When he says stuff like this anyway.
posted by Mister_A at 6:39 AM on October 7, 2010


Yep, I'm all for this.
posted by josher71 at 6:40 AM on October 7, 2010


Bloomberg doesn't suffer fools gladly. When he thinks someone or something is idiotic, he gets this "why am I standing here listening to this moron?" look on his face. I would love to see him debate Pahlin.
posted by R. Mutt at 6:40 AM on October 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


(I'm not being flip; everyone I've personally known on Food Stamps is an elderly Russian immigrant.)
posted by griphus at 6:44 AM on October 7, 2010


This is, admittedly, not an exact comparison, but if since we've decided to regulate tobacco, alcohol, etc., I see no reason not to regulate sugar, too.

Amusingly, this is exactly the dystopian scenario that was described when libertarians and republicans criticized tobacco and alcohol regulation efforts. Some of us dismissed it at the time as a ridiculous slippery slope fallacy. Just pointing that out.

Not that I think it's any more wrong here. I always thought this was an acceptable next stage on the slippery slope. I also think polygamy is a fine next step after gay marriage, since it's still consenting adults.
posted by Riki tiki at 6:46 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I did not know you could use food stamps/WIC to purchase soda.

Please explain to me why Bloomberg shouldn't run for president. Man makes a terrible candidate, that's for sure. I wouldn't want him to the be the one trying to convince all of America to vote for him; seems like it would be an uphill battle. Like said above, he doesn't suffer fools gladly, and unfortunately, to make it to the White House, one has to be able to do so to a certain extent.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:46 AM on October 7, 2010


Please explain to me why Bloomberg shouldn't run for president.

On October 2, 2008, Bloomberg announced that he would seek to extend the city's term limits law and run for a third mayoral term in 2009, arguing that a leader of his field is needed during the Wall Street financial crisis.

Just what we need in the Oval Office. A law-disrespecting billionaire who thinks he's indispensable.
posted by Joe Beese at 6:46 AM on October 7, 2010 [21 favorites]


Changing the law is the same as disrespecting it.
posted by r_nebblesworthII at 6:50 AM on October 7, 2010 [6 favorites]


Okay, discussion of the evils of soda aside, does nobody else think that it's problematic to tell the country's poor that they aren't allowed to make their own decisions? Are food stamps not demeaning enough already? ("We can't give you money because you'd just spend it on malt liquor and lottery tickets.")
posted by 256 at 6:50 AM on October 7, 2010 [48 favorites]


Joe Beese nails it. Referendums should not have the ability to override term limits. Period. Even the "state of war" thing that got FDR his third term is hard to apply on a city level.
posted by griphus at 6:50 AM on October 7, 2010


Why not? Term limits are just a law like any other law. There was another election and everything.
posted by r_nebblesworthII at 6:51 AM on October 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


You know, there's a huge problem where people who live in depressed and poor areas have a hard time getting good nutrition because grocery stores don't set up shop there, leaving entire areas of cities served by nothing but convenience stores. Instead of addressing that issue, I think we should definitely take conspicuous but meaningless action that makes people who've never been on food stamps feel good about how those worthless vermin on food stamps are going to be held to a higher standard and denied one of the few pleasures available to them. That's much easier, and doesn't address any of the actual problems at play, and as such allows us to point at the things we're doing while keeping the current structure- and the currently poor- in place.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:52 AM on October 7, 2010 [66 favorites]


You can do more than one thing at once you know.

Is this proposed change doing more than one thing?

Do you have a substantive disagreement or critique?

Has this sort of law been shown to work to get the desired outcomes?
posted by nomadicink at 6:52 AM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


"Water (effectively free) and milk (already subsidized through WIC) are the only two drinks recommended as healthy by nutritionist Robert Lustig and colleagues"

Not even vegetable juice? I love me some low-sodium V8.

I resent this trend in American politics where only billionaires are free enough from the influence of moneyed interests to be honest with the public and make decisions unpopular with business.

He'd be a good center of the road candidate for the Republican party, which is why he won't win the nomination. The 2012 Republican primary is going to be a race to the far right. Overall he's been a decent mayor. But my friends who are involved with low-income housing activism hate him.
posted by keratacon at 6:53 AM on October 7, 2010



I resent this trend in American politics where only billionaires are free enough from the influence of moneyed interests to be honest with the public and make decisions unpopular with business.


In fairness, this was the trend in American politics since ..oooo the 19th Century. The do-gooder social programs and all-for-one mentality of the 40s-50s are the aberration, not the norm.

But my friends who are involved with low-income housing activism hate him.

That is true. He's so far in developer's pockets he's coughing up lint.
posted by The Whelk at 6:56 AM on October 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


You know, you don't hear this much grousing about the WIC (Women, Infant's and Children), which provides food subsidies, but only for approved "supplemental nutritious" foods.

As for 256's comment, I don't care if people make poor choices. They're certainly free to. But we shouldn't have to pay on the front end (by subsidizing their food purchases and the manufacture of said crappy food), and on the back end (by paying for the health care of poor people who, after eating a lifetime of crappy food, get heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, cancer, etc.).

People are free to do whatever they want to do, with their own money. But there the social contract is, last I checked, a two party deal-ee-oh.
posted by scblackman at 6:56 AM on October 7, 2010 [25 favorites]


I would not assume, that if he ran, it would automatically be as a republican.
posted by R. Mutt at 6:57 AM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


I love me some low-sodium V8.

V8 tastes like old bong water to me.

Personally I'm ok with things like this that put (reasonable, limited, non-demeaning) conditions on aid. I wish we funded programs like food stamps at much higher levels, but I equally think that those programs shouldn't be funding cigs, soda, beer, and shit like that.
posted by Forktine at 6:57 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Has this sort of law been shown to work to get the desired outcomes?
Self-reported adult smoking peaked in 1954 at 45%, and remained at 40% or more through the early 1970s, but has since gradually declined. The average rate of smoking across the decades fell from 40% in the 1970s to 32% in the 1980s, 26% in the 1990s, and 24% since 2000.
posted by Miko at 6:57 AM on October 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


I thought Bloomberg only became a Republican so he could run for mayor.
posted by gerryblog at 6:58 AM on October 7, 2010


People on food stamps should be able to buy whatever the fuck they want. Man, the nanny spirit doesn't die, it just mutates from "You can eat the free dinner as long as you pray and listen to a sermon first" to "You can get food with government assistance as long as you eat the way we think you should."
posted by languagehat at 6:58 AM on October 7, 2010 [26 favorites]


♥ Bloomberg. The smoking ban alone earned him his third term as far as I'm concerned.
posted by 2bucksplus at 6:59 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't believe that restricting soda buying on food stamps is that much of a burden to people living in food deserts.

The food deserts themselves are huge problems but I agree with the commenter above that there is a possibility to go for two aims at once. I don't know if Bloomberg has addressed the other issue or not.

Food stamps as a rule are limiting. They are limited to being used for food. I'm ok with the kinds of food being restricted if it is something that is basically nutritionally worthless.
posted by josher71 at 6:59 AM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


For those who aren't aware of it, food stamps already place many restrictions on the types of products you can buy.

It's somewhat amusing to watch liberatarian/conservative opinion divide on this, torn between "No more tax dollars subsidizing junk food for the poor!" and "Let poor people make their own choices and suffer from the consequences!" (as if there were no system in place creating and managing the choices available).

Somewhat amusing, but more depressing, really.
posted by Miko at 7:00 AM on October 7, 2010 [10 favorites]


I pretend the term limits thing never happened so I can still love me some bloomy (it was way shadier then some of you think - the city council overturned the law - not a referendum. Voters clearly said "This is bullshit and you know it, but oh god that other guy")

He'd be a good center of the road candidate for the Republican party, which is why he won't win the nomination. He is so far to the left of the mainstream of the republican party he is not a viable candidate in a primary for dogcatcher anywhere outside of NYC and maybe SF. He only became a repub because the way party enrollment breaks down in NYC it is much much much easier for an old white dude to win as a republican. He probably could never have won the democratic primary. Basically he's a touch right of Obama, maybe more pro-business but not by much.
posted by JPD at 7:00 AM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


This should only happen if it's accompanied by provisions expanding the use of food stamps to include things like: laundry detergent, toilet paper, feminine products, diapers, etc. Because those exceptions are just silly (and expensive!).
posted by lunit at 7:00 AM on October 7, 2010 [8 favorites]


I like this, because it would mean that one could still buy Diet Coke with food stamps, because it has absolutely no sugar in it at all!

This is why government regulation like this is stupid--government is never as fast or as clever as private industry. Government bans drinks with more than 10 calories per 8 ounces? Watch industry sell a brand that has 9.9 calories per 8 oz.

You either limit food stamps to a restricted set of foods - bread, milk, eggs, meat, fish, etc.-- i .e. basic staples. Or you just give people extra money.

Or better yet, maybe the billionaire mayor sits down and figures out why in the most technologically advanced civilization in history, people can't afford to feed themselves.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:01 AM on October 7, 2010 [16 favorites]


Okay, discussion of the evils of soda aside, does nobody else think that it's problematic to tell the country's poor that they aren't allowed to make their own decisions? Are food stamps not demeaning enough already?

Exactly. This is a big "fuck you" to the poor. I don't believe for a second they give a shit about people's well-being. This is just another way to punish people for the crime of being poor.
posted by desjardins at 7:01 AM on October 7, 2010 [17 favorites]


You know, you don't hear this much grousing about the WIC (Women, Infant's and Children), which provides food subsidies, but only for approved "supplemental nutritious" foods.

Is that the one where people need to ring up the milk separately?
posted by smackfu at 7:01 AM on October 7, 2010


If he ran as a Republican, could we perhaps get some "Only Nixon can go to China" moments on environmental regulation and a return to sensible marginal tax rates? At this point I'd try anything.
posted by gerryblog at 7:02 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


The food deserts themselves are huge problems but I agree with the commenter above that there is a possibility to go for two aims at once.

That's a real misunderstanding of how government works. People take stupid, worthless actions like this so that they can be seen to be doing something without actually alleviating a problem they have no interest in solving. The point of this isn't to help anyone- it's to shit on the poor for conservatives while appearing to be helping the poor for dimwitted liberals.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:05 AM on October 7, 2010 [19 favorites]


They are limited to being used for food. I'm ok with the kinds of food being restricted if it is something that is basically nutritionally worthless.

As much as I think people should stop drinking soda, and I'm behind this 100% in principle, it's still, nominally, food. It provides sustenance, it doesn't contain another drug, like beer does (let's not get into caffeine, because nobody's talking about restricting coffee). I don't want to go all slippery-slope, but really, where is the line? When does a nominally-nutritive product stop being "food" for the purposes of food stamps? There's a nutrition crisis, especially among the poor, and I'm not sure this is even an incremental step in solving it.
posted by uncleozzy at 7:10 AM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is why government regulation like this is stupid--government is never as fast or as clever as private industry. Government bans drinks with more than 10 calories per 8 ounces? Watch industry sell a brand that has 9.9 calories per 8 oz.

I am far more swayed by this argument than I am the "punishing people for being poor" argument.
posted by josher71 at 7:10 AM on October 7, 2010


I don't believe for a second they give a shit about people's well-being.

I lived in the Coney Island Projects for a while. To see what people, parents, were ringing up on food stamps was ridiculous. Giant shopping carts full of nothing of remotely nutritional value. You can call it fascism if you want, but if you can cut down on that, I'll be happy.
posted by griphus at 7:10 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


(To be clear: I'm not accusing you of calling it fascism. I'm saying that if the government is going to provide you with food, it damn well better be making sure it's not killing you with the food.)
posted by griphus at 7:12 AM on October 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


Welfare paternalism has a very mixed record. Appealing in principle, sure, but it also achieved such nasty results as transforming unwed parenting in the lower classes from shameful to subsidized.

I also wonder what happens to inner city grocers. They already have a very hard time making a go of it (economics, and not bias, are why there are few supermarkets in the ghetto) -- there's no certainty that the products to which food stamp demand would shift would have the same (high) profit margins as sugared drinks.
posted by MattD at 7:13 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Perhaps they should work on making healthy food and drink be more economically feasible for the poor and the rest of society.

Maybe they could subsidize water service? Last I checked, water is still the best beverage, as far as things go.
posted by mikeh at 7:14 AM on October 7, 2010


I lived in the Coney Island Projects for a while. To see what people, parents, were ringing up on food stamps was ridiculous. Giant shopping carts full of nothing of remotely nutritional value. You can call it fascism if you want, but if you can cut down on that, I'll be happy.

If this is true for a large number of welfare recipients, then the question becomes 'Why are they doing that?' Is it from ignorance? Stretching food dollars? Find out why that's occurring and work towards fixing that.

Banning sodas isn't going to fix ignorance or mentality. It isn't going to help or push people to get off welfare. It's just going to cause people to be more creative about cheating the system.
posted by nomadicink at 7:15 AM on October 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


Instead of addressing that issue, I think we should definitely take conspicuous but meaningless action that makes people who've never been on food stamps feel good about how those worthless vermin on food stamps are going to be held to a higher standard and denied one of the few pleasures available to them.

Actually, Pope Guilty, assuming you're being your usual witheringly sarcastic self, I agree completely. While I think that the government is completely within its rights to impose such a restriction--it's their money, after all--I think that it's a paternalistic, condescending move and a bad idea.

If you're on food stamps, odds are pretty good you aren't living off the fat of the land, as it were. It's pretty tough to begrudge someone who is destitute to the point that they can't feed themselves on their own income the odd soda now and then. I mean, I don't drink the stuff because I think it's gross, but I do drink bourbon, which isn't necessarily any better for me, because it's a pleasant creature comfort.

Leave 'em alone. They've got it tough enough as it is.
posted by valkyryn at 7:17 AM on October 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


People on food stamps should be able to buy whatever the fuck they want.

"People who use public roads should be able to drive however the fuck they want."

Doesn't really make sense anymore. I know this is hard to swallow because it seems unfair that poor people should be restricted in a choice that rich people have, but it's public money they're using and the public properly has some stake in how it's used. In fact, the very fact that they're food stamps is the counterpoint to your argument. Why should a poor person be forced to buy food if they believe paying the rent or the electrical bill is more important?

For all the fears of the "nanny state" imposing itself on these folks' lives, these programs are intended to help people who need help. If those people are using the program in a way that isn't helping them, then the program is a failure and needs to be revamped.
posted by Riki tiki at 7:17 AM on October 7, 2010 [33 favorites]


Government bans drinks with more than 10 calories per 8 ounces? Watch industry sell a brand that has 9.9 calories per 8 oz.

10 calories is pretty low already. That's less than a flat teaspoon of sugar in a cup of water, which won't taste very sweet.
posted by smackfu at 7:18 AM on October 7, 2010


As for 256's comment, I don't care if people make poor choices. They're certainly free to.

So after they brains are saturated with billions of dollars of advertising for shitty foods and drinks, after the schools have poorly educated them, after they've sat and watched tv for hours a day as children, suddenly you declare that they are "free" to make poor choices, and because of that freedom you don't care?

They aren't free at all, and the only choice is among equally terrible products.

Explain to me how someone who is so poor they need government assistance to buy food is going to figure out what healthy food choices are, where to get them, and how to prepare them. Are they going to get on their iMacs with 5Mbps broadband connects and do research? Are the schools that can't teach them arithmetic going to teach them how to read nutrition labels? If the choices are a consequence of ignorance and the schools and society produce that ignorance, are those choices really free ?

These people are poor not because they fell out of the system but because the system generated them. Society produces a certain number of poor people each year just like it produces a certain number of cars or cases of Coke. The system absolutely needs people to spend their money on crap to survive, because the companies that sell the crap are the ones employing everyone. You can't blame the poor for making exactly the same shitty choices as everyone else.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:19 AM on October 7, 2010 [19 favorites]


Banning sodas isn't going to fix ignorance or mentality. It isn't going to help or push people to get off welfare. It's just going to cause people to be more creative about cheating the system.

They'll cheat the system the old fashioned way. By selling the stamps or card for cash.

I'm not arguing that there are not huge systemic problems with the poor and food availability especially in urban areas. I just think it is ok to add soda to the list of things, like prepared food, that you can't buy with food stamps.
posted by josher71 at 7:20 AM on October 7, 2010


The flip side of this is that NYC has made a big push to get more Green Markets into more neighborhoods and get food stamps accepted by farmers. Over the past few years food stamps sales doubled at Green Markets in the city.

Also, last fall the City Council has approved sweeping legislation to get more full service grocery stores in under served neighborhoods. Yes, there's still a long way to go, but those initiatives for some reason don't seem to get the same press and both are part of the larger strategy to get good food to people who need it most.
posted by 2bucksplus at 7:22 AM on October 7, 2010 [6 favorites]


Please explain to me why Bloomberg shouldn't run for president.

I endorse this idea, if only because it means he'd go to Washington and perhaps we could get a mayor less in the pockets of the big developers.

Well, that and I don't know if anything could be more entertaining than watching him debate his potential Republican rivals.
posted by JaredSeth at 7:24 AM on October 7, 2010


Here in the city of Washington that was a proposal for a tax on soda to the tune of one cent per ounce, but it was shot down after industry lobbying.

And we just found out we have a 175m deficit for this year!
posted by OmieWise at 7:24 AM on October 7, 2010


If this is true for a large number of welfare recipients, then the question becomes 'Why are they doing that?' Is it from ignorance? Stretching food dollars? Find out why that's occurring and work towards fixing that.

Because that's all the (shitty, shitty) supermarkets stock. You should see the quality of the produce in supermarkets around the projects. It's godawful. It's a horrible systematic problem for which the responsibility lays in everyone's hands. And so everyone has to have a share in fixing it. And making it harder to use Food Stamps on "food" rather than food is a step in the right direction.
posted by griphus at 7:25 AM on October 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


I think if they're going to start establishing limits like this on what you should purchase, there should be a carrot to go with the stick. Not just "no soda for you, irresponsible fat poor person!" but at least, in that case, something in the way of subsidies for other stuff or a larger budget. I don't know about New York, but where I live soda is routinely far cheaper per ounce than milk or juice. If people are trying to find cheap calories, and the government wants to incentivize cheap *healthy* calories, that doesn't work well when a different arm of the government is out there subsidizing corn and not lettuce.

We can, collectively, afford to ensure that America's poor have a better standard of living than this. Just banning the subsidizing of things we consider "bad" is not good enough. The amount of money a family gets in food stamps is determined by how much food costs in general, not how much an arbitrarily determined "healthy diet" costs. As long as huge quantities of money are being pumped into keeping corn syrup cheap, that's going to throw things off. If you're going to ban certain classes of cheap calories, the amount that a family has to spend on food should take this into account.
posted by gracedissolved at 7:26 AM on October 7, 2010 [15 favorites]


I hate Bloomberg with a passion that probably defies any logic or reason at this point (the shady third term business, the appalling attitude toward nightlife, and the constant backsliding on gay issues only take me so far), and I think this is probably a good idea that will pay dividends.

The little shit is still never getting anywhere near the White House, and I'll have a huge smirk on my face when he falls short.
posted by Epenthesis at 7:27 AM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Perhaps they should work on making healthy food and drink be more economically feasible for the poor and the rest of society.

Except it's not just an issue of economic availability. Poor people like junk food because it's an immediate pleasure. Junk food is also heavily advertised, where You could put all sorts of healthy beverages next to the soda, price them the same, and most poor people will still opt for the soda.

Poor people know that junk food is bad, everyone does. The issue is much more complex than baseline price-of-goods economics. Poor people need to have enough freedom from want to be able to get past immediacy and think "long term it is not good to be drinking lots of Mountain Dew and giving it to my kids. We'll switch to water." Right now, the line of thinking is "I would enjoy a Mountain Dew and I have fuck all else to look forward to. And my kids are assholes if they don't get the sodas they want and I'm already dealing with a lot of shit."

As a public health issue, removing soda from acceptable Food Stamp purchases is putting a bandage on cancer-- people will still get their soda. I think it's a good move, but really only as a statement. Sales of soda won't be affected much. People on food stamps with jobs will just buy the soda with the money they earned. People on forms of public assistance that provide cash payouts will use that to buy soda.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:29 AM on October 7, 2010 [18 favorites]


languagehat: People on food stamps should be able to buy whatever the fuck they want. Man, the nanny spirit doesn't die, it just mutates from "You can eat the free dinner as long as you pray and listen to a sermon first" to "You can get food with government assistance as long as you eat the way we think you should."

Great, so they should just buy cigs and beer (like my brother does with his unemployment check) and be done with it. And what in the world do you have against getting people to eat healthier and better??

Seriously, people do not make smart choices when it comes to their own nutrition. So if it takes rules and limits to get them to make better-for-their-health choices, then that's what it takes. Pastabagel just made an excellent point right above about this. If they want to buy crap stuff with their own money, by all means go ahead. But food stamps are supposed to supplement your food purchase, not replace it.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 7:30 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hah hah. My mom would be pretty pissed if this happens, since she replaced her addiction to heroin/crack/vodka with Pepsi! Not to mention the rest of her diet is McDonald's, TV dinners, Jello/rice pudding/yogurt, cookies, pies, and the random spoiling piece of fruit from the local crappy supermarket.

That said, she's still alive, and not starving to death, so the food stamps program has achieved that objective at least. josher71 is absolutely right about users cheating the system to get cash for other, more desirable products (cigarettes). Yeah, it's not an ideal use of our limited government money isn't it?

not sure where I was going with this really
posted by The Biggest Dreamer at 7:32 AM on October 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


Okay, discussion of the evils of soda aside, does nobody else think that it's problematic to tell the country's poor that they aren't allowed to make their own decisions? Are food stamps not demeaning enough already?

Exactly. This is a big "fuck you" to the poor. I don't believe for a second they give a shit about people's well-being. This is just another way to punish people for the crime of being poor.


I couldn't agree with this more.

Also, I've been on food stamps several times during my life. I suffer from a blood sugar disorder where I sometimes need a quick spike of sugar or I might just pass the fuck right out. I try to drink juice, but I carry candy around in my shoulderbag or buy a soda when in a pinch. I know my case is not the norm, but there've definitely been many, many times in my life where soda's saved my (very) skinny ass. I'd have been right pissed off if I'd stopped in a Quick-E-Mart, broke as a joke but with my EBT card, and been turned away.

Plus, have you had the 'new' Dr. Pepper with cane sugar? Not the overpriced Dublin stuff - I just bought a case of DP's version of Throwback, and hot damn it's delicious.
posted by item at 7:33 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


If people are trying to find cheap calories, and the government wants to incentivize cheap *healthy* calories, that doesn't work well when a different arm of the government is out there subsidizing corn and not lettuce.

This is an excellent point, and I think one that is not pushed forward often and hard enough. We pay Mexican farm labor crap wages and still charge far too much in this country for fruits & veggies. Based on my experience in Europe, I've come to believe the reason is transportation costs - most production in EU are much closer to the consumer than here.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 7:34 AM on October 7, 2010


griphus: Because that's all the (shitty, shitty) supermarkets stock. You should see the quality of the produce in supermarkets around the projects. It's godawful.

So what are they supposed to buy with the food stamps, then? I realize NYC is a different animal when it comes to transit, but if you're on food stamps in Milwaukee, you'd better have a car because there are no decent food stores in the inner city. Never mind the food, they can't even keep the store clean. Even the soda is bad. I can't find the article, but I distinctly remember a story a few years ago where they were selling really old Coca Cola in the inner city - stuff they had taken off the shelves in nicer areas.
posted by desjardins at 7:36 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


So what are they supposed to buy with the food stamps, then?

It has to be a dual-sided approach. That's why saying "soda" is realistic (they still stock OJ, milk, etc.) rather than "healthy food." If you start regulating what a supermarket must sell, apply subsidies to get it in the store, you can upgrade inner city supermarkets without affecting ones outside of the inner city simply because those already comply with the law. Bloomberg has already shown willingness to drop harsh laws to support health, and I doubt there would be a problem with forcing supermarkets to stock X amount of fresh produce while subsidizing their ability to acquire and maintain it.
posted by griphus at 7:41 AM on October 7, 2010


"I would enjoy a Mountain Dew and I have fuck all else to look forward to. And my kids are assholes if they don't get the sodas they want and I'm already dealing with a lot of shit."

Exactly exactly exactly. I think this explains a lot of the irrational behavior we see. How many not-poor people do you see saying "wow, I shouldn't have had that piece of cheesecake last night"? Now compound that with lying awake every night figuring out which bills you can afford to pay this month. We are a million miles from food stamps, but I can still understand that kind of stress. A little sugar seems like a completely rational comfort in that case; it's not like you can go to a spa and rest.
posted by desjardins at 7:42 AM on October 7, 2010 [8 favorites]


I suffer from a blood sugar disorder where I sometimes need a quick spike of sugar or I might just pass the fuck right out.

Yeah. You. Check out the statistics on diabetes in inner cities.
posted by griphus at 7:42 AM on October 7, 2010


Maybe we can view it less as a "Fuck you" to the poor (And what? Their feelings get hurt? Because for 99% of people not being able to get govt-provided soda should not be a big fucking deal.) and more of an encouraging kick in the ass to consider other beverages/food besides soda?
posted by The Biggest Dreamer at 7:42 AM on October 7, 2010


People on food stamps should be able to buy whatever the fuck they want.

You should read the article, which clearly states:

The federal government bars the use of food stamps to buy cigarettes, beer, wine, liquor or prepared foods like deli sandwiches and restaurant entrees.

Essentially, they're equating adding sugar water with the other items on this list.
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 7:43 AM on October 7, 2010


Isn't this a subsidy for Diet Soda?
posted by blue_beetle at 7:43 AM on October 7, 2010


The point of this isn't to help anyone- it's to shit on the poor for conservatives while appearing to be helping the poor for dimwitted liberals.

So what does that make Bloomberg?

(I'm not being flip; everyone I've personally known on Food Stamps is an elderly Russian immigrant.)

I suppose it's a system they're familiar with, alas.
posted by IndigoJones at 7:45 AM on October 7, 2010


If they want to buy crap stuff with their own money, by all means go ahead.

This illustrates perfectly that the measure is not intended to improve poor people's health, but to punish them. If you wanted to improve people's health, you'd apply this to ALL people, regardless of income, and ban soda entirely. But no, it's just the poor, and unhealthy food is reserved for people with money.
posted by desjardins at 7:49 AM on October 7, 2010 [14 favorites]


Isn't this a subsidy for Diet Soda?

No, it might be more of an incentive to buy diet soda perhaps compared to regular soda, but even then it would just be more appropriate to call it a disinsentive towards regular soda. Since the policy wouldn't fence people in the corner as far as beverages go (milk, water, and juices could all be okay), I wouldn't call it a funded subsidy at all.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 7:51 AM on October 7, 2010


I'm waiting for the "Drink Responsibly" tag line to go along with soda advertising.

This illustrates perfectly that the measure is not intended to improve poor people's health, but to punish them.

Nononono, it's supposed to taxpaper money from going to to support unhealthy behaviors. If no one is noticing the slippery slope there, then boy have I got a sled to sell you!
posted by nomadicink at 7:52 AM on October 7, 2010


...unhealthy food is reserved for people with money.

Rather, it's reserved for people who do not need to rely on a third party (in this case, the state, funded by the rest of us) to eat. It's not their fault, but if they're coming for help, we shouldn't punish them with malnutrition.
posted by griphus at 7:52 AM on October 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


griphus: Because that's all the (shitty, shitty) supermarkets stock. You should see the quality of the produce in supermarkets around the projects. It's godawful.

Jesus, totally fucking missing the point. Of course supermarkets in the projects are lousy. The projects are lousy. Last time I checked they don't build art galleries and symphony halls in the projects.

The problem is that the supermarkets everywhere else are shitty too, but you don't realize that. Wal-Mart controlled 44% of the US grocery market in 2003. Have you seen the food that Wal-Mart sells? You don't get to 44% market share by selling top-quality.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:53 AM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


This illustrates perfectly that the measure is not intended to improve poor people's health, but to punish them. If you wanted to improve people's health, you'd apply this to ALL people, regardless of income, and ban soda entirely. But no, it's just the poor, and unhealthy food is reserved for people with money.

But you CAN'T unless you outlawed soda, and how silly would that be. However, there are many things that you disinsentivise but don't outlaw: smoking for one. While you don't make it illegal to do certain things, you can make it harder to engage in behavior that might have a negative social impact. Of course rich people can always afford soda, but then again, rich people can always afford smoking or going overseas to where certain laws aren't in effect. Other than not making them rich anymore or outlawing it, there's not a lot of legal or constitutional remedies.

There's a huge difference between choosing how public money is spent and straight out banning something.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 7:54 AM on October 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


Here in the city of Washington that was a proposal for a tax on soda to the tune of one cent per ounce, but it was shot down after industry lobbying.

Here we have tax exemptions for "groceries" which ends up with some odd results, like orange and apple juice is untaxed, but cranberry juice is not. Soda is. It's not a nonsensical policy choice. Mind you, it isn't targeted at any particular demographic, so everyone gets hit if they bring home a case of Coke or whatever their fizzy beverage of choice is. However, a few cents' increase in soda (or reduction in competing healthier choices) isn't going to ensure that someone makes the healthy choice. I'm guessing it would have little impact.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 7:55 AM on October 7, 2010


I can honestly say that every time I have been in line behind someone using foodstamps that I did not envy the contents of their cart.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:55 AM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Wal-Mart controlled 44% of the US grocery market in 2003.

I have shopped at a Wal-Mart, although it was admittedly in a middle-class LA suburb. The produce was miles beyond what you find in the more blighted areas of Brooklyn.
posted by griphus at 7:57 AM on October 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


It's a disgrace that you don't just give cash let alone this bullshit.
posted by Abiezer at 7:59 AM on October 7, 2010 [8 favorites]


However, there are many things that you disinsentivise but don't outlaw: smoking for one. While you don't make it illegal to do certain things, you can make it harder to engage in behavior that might have a negative social impact.

They're not proposing a tax on soda like they have for cigarettes. They are disincentivising it ONLY for people on food stamps. I'd be happier with a tax on soda because it applies to everyone.
posted by desjardins at 8:00 AM on October 7, 2010 [11 favorites]


This excludes fruit juices which have a similar amount of sugar. Interesting.

People get sort of addicted to soda, though, and drink far more than is necessary. That's less likely with fruit juice. So per serving may not be that different, but how many servings a person will drink is an important component, and I don't think it's an accident that you see super-sized sodas, but tiny little shots of OJ at a diner...

People on food stamps should be able to buy whatever the fuck they want. Man, the nanny spirit doesn't die, it just mutates

They can still buy whatever the fuck they want, just not with food stamps. Food stamps are no one's only income - if they're on welfare, they can use that money as they please, for instance. The point of food stamps is to insure that especially children receive some kind of nutrition.

14% of Americans live below the poverty line, which is about 11K for one person, and approximately another 3K per each additional person in the family. These are not (generally) students skating by on very little on purpose - the largest group under the poverty line are children, at about 21%. With one in five kids living in poverty, food stamps are meant as a form of assistance that at least guarantees they can be fed.

The eligibility requirements for food stamps usually differ from those for housing or cash welfare and are meant to supplement someone who may have trouble providing proper nutrition to their family. There's no reason it should be used for soda - that wasn't the intent of the program to begin with.
posted by mdn at 8:05 AM on October 7, 2010 [11 favorites]


>Wal-Mart controlled 44% of the US grocery market in 2003.

I have shopped at a Wal-Mart, although it was admittedly in a middle-class LA suburb. The produce was miles beyond what you find in the more blighted areas of Brooklyn.


Seconding this. I lived in one of the better parts of Harlem for a while, and man, produce there was terrible. Even that was a ten-block round trip by foot--taking the bus would have taken far longer--which is a pretty intimidating trip if you're elderly and/or infirm. Things are far, far worse in the poorer parts of the neighborhood to the north and east. It was really only my proximity to the Upper West Side which guaranteed I had access to decent food, and even then it was pricey and a pain to get.

My local Indiana Wal-Mart feels like it has a bigger produce section than the entire grocery store I shopped at in Harlem. Is it the freshest most organic stuff out there? No, not really. Mostly comes from California, I'd wager. But it's perfectly serviceable produce with all the appropriate nutritional benefits we expect from the stuff. Getting a Wal-Mart into Brooklyn, which unlike Manhattan might actually have the space for it, would be a drastic improvement over what is available in most parts of the borough.

Also, Wal-Mart's produce isn't actually all that bad, and they're trying to do better.
posted by valkyryn at 8:13 AM on October 7, 2010


An absolute ban will preclude a mother using stamps to buy soda even once a year for a child's birthday party or as an occasional treat for herself. That some people doubtless make bad decisions is no reason to penalise the vast majority who won't, quite apart from the fact that the people making bad decisions will probably not be engineered into sudden nutritional awareness and just get more of some other crap instead. Slippery slope to soup kitchens only, and rooted in some deeply unappealing prejudices about your fellow citizens.
posted by Abiezer at 8:16 AM on October 7, 2010 [9 favorites]


They're not proposing a tax on soda like they have for cigarettes. They are disincentivising it ONLY for people on food stamps. I'd be happier with a tax on soda because it applies to everyone.

Actually the State and the City have proposed a tax on soda for at least 3 years now. The soda lobby is incredibly strong unfortunately and the idea keeps being shot down. If anyone can do it in any place it's Bloomberg in NYC and, as a soda drinker, I hope to see it pass.

This is actually exactly like the booze and cigarette situation.

- You can't use food stamps on cigarettes, and there's a tax for everyone.
- You can't use food stamps on booze, and there's a tax for everyone.
- You soon may not be able to use food stamps on soda and there soon may be a tax for everyone.

All these products are demonstrably bad for people so:

1. The gov't won't buy them for you
2. There's a tax on the product to: keep the price artificially high; AND pay for treatment of people who abuse the product
posted by 2bucksplus at 8:18 AM on October 7, 2010 [8 favorites]


I think if they're going to start establishing limits like this on what you should purchase, there should be a carrot to go with the stick.


Rhode Island has a program where EBT cards are not only accepted at farmers' markets, but are matched with 'Fresh Bucks' for free produce up to a small amount. I always thought that was pretty neat, though obviously not perfect given farmers' market hours and location restrictions...
posted by heyforfour at 8:20 AM on October 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


mdn: People get sort of addicted to soda, though, and drink far more than is necessary. That's less likely with fruit juice.

Why is it less likely on fruit juice? It generally has just as much sugar as soda.

Food stamps are no one's only income

How do you know? Food stamps are often poor people's only available income, after rent, utilities, and whatever else needed for survival has been accounted for.

The point of food stamps is to insure that especially children receive some kind of nutrition.

From the federal food stamp website:
Q. Are SNAP clients only allowed to purchase certain nutritious foods?

A. SNAP requirements for foods that can be purchased are the same as in the FSP. SNAP clients can buy all foods intended to be eaten at home. Some things, such as alcoholic beverages, cigarettes, foods hot at the point of sale, non-food items, vitamins or medicines and pet foods are not allowed.
There's no reason it should be used for soda - that wasn't the intent of the program to begin with.

There's no reason it should be used for anything you don't want it to be used for. What the program's intent was to begin with in 1964 is irrelevant.
posted by blucevalo at 8:22 AM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]



Joe Beese nails it. Referendums should not have the ability to override term limits. Period. Even the "state of war" thing that got FDR his third term is hard to apply on a city level.


I don't get what you mean by your last sentence. You realize there were no presidential term limits until after FDR's fourth term right?
posted by Riptor at 8:25 AM on October 7, 2010 [6 favorites]


This is pointless. You can buy a 2 liter of soda for a buck, no one's gonna have a problem buying that with their own money.

When I lived without a car in the middle of the city, getting groceries was an incredible pain in the butt. I tried taking a giant backpack on the bus, I tried shopping at the tiny local bodega, I tried walking a mile to the warehouse store which sold only food in cans, I bought an old bike with grocery bag carriers and used it till it got stolen. Most of the time I ate takeout and fast food because none of these options worked to get more than two bags of groceries to my apartment without breaking the eggs and the milk tasting funny from being out for so long. Not sure what the solution is exactly, but if you're looking for the reason city folks are overweight then this is it.
posted by miyabo at 8:26 AM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


All these products are demonstrably bad for people

Well, you and I seem to have a fundamental difference of opinion on whether or not to put soda in the same category as cigarettes and booze. Certainly soda is not GOOD for people, but I do not believe it to be as bad as the other two.
posted by desjardins at 8:29 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Just to chime in about Bloomberg's intentions here: I think this is absolutely motivated by a fairly transparent desire to make his fellow-citizens healthier, not to use class war in order to make himself more popular, as some folks have implied. As 2bucksplus pointed out with those linked articles, the administration's been pushing health-based for a while now, and this seems part and parcel with a lot of the other reforms (some of which I truly hate, such as the ban on smoking in public parks).
posted by Greg Nog at 8:35 AM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


As a youth I worked at an unusual pizza place that prepared the pizza but didn't cook it. As a result we could accept food stamps for the pizza. For some reason I recall that we didn't take food stamps for soda, but that rule could have been a result of a misunderstanding of the owner.

The going rate in the illegal trade of food stamps for cash was 2:1.
posted by exogenous at 8:36 AM on October 7, 2010


Yup, Papa Murphy's Pizza accepts food stamps. It's a great deal too, a $10 pizza could feed a family for a week.
posted by miyabo at 8:40 AM on October 7, 2010


Well, you and I seem to have a fundamental difference of opinion on whether or not to put soda in the same category as cigarettes and booze. Certainly soda is not GOOD for people, but I do not believe it to be as bad as the other two.

I would argue that booze is the healthiest option of the three. Moderate use of (the right kind of) alcohol is actually beneficial to one's health. This is the not case for soda or cigarettes, which are never good for you in any quantity.
posted by 2bucksplus at 8:41 AM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Certainly soda is not GOOD for people, but I do not believe it to be as bad as the other two.

It's my impression that obesity-related illnesses have or are beginning to surpass diseases caused by the big bad two. Granted, sedentary life is a huge cause of that, but sugar water is probably is a key contributor, too.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:42 AM on October 7, 2010


An absolute ban will preclude a mother using stamps to buy soda even once a year for a child's birthday party or as an occasional treat for herself.

Oh, for god's sake. What rubbish. These are people on foods stamps. They're not all penniless. I strongly suspect that if someone in a household that receives food stamps, they probably can find the $0.75 to buy one.

They're not going to be posting guards around the soda or at the checkout lines asking people to show their W-2s or tax returns in order to buy soda. If someone, rich or poor, has cash, they can buy whatever the hell they want.

But food stamps were designed to provide supplemental food. The expectation was never that people were going to have all of the money that they'd ever get/need for food via food stamps. That's why it's called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Seeing how soda has no nutritional value whatsoever, and that the program already has a host of preconditions on what can or cannot be purchased with SNAP funds (food stamps), this is an incremental shift designed to remove an unncessary incentive to buy something that has no nutritional value.

The poor can use their own funds, and make decisions based on how much money. But there is no point in making it easier for people to buy a substance that is not only non-nutritive, but that is also bad for you when consumed in large quantities over time.
posted by scblackman at 8:45 AM on October 7, 2010 [20 favorites]


Moderate use of (the right kind of) alcohol is actually beneficial to one's health

The data on this is really limited to red wine, and shouldn't be extrapolated to include the alcohol itself, regardless of form.
posted by scblackman at 8:48 AM on October 7, 2010


I know it's likely most people could buy it anyway, it was an example of an occasion that could come at a time when you're short of cash, or chipping into the small discretionary budget you have. Seems a petty thing to do for very little likely benefit.
posted by Abiezer at 8:50 AM on October 7, 2010


Soda is a weird habit that I see. People either tend to treat it like an odd occasional indulgence or they fetishize it and will tell you with great pride about their titanic daily consumption. Between the carbonic acid breaking down bone integrity and the calories, which, as well, seem to do nothing for actually improving satiety, it is often responsible for ten to forty pounds minimum in a lot of obese people.

Frankly, if you have a soda habit, giving it up seems to be a lot easier than actually trimming portions, and the weight loss is much more rapid and substantial. Bloomberg should be praised for this, no matter how much you may loathe the nanny state. If you can buy soda with food stamps then you should also allow them to be used for beer, which is quite a bit healthier.
posted by docpops at 8:51 AM on October 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


I think this is absolutely motivated by a fairly transparent desire to make his fellow-citizens healthier

I'm fine with a soda just a long as the leave the McRib alone.
posted by nomadicink at 8:54 AM on October 7, 2010


scblackman - actually modest alcohol has benefits regardless of the source. The resveratrol in red wine has it's own potential benefits, but in most people (not all) ethanol's benefit seems to be related to relaxation of the endothelial lining of the blood vessels. Of course, the debate goes on and in some people it is not as useful, but there seems to be more weight in the "pro" research than "con".
posted by docpops at 8:54 AM on October 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


it is often responsible for ten to forty pounds minimum in a lot of obese people.

Why not ban ice cream and cookies too?
posted by smackfu at 8:56 AM on October 7, 2010


Why not ban ice cream and cookies too?

Fair question. I suppose those products fill a different sort of role in an average person's life. No one considers them an acceptable accompaniment to a typical lunch or dinner, nor do most people carry ice-cream or cookies around in containers for half the day like an accessory tit or security blanket. I suppose we ought to indulge the poorest among us when they want something other than carrots at their kid's birthday party. One could go on and on on this but hopefully it is not necessary.
posted by docpops at 9:03 AM on October 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


I agree with all those who say that the problem of poor nutrition is a complex phenomenon for rich and poor alike. I also agree that this band-aid approach is insuffient to, alone, change habits or have an immediate impact on public health. But I endorse it as one of many steps to take to the end of improving our national awareness and practice of good nutrition - a responsible restriction on the use of public funds that doesn't, in the end, prevent people from drinking soda, just makes it a luxury rather than a staple.

There are a LOT of associated food-systems needs: removing subsidies for export and manufacturing crops, shifting subsidy and tax support to growers of "specialty crops" (ie, produce), building local food production capacity state by state; eliminating food deserts (neighborhoods with little or no sales of fresh foods), improving nutrition education and building cooking and planning skills, reducing overall poverty, curtailing junk-food marketing to children in schools, media, and youth programs, and much much more. No single program or rule change is going to bring about the needed systemic overhaul; but a constellation of efforts across many fronts will slowly build to drive significant change. We have seen that power at work with smoking, where it took a combination of education/awareness, taxation/high prices, youth prohibition, restriction on spaces where smoking was allowed, penalties and fines, market-based and nonprofit quitting-assistance solutions, medical approaches, restrictions on advertising and portrayal in media, and changed popular opinion to reduce the rate of adult smoking so dramatically over only a few decades. It will take nothing less than such a diversified effort to impact America's food crisis, and publicly funded programs (like school lunch and school vending, as well) are one of the many chips we can start to make in the monolith.
posted by Miko at 9:08 AM on October 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


Why not ban ice cream and cookies too?

Docpops has it. Soda becomes a default beverage. The ads encourage this. You're thirsty? Get a Coke. The cookie and ice cream companies don't encourage you to eat their products instead of dinner.
posted by griphus at 9:11 AM on October 7, 2010


If I'm skinny am I allowed to drink soda?

I'm not entirely being facetious here - it's only within the last six months that I've tipped 100 lbs, and I have been drinking soda since I was about 8 (currently about three per week). Again, not saying it's GOOD for me, and I'm probably an outlier, but it doesn't make sense to put restrictions on it for me because clearly it does not make me fat.
posted by desjardins at 9:15 AM on October 7, 2010


If one cares about public health, one could* regulate the sale of sodas to the general population. If one cares about the "immoral" use of public money, one could start with corn subsidies or the money funneled into the military.

Not everyone has equal opportunities and the level of one's wealth isn't an indicator of morality or soundness of mind. People who think social programs like food stamps are a free lunch and a favour towards the poor overlook the benefits they themselves enjoy.

*Or actually incentivise the production of healthier food.

posted by ersatz at 9:17 AM on October 7, 2010


The cookie and ice cream companies don't encourage you to eat their products instead of dinner.

No, but they don't discourage it either. And their omnipresence in TV ad slots during the day would make any space alien visiting the US for the first time assume that it's the only food we consume. Well, that and Totino's pizza rolls.
posted by blucevalo at 9:18 AM on October 7, 2010


No one considers them an acceptable accompaniment to a typical lunch or dinner,

Seriously? Do you actually believe this? Cookies as an "accompaniment" to dinner is called dessert and plenty of people have it just as often as people have soda.

Also, "accessory tit or security blanket"? For fucks sake, People carry soda bottles around with them for the same reason they carry water bottles, 'cause sometimes they get thirsty and their beverage of choice is soda. Is it healthy? Not really. Is is a "security blanket?" No, of course not.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:18 AM on October 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


Didn't we just have huge contentious FPP wherein we expressed varying levels of outrage over people HIPSTERS using food stamps for organic salmon? Did I imagine that in the internets inside my head?
posted by elizardbits at 9:20 AM on October 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


I am going to go make a PB & J sandwich if that is OK with everyone.
posted by desjardins at 9:21 AM on October 7, 2010


Why not ban ice cream and cookies too?

And pie! and cake! and fried food! or carb heavy foods, like bread!

Ok, ok, you can have bread, but only 1 loaf for every two adults, bought every week and a half. If you have a child under 12, you can get an extra half loaf. Once the child becomes 12, you can have a whole loaf. If the child is overweight, we'll start taking away the bread rations, say half a loaf for every 10 pounds.

God help you if we find you're cutting the crusts off though. My tax dollars are not going to support such waste!
posted by nomadicink at 9:22 AM on October 7, 2010


The title of this post reminds me of work. I work at a large chain liquor store that has a wall of "gourmet" soda, including Faygo in glass bottles (Being from the midwest, I just find it weird. Does Michigan sell, say, Big K in glass bottles for 1.69 a pop? The whole ICP-raisedoncheapsoda-fanspayapremiumelsewhere thing is just weird to me. Anywho.) Three times now I have had a customer come to my register with their hands full of Faygo and are shocked! that we don't accept any sort of food stamp or EBT. We're a liquor store, why would we?
posted by lizjohn at 9:24 AM on October 7, 2010


Why not ban ice cream and cookies too?

I've thought about this slippery slope point quite a bit, and it's always been hard to argue around. But in thinking about it more, I think that there is something fundamentally different about high calorie drinks versus high calorie foods.

I came to realize the insidious nature of this as a pediatrician. I'd see lots of very overweight kids and I'd ask the parents what they were giving their child, and they'd proudly say, "Juice!". I'd ask how much, and they'd tell me 3-4 (or more) sippy cups or bottles full. I'd do the math with them. Apple juice has about 120 calories per cup, and a cup (8 ounces). Assuming 4 cups per day, that's nearly 500 calories. Not a big deal for you or me, but if you're a 1 year-old with a basal metabolic rate of 900 calories/day, you've taken in half your day's calories and haven't had a bite to eat yet. And yet the parents thought it was so healthy and wholesome, and didn't have a clue that it the primary cause of their child being overweight.

Let's think about adults, and the soda versus ice cream and cookies arguement. A 16 ounce Coke has 200 calories. People will easily guzzle down 16 ounces in a single sitting, so even though it's labeled as 2 servings, so I think it's safe to generalize and say that most people treat it as one. Drink 4 or 5 of them a day and you've got nearly half of your daily caloric intake (remember that your basal metabolic rate is approximately 2000 calories per day ... if you don't know yours, you should). Drinking 3 or 4 or 5 sodas a day doesn't seem terrible abnormal. One in the morning, if you're not a coffee person. One with lunch. One as an afternoon pick-me-up. Soda with dinner. It adds up fast.

A pint of Ben and Jerry's vanilla has about a thousand calories. That's for the whole pint. Eating a pint of ice cream every day. The whole pint. Day after day? Seems a little unusual.

Same thing with cookies. A Chips Ahoy cookie probably has about 60 calories, assuming 2-3 cookies per serving. To get to a thousand calories, you need to eat a lot of cookies. Imagine eating 15 cookies a day, every day. Again, a little much.

People consume high calorie beverages in larger quantities than they realizes, and probably far more frequenlty then they realize because drinking is portable. You can have a drink in your car, in your hand as you walk down the street, in your backpack or purse, on your desk at work, etc. Not the same with a pint of ice cream. The opportunities for consuming soda are far higher.

I think that minimizing opportunities/incentives to consume soda are an important public health measure, as we all probably fail to realize the full extent of our caloric intake, or the ease with which non-nutritive calories can sneak into our day.
posted by scblackman at 9:25 AM on October 7, 2010 [32 favorites]


...it doesn't make sense to put restrictions on it for me because clearly it does not make me fat.

Health policy shouldn't try to cater to outliers if not catering to them does not harm them. I think the recent New York City smoking laws demonstrate that. Not letting people smoke in a bar or public park pisses off the outliers who smoke, but it in no way harms them.
posted by griphus at 9:25 AM on October 7, 2010


If one cares about the "immoral" use of public money, one could start with corn subsidies or the money funneled into the military.

How much does the mayor of New York subsidize corn, or funnel money into the military? How would he start with those measures rather than what he's doing now?
posted by Jpfed at 9:26 AM on October 7, 2010


Soda is a bit unique among foods in that most sodas offer absolutely no nutritional value whatsoever. The only other food you can really say that about is sugar-based hard candy, but people consume much less hard candy than they do soda. Even cookies have iron, fiber, and fats, and ice cream actually has protein and fats. Soda is a completely egregious product. It was designed to be a treat, and, until the 1970s, actually was, for everyone.
posted by Miko at 9:26 AM on October 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


We have seen that power at work with smoking, where it took a combination of education/awareness, taxation/high prices, youth prohibition, restriction on spaces where smoking was allowed, penalties and fines, market-based and nonprofit quitting-assistance solutions, medical approaches, restrictions on advertising and portrayal in media, and changed popular opinion to reduce the rate of adult smoking so dramatically over only a few decades.

The flip side of this multifarious approach is that no one can really say which, if any, of these things actually had an effect on smoking rates, and which just allowed people to feel self-righteous and superior. It's worth pointing out that most of that decline in smoking rates came in the earlier part of the 1954-to-today decline, when anti-smoking resources were mostly spent on education and smoking cessation; in the last two decades, during which we've moved to hard prohibitions on smoking in offices and restaurants and bars and to much higher cigarette tax rates, the decline has basically plateaued.

And then again, in 1954 no one knew that smoking caused cancer; it could simply be that 45% is the number of people who will smoke when they think it isn't bad for them and 25% is the number who smoke when they know that it is, and that none of our programs beyond cancer research have had any notable effect at all.
posted by enn at 9:38 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'll let my politics be known that I support food stamps for everyone, in a way that makes the basic staples (rice, grain, eggs, milk) nearly free. If we are subsidizing corn we sure as hell can subsidize everything else at the point of purchase.

Having live in New York City while in college, I can say it's the worst place to buy food. Yeah, the grocery store, which is impossibly far away and it's easier to go to the one near your office/college and then schlep the shit home on the subway to Brooklyn than finding the store near your house. They have most everything any other supermarket would have, but just one of it.

Want some pickles? Sorry, someone already bought the jar today, come back next week when we'll get a new shipment to restock the single jar.
posted by wcfields at 9:42 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


wcfields, I have lived in Brooklyn for 20+ years now and my experience shopping is completely different. And I've lived in almost exclusively working-class, majority-immigrant (being an immigrant myself) neighborhoods. What you described isn't a fair representation of all but the most blighted neighborhoods (the projects and so on.) As far as this thread is concerned, it is a fair representation, but on a general basis? You're wrong and/or not good at picking a place to live.
posted by griphus at 9:45 AM on October 7, 2010


The eligibility requirements for food stamps usually differ from those for housing or cash welfare and are meant to supplement someone who may have trouble providing proper nutrition to their family. There's no reason it should be used for soda - that wasn't the intent of the program to begin with.

This is why the food stamp program as a means to improve nutrition is a massive failure and is fundamentally unable to do anything more than make it marginally less impossible to pay for all of the things that people below the poverty line have to pay for. I would be all for taxing income brackets above $250,000 at 60% and using that money to bulldoze bodegas in low income neighborhoods and replace them with government funded grocery stores with heavily subsidized nutritional food. That would give some of the people on the current food stamp programs a chance to actually have the same choices as someone with a six figure income that can decide to buy everything at Whole Foods or whatever. But telling poor people "Now you're going to have to pay for soda with cash" is just going to make it slightly more annoying to be on food stamps.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:47 AM on October 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


Also, "accessory tit or security blanket"? For fucks sake, People carry soda bottles around with them for the same reason they carry water bottles, 'cause sometimes they get thirsty and their beverage of choice is soda. Is it healthy? Not really. Is is a "security blanket?" No, of course not.

I've known people who drink a lot of soda because it helps counteract almost constant nausea from certain medications. So yeah, it's unhealthy, and it has no nutritional value, but it's not always just an "accessory tit."

It was designed to be a treat, and, until the 1970s, actually was, for everyone.

It may have been designed as a treat but it was always marketed as more than a treat. When Eddie Fisher died recently I went online and watched all the way through one of his Coke-sponsored half-hour shows from the early 1950s. The Coke commercials were all over that show, and they included Fisher and virtually every other person on the show (well, except Diahann Carroll) ostentatiously lifting and sipping a Coke at regular intervals and staring into the camera and saying what a "refresher" or "great break" it was. That's a little more than an every-so-often treat.
posted by blucevalo at 9:50 AM on October 7, 2010


Why is it less likely on fruit juice? It generally has just as much sugar as soda.

Maybe the caffeine? Maybe the advertising? Something about the taste? I don't know - all I know is that you don't see people drinking giant vats of orange juice at the movies or getting bottomless cups of it or 12 packs that they drink over a couple days. Maybe it's just a cost thing, and if juice were cheaper we'd see the same outcome, but it doesn't seem that likely to me. Soda seems to make you thirsty at the same time as you drink it so you just keep wanting more. It's sort of got a salty edge to it at the same time as seeming like it satisfies you... I really don't doubt the recipe was carefully created to get you to want more.

Food stamps are no one's only income

How do you know? Food stamps are often poor people's only available income, after rent, utilities, and whatever else needed for survival has been accounted for.


If you can pay rent and utilities, you must have some other form of income. Food stamps are supplemental. They are extra income, to help feed your kids when things get tough, because no one should starve or get malnourished just because they lost their job.

There's no reason it should be used for anything you don't want it to be used for. What the program's intent was to begin with in 1964 is irrelevant.

I don't understand what you're getting at here. I don't have any stake in the outcome of this, but wanted to point out that the reason food stamps exist is for the very real problem that there are millions of people, including millions of children, living on incomes where they really could be in danger of malnutrition. The question of whether they can have soda or not seems unimportant in that context. To consider it an issue of "personal freedom" is naive. If you're brought up drinking soda, if your local grocer only sells soda, if the corporate world wants to make you drink soda since they make ExtREEMe!! profits off it, you can easily get into the habit without even considering other options.
posted by mdn at 9:51 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


enn, I'll note that the prohibitions on smoking in public places have largely been for the benefit of others, not the smokers, but have aided in shifting public opinion about the level of tolerance for smoking.

I can say as a former smoker of 13 years that the inconvenience factor of having to go outdoors to smoke was important in the decision to quit. Just as the multifarious regulations make it hard to pinpoint which were most effective, smoking is a multifarious addiction which people develop and maintain for a complex set of reasons. I quit because of a combination of health concerns, price, aesthetics, and inconvenience, not because of any one component - single components may not have been sufficient in themselves.

The CDC has a goal of reducing the number of adults who smoke to 12% of the population, which is their estimate of what the number of people who would choose to smoke for some portion of their adult lives would look like no matter what. Seems about right, given that a lot of people smoke for a few years in their early 20s no matter what, but outgrow it.
posted by Miko at 9:52 AM on October 7, 2010


It was designed to be a treat, and, until the 1970s, actually was, for everyone.

It may have been designed as a treat but it was always marketed as more than a treat. When Eddie Fisher died recently I went online and watched all the way through one of his Coke-sponsored half-hour shows from the early 1950s.


Also Dr Pepper's slogan was "Drink a bite to eat at 10, 2, and 4 o'clock" from the 1920s until around WWII.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:10 AM on October 7, 2010


It blows my mind that we're even having this conversation. People who want to move further away from cash transfers and closer to in-kind transfers should really, really consider what they would prefer if they suddenly found themselves in financial straits.
posted by ripley_ at 10:15 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Having been raised in something akin to but not entirely dire financial straits, I can assure you what my mother preferred was to maintain the health and good eating habits of her child rather than being able to choose whether or not she was allowed to buy soda.
posted by griphus at 10:18 AM on October 7, 2010


You can't just replace soda with juice or milk because juice and milk cost a lot more money. That's why you don't see people lugging giant cups of orange juice. How is banning soda purchases for food stamp users going to help them afford the more expensive beverages? It's not. Why doesn't anybody ever think about the COST of things when they're talking about banning this or that? Because only the poor have to think about the cost of things every second they're in a market.

And if you don't have a market available and must use the corner stores/bodegas, then the markup on juice and milk is even more drastic. What's anyone going to do about that? Or is that just another problem sloughed off on the poor people.
posted by Danila at 10:28 AM on October 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


This illustrates perfectly that the measure is not intended to improve poor people's health, but to punish them. If you wanted to improve people's health, you'd apply this to ALL people, regardless of income, and ban soda entirely.

They tried putting a tax on soda, which would have affected all consumers equally, regardless of income, and the lobbyists got in the way of that policy.

So this isn't some random policy being pursued to punish poor people, but a measure to reduce consumption of a nutrition-less product with known deleterious effects on the health of the public.

This seems like a perfectly reasonable policy, since there are already restrictions on what food stamps can purchase that most agree are reasonable — for example, food stamps cannot be used for buying tobacco or alcohol, which have no nutritional value.

Sugar sodas have no nutritional value. Fruit juices and milk do have nutritional value and are not restricted. This proposal is therefore wholly consistent with the goals of the food stamp program since its inception.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:33 AM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


You can't just replace soda with juice or milk because juice and milk cost a lot more money. That's why you don't see people lugging giant cups of orange juice. How is banning soda purchases for food stamp users going to help them afford the more expensive beverages? It's not. Why doesn't anybody ever think about the COST of things when they're talking about banning this or that? Because only the poor have to think about the cost of things every second they're in a market.

And if you don't have a market available and must use the corner stores/bodegas, then the markup on juice and milk is even more drastic. What's anyone going to do about that? Or is that just another problem sloughed off on the poor people.


1. The price of milk is set by the New York State (New York State’s Milk Price Gouging Law). They do a bad job enforcing it, but this has improved recently as it is becoming more of a priority thanks in part to the new focus on health policy. The City Council is currently investigating "milk gouging" whereas previously it was a state matter (and Albany sucks, can I get a witness). This is, in other words, the government thinking about the COST of things, as you say.

2. Really people don't need to trade one drink for another. No one is suggesting people drink as much milk and orange juice as they do soda. You don't need to drink something other that water all throughout the day.
posted by 2bucksplus at 10:38 AM on October 7, 2010


This seems like a perfectly reasonable policy, since there are already restrictions on what food stamps can purchase that most agree are reasonable — for example, food stamps cannot be used for buying tobacco or alcohol, which have no nutritional value.

Who would agree? I certainly don't. Giving the poor vouchers that are worse than cash by every measure is really short-changing them.

Remember the last time you received a gift certificate at Christmas and thought "It's a nice gift, but cash would be better"? Exactly the same principles apply here.
posted by ripley_ at 10:39 AM on October 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


I was walking to a friends house in Queens and needed to buy some OJ. I didn't want to carry it with me because, you know, a gallon is pretty heavy. I crossed Astoria Blvd and saw a lil bodega up ahead. It had Sunny D but no OJ. Or like when my mom was in her 20's and would mix Tang in her OJ to make it last longer. At least Soylent Green was nutritious.

Our bodies need calories, but they need nutrients, too. Bloomberg has an in here and is very vocal on public health; if he could tax everyone he would. Hell, I wouldn't make the distinction between diet and regular soda, but his points are specific to the sugar. Sugary drinks rot teeth and help lead to early onset diabetes without providing meaningful nutrition. Addressing those health effects will eventually come out of the taxpayer pocket one way or another (medical care, lost productivity, etc.).

He's tried several interventions to address the food deserts, but enforcement is an issue. Enforcement is not an issue here. Pairing this ban with incentivizing fresh produce would feel like a good step, too. Pair that with public awareness campaigns about how to stretch your EBT dollar and let demand drive business.
posted by Sweetdefenestration at 10:47 AM on October 7, 2010


I probably shouldn't write a sort of angry comment here, because it'll be a drive-by -- I have to go in to work for 3 or 4 hours. But I will anyway.

The people getting food stamps are mostly our neighbors -- the guy whose manufacturing job ca be done more cheaply in China, the carpenter who's found that little construction is going on in 2010, the woman already piecing together as many hours as she can from minimum wage jobs.

Why is it that we cannot say to our neighbors "You're having a hard time. We'll help you, and then if it comes to that, later it may be your turn to help us." No, instead we have to say, "This is YOUR FAULT. Because you made the bad decision to work in a factory, you're a failure as a human being. So, instead of just helping you, we're going to start taking control of parts of your life that have nothing to do with how you got here or how you can get out. Because we're just better and smarter than you and we can make your choices better than you can."

If we're going to give grudging help, we have to demean at the same time. Because we'd rather have a hundred people go hungry than one guy get anything he shouldn't. And because if we blame them hard enough, we can convince ourselves that it's some fault of theirs and it can't happen to us.

So, fine. If we're going to take charge of their health, why stop at sodas? Make sure they can't buy anything sugary. Ban food stamp use for transfats, too. These bums shouldn't be buying Twinkies or chips on my dime while I have to go work, amirite?

Or, wait! If we want to impose healthy choices on them because they went and let their company "action a different resource allocation," let's just simplify it: just deny them food stamps if they're over an optimum weight. Deny them food stamps if they test positive for dope. Or alcohol, or cigarettes. That's just good health!

Fuck that. Help them or let them starve, as your conscience demands. But don't add insult to injury. These people need jobs, not your diet advice.
posted by tyllwin at 10:47 AM on October 7, 2010 [27 favorites]


Remember the last time you received a gift certificate at Christmas and thought "It's a nice gift, but cash would be better"? Exactly the same principles apply here.

It may help to read what the criteria are for what stamps can be used for currently. After observing that soda does not fit into the definition of nutritious food, how it not only has no nutritional value, but that its consumption leads to deleterious effects on people's health, it seems to reasonable to ask why food stamps should be used to buy it.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:50 AM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Food stamps should only be used to buy food. Pop is not food.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 10:52 AM on October 7, 2010 [6 favorites]


Remember the last time you received a gift certificate at Christmas and thought "It's a nice gift, but cash would be better"? Exactly the same principles apply here.

Well I agree that cash is better than gift certificates, but I'd never tell someone giving me a gift that I'd like something better than what they're giving me.

And really, the same principles don't apply. This isn't a gift, it's a subsidy. It's not supposed to solve all problems for all poor people, it's supposed to assist with a specific problem which other forms of aid don't seem to address: nutrition.

As I said before, the public has a stake in the way public money is used, and if we think a program should be improving nutrition and it's not, then it's entirely within our rights to change the execution of that program.
posted by Riki tiki at 10:53 AM on October 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


Giving the poor vouchers that are worse than cash by every measure is really short-changing them.

There's no way we're going to have a publicly funded system that gives people cash. Flawed as it may be, this system doesn't exist because of an overt desire to control the choices of people with little money. It exists to help them, and it exists in restricted voucher form because the majority of the taxpayers who fund it are far more likely to support a system in which this money is spent on necessities for health. It's fair enough to me.

I understand the emotions behind the idealistic objections to the current state of the welfare system and share many of them. But that's really a much bigger issue, and in the meantime, a welfare system exists and is regulated. To be funded at current levels, people need to be in support of it, especially voters. This new soda measure helps increase the likelihood that people will be healthier and that people will support continued expenditure of the funds needed to maintain the program. Politics, including welfare, is, of course, the art of the possible. Bloomberg sees a possibilty here, within one program under his administrative jurisdiction, and has pursued it. It is possible that this will have an impact on the long-term health of the city's poorest, and even more possible that it will be replicated and have impact in terms of broadened public awareness, just as the trans fat ban did.

If your concerns are of the bigger type, about why we have the poor and how best to support them in pursuing their real needs, I urge you to join a movement to advocate for change on a larger scale. When that bigger agenda is concerned, in my mind, the availability or non-availability of soda is not the most glaringly significant issue.
posted by Miko at 10:55 AM on October 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


It may help to read what the criteria are for what stamps can be used for currently. After observing that soda does not fit into the definition of nutritious food

Doesn't that criteria say "they concluded that designating foods as luxury or non-nutritious would be administratively costly and burdensome."
posted by smackfu at 11:03 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


It does say that, but Bloomberg's the one dedicating the resources. And this is a pretty easy pick-off. It's not really an administrative burden to note that soda is total junk. It would be to go through all available grocery items and make a determination. Again - clear, easy, possible.
posted by Miko at 11:10 AM on October 7, 2010


They tried putting a tax on soda, which would have affected all consumers equally, regardless of income, and the lobbyists got in the way of that policy.

Taxes on consumer goods still affect low income people a lot more than others. If next week a 12-pack of soda costs $10 instead of $5 because of new taxes, someone who makes $80,000 a year is going to care a lot less about the slight increase in the cost of their grociries than someone who makes $12,000 a year and has to wait until payday (or until the food stamp card gets activated) to go to the store. $5 does not have the same inherent worth across income levels. Miko mentioned smoking bans above, which inconveniences smokers a lot more equally across income levels than the existing taxes on cigarettes do.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:20 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm not entirely being facetious here - it's only within the last six months that I've tipped 100 lbs, and I have been drinking soda since I was about 8 (currently about three per week). Again, not saying it's GOOD for me, and I'm probably an outlier, but it doesn't make sense to put restrictions on it for me because clearly it does not make me fat.

Well, hell, I guess if we can find someone who's 90 and smokes, we can quit worrying about the heath issues around smoking. There obviously aren't any!
posted by rodgerd at 11:20 AM on October 7, 2010


Why doesn't anybody ever think about the COST of things when they're talking about banning this or that?

Well honestly, it's not like you have a choice between drinking soda and dying of thirst. You can drink all the soda you want, but I think it's fair to say that you can't use food stamps to buy it. No one is going to die for want of a Coke.
posted by Mister_A at 11:27 AM on October 7, 2010


Taxes on consumer goods still affect low income people a lot more than others.

We have many consumption taxes that are regressive, and yet these are accepted as desirable for a functioning society. Alcohol and tobacco are two major examples. Alcohol taxation has been shown to put downward pressure on consumption:

"[T]hese two studies establish beyond any reasonable doubt that, as the price of alcohol goes up, alcohol consumption and the rates of adverse outcomes related to consumption go down," Wagenaar said.

The question is not whether a tax on sugar would be regressive, but whether it would achieve the desired public health goals, which were the stated goals of the tax's proponents. In the case of alcohol, taxation is effective to that end.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:28 AM on October 7, 2010


Food stamps should only be used to buy food. Pop is not food.

I'll think I'll use my food stamps to buy a couple of packs of value judgments.
posted by blucevalo at 11:28 AM on October 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


Well, hell, I guess if we can find someone who's 90 and smokes, we can quit worrying about the heath issues around smoking. There obviously aren't any!

I used eight personal pronouns in that quote and I clearly said that soda was not good for me.
posted by desjardins at 11:34 AM on October 7, 2010


There's no way we're going to have a publicly funded system that gives people cash.

What? Of course we could. We used to; it was called welfare. No, eligibility restrictions on soda are not going to be the one thing to destroy the last vestiges of the welfare state, but they are entirely consistent with a long line of restrictions on who is eligible for aid (sorting the "deserving poor" from the undeserving — e.g., there is no welfare left for single non-elderly non-parents) and on what the aid may be used for ("moral uplift," because poverty is ipso facto evidence of a moral failing like drinking soda). These restrictions all are based on a ridiculous Victorian notion of poverty and are very effective at undermining support for the (increasingly shitty) welfare state. So yes, I'm going to object to this latest victory for the immiseration agenda just as I do to all the others.
posted by enn at 11:35 AM on October 7, 2010 [6 favorites]


We have many consumption taxes that are regressive, and yet these are accepted as desirable for a functioning society.

Nice passive construction. They are certainly not accepted as desireable by everyone.
posted by enn at 11:36 AM on October 7, 2010


It may help to read what the criteria are for what stamps can be used for currently. After observing that soda does not fit into the definition of nutritious food, how it not only has no nutritional value, but that its consumption leads to deleterious effects on people's health, it seems to reasonable to ask why food stamps should be used to buy it.

Why? Because obviously some people on food stamps think that soda is a good use of their vouchers. I'm not going to second-guess them on that.

I understand the emotions behind the idealistic objections to the current state of the welfare system and share many of them. But that's really a much bigger issue, and in the meantime, a welfare system exists and is regulated. To be funded at current levels, people need to be in support of it, especially voters. This new soda measure helps increase the likelihood that people will be healthier and that people will support continued expenditure of the funds needed to maintain the program.

Personally I'd rather argue for efficient policies than be content with half-assed ones. Sure, there are political reasons for the system being the way it is. That doesn't mean we should ignore those flaws.
posted by ripley_ at 11:36 AM on October 7, 2010


Having live in New York City while in college, I can say it's the worst place to buy food.

This isn't wrong. It's dead wrong. Yeah, there aren't many affordable grocery stores near NYU. It's an unfortunate side effect of the sky-high rents in New York City (I'd totally support a tax break/subsidy for downtown grocery markets).

However, if you know where to go, New York has an enormous abundance of some of the best (and certainly most diverse) food on the planet, and at affordable prices. Better still, it's accessible to the masses, thanks to NYC's fantastically cheap and extensive subway. In my travels, I've also noticed that the greater NYC region has access to some of the best ingredients and freshest produce in the US, available at pretty much any grocery store.

On the other hand, many urban areas (particularly LA and the south) have vast food deserts, where residents have no access to quality affordable foods.

DC's current mayor has made it a priority to attract grocers and fresh food markets to the city's poorer areas and metro-accessible locations, and is having some success in doing so. There's an Organic food store South of the Anacostia River, which was more or less an earth-shattering development, given the historic lack of good food options in that neighborhood. The intersection of MLK Ave and Malcolm X Ave contains a liquor store and a fried chicken joint. Bad urban planning has never been quite so racist.

The convenience stores in these poorer neighborhoods have little in the way of fresh foods, and are often considerably more expensive than their supermarket counterparts.
posted by schmod at 11:39 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


This isn't one of those nanny state problems that conservatives bitch about all the time, this is one of those nanny state problems that liberals should be bitching about. Christ, what a morally loaded, solution-deficient idea.
posted by tehloki at 11:47 AM on October 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


The question is not whether a tax on sugar would be regressive, but whether it would achieve the desired public health goals, which were the stated goals of the tax's proponents. In the case of alcohol, taxation is effective to that end.

To be clear, I did not mean to suggest I am against taxes on soda or "vice" goods in general. I was just responding to your specific claim that a tax "would have affected all consumers equally, regardless of income."
posted by burnmp3s at 11:49 AM on October 7, 2010


Who would agree? I certainly don't. Giving the poor vouchers that are worse than cash by every measure is really short-changing them.

Among the most ridiculous statements in the thread.

Using this logic you could say periodic payments is "short-changing" the needy, and so why don't we just give people on food stamps a lump sum of their projected lifetime benefits? That would be "fair" right?

This program is voluntary, and has a distinct purpose. Maybe one day I will be poor, but if I can get milk and eggs, but have to forego my Dr. Pepper, well I'll be annoyed, but still grateful.

The point is to keep people and families from starving to death. Subsidizing mountain dew doesn't do this.
posted by rosswald at 11:50 AM on October 7, 2010


I was just responding to your specific claim that a tax "would have affected all consumers equally, regardless of income."

Sorry that my wording was not clear. If a consumer chooses to buy something with alcohol in it, then s/he has to pay the same taxes on that product as any other consumer. There is no income checker at the front door to a liquor store.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:58 AM on October 7, 2010


Personally I'd rather argue for efficient policies than be content with half-assed ones.

I'm not content and not saying you should be, but I think your argument is bigger than the argument at hand. This is arguably more efficient in achieving its purpose, in that total calories consumed under the program will, by virtue of eliminating soda, actually contain more nutrient value ounce for ounce. Thus it's a more efficient program at reducing malnutrition.
posted by Miko at 11:59 AM on October 7, 2010


The point is to keep people and families from starving to death. Subsidizing mountain dew doesn't do this.

This isn't a subsidy to Pepsi. This is a subsidy to people who might, of their own free will, decide to buy a Pepsi product.

Personally, I think that people whose families are about to starve to death aren't going to spend their money on Mountain Dew. Obviously you disagree.
posted by ripley_ at 12:02 PM on October 7, 2010


Almost 42m Americans now receive food stamps
posted by cell divide at 12:03 PM on October 7, 2010


Oops, my link didn't work: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-10-05/food-stamp-recipients-at-record-41-8-million-americans-in-july-u-s-says.html
posted by cell divide at 12:03 PM on October 7, 2010


49% of all children will be in a household that uses food stamps at some point in their childhood.
Other study findings include:

* 90 percent of black children will be in a household that uses food stamps. This compares to 37 percent of white children.

* Nearly one-quarter of all American children will be in households that use food stamps for five or more years during childhood.

* 91 percent of children with single parents will be in a household receiving food stamps, compared to 37 percent of children in married households.

* Looking at race, marital status and education simultaneously, children who are black and whose head of household is not married with less than 12 years of education have a cumulative percentage of residing in a food stamp household of 97 percent by age 10.

posted by enn at 12:09 PM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


I wonder if that figure is skewed by poor families having more children.
posted by smackfu at 12:12 PM on October 7, 2010


I know anecdotes make terrible evidence, but in the Brooklyn neighborhood I live (CH/BS), I buy random things from the local bodegas all the time. I see a lot of people paying with government subsidies.

At least a 1/3 of the time, they get in an argument with the shopkeeper about why they can't buy cigarettes, or batteries or whatever else. The cops were called once when a lady tried to drag the clerk over the counter when he wouldn't let her buy vaseline with her stamps (why it was so important I don't know).

Working in health care with a mostly lower-class immigrant population, I can tell you that health education is great... in theory, but your lucky if you actually affect change in 10-20% of the people you target.

In a perfect world we could trust everyone to make a good decision all the time, but its just not the case. The government is under no constitutional obligation to provide this program, but it is an amazing thing it exists. As miko said, if they can raise the average amount of nutrition (not just calories) consumed through the program, that is a victory.
posted by rosswald at 12:16 PM on October 7, 2010


effect
posted by rosswald at 12:18 PM on October 7, 2010


In my opinion food stamps are a pretty nasty way of showing folks that they aren't valued or trusted enough to have cash. Untrusted in case they spend it on drugs (be they legal or otherwise), unvalued because paying for food with scrip is a pretty awful way of saying "This person isn't like you. They've no money and they are a different class. Feel free to look down on them".

I can't imagine trading food stamps for cash and spending it on ciggies though, that's just crazy. When I was at my absolute poorest I didn't bother buying cigarettes. A pack of rolling papers cost me 20p and the tobacco was scrounged from the ready smoked butts littered around. My fingertips would be covered in the ash of other people's used smokes as I ripped them apart to steal the precious unsmoked bits near the filter tip.

In retrospect that's something I now see homeless folks doing and having quit for nigh on two years at this point I'm disgusted by what I did but when you're poor you'll do whatever you can to make your day a little less shitty. That's what we need to address - rather than defining specifically the nature of the calories that poor people take in. How can we make their lives a little less awful and give them enough hope that they don't just grasp onto whatever short term happiness, be it cookie, ciggarette or booze, comes their way.
posted by longbaugh at 12:20 PM on October 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


Personally, I think that people whose families are about to starve to death aren't going to spend their money on Mountain Dew. Obviously you disagree.

Funny you should use that as an example.
posted by condour75 at 12:20 PM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


In my opinion food stamps are a pretty nasty way of showing folks that they aren't valued or trusted enough to have cash.

1. I haven't seen an actual stamp in many years; they issue debit cards (EBT cards) now.
2. Merchants advertise their acceptance/participation because the government's money is just as good as anyone else's.
3. People do trade their EBT cards for cash to buy other things. Not everyone does it, but some do.
posted by Mister_A at 12:30 PM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


The point is to keep people and families from starving to death. Subsidizing mountain dew doesn't do this.

This is a ridiculous claim because nobody starves to death in the US, and even if malnutrition was the core issue here it would make a hell of a lot more sense to start handing out plumpynut than it would to give people a food-only debit card. The reality is that if god forbid circumstances in your life end up resulting in you being poor in the United States, the government helps you pay for groceries.

Honestly when we start arguing over the scraps we decide to give to the poorest 10% of the population instead of the massive tax breaks we let the richest 1% take, it's a fundamentally ridiculous discussion. I know these are different issues and that policy decisions are important, but seriously, how can you possibly care what someone who owns less than $2000 in total assets (which is just one of the requirements of the program) spends $130 on in a month? Is the fact that they can buy soda with that money really the biggest thing that is wrong in that scenario?
posted by burnmp3s at 12:32 PM on October 7, 2010 [9 favorites]


Poor people, (defined as households that earn less than $13,000 per year) spend on average 9% of their income on lottery tickets. Think about that for a minute and you'll see why government aid is often so highly targeted. People actually tend to make poor decisions with their money, especially people who are largely undereducated and overstressed.
posted by 2bucksplus at 12:32 PM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


2bucksplus, people in households that earn less than $13,000 per year have only poor decisions available to them, financially. There are no good financial decisions to make supporting multiple people on $13,000 a year. The good financial habits you presumably have learned and practice are not something poor people are too stupid to figure out, they are useless and counterproductive when you are making that little money.
posted by enn at 12:40 PM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Working at a Health Center that specializes in chronic disease, especially diabetes, yes, that is the worst thing in your scenario. Which is really just a straw man anyways.
posted by rosswald at 12:40 PM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hey I'd like to address income inequality and the rape of the American commons, and I also don't think you should be able to buy soda with food stamps. AT THE SAME TIME I THINK BOTH THESE THINGS.

You know when people say they won't rest until the real killers are brought to justice? It's a lie - they have to rest well before then. So why are we getting all worked up over the prospect of some poor people not being able to afford as much soda? Will we not rest until they can have their soda? Or will we not address the soda issue until every other problem is fixed?

Bloomberg isn't likely to say something pointed about the inequality of opportunity and wealth in this country because he's on the right side of it. But this soda deal - this is a public health thing, not a "let's punish the poor" thing. I don't want to rehash the depressing statistics on obesity in this country; we've all seen 'em. It's OK to tell people they can't buy soda with government dollars.

Hey how about this now: how about a government subsidy or tax abatement for development of supermarkets in poor neighborhoods - I think that would be great! Poor people ought to have more access to good food so that they can, perhaps, start making better choices beyond the soda issue. I'm all for common sense in public policy, especially when it comes to nutrition, and the soda ban would be a common sense measure. I think it's great that people want to look out for their less fortunate brothers and sisters, but I don't think we ought to hold up a ban on using government benefits to buy soda as an example of class warfare.
posted by Mister_A at 12:50 PM on October 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


The cops were called once when a lady tried to drag the clerk over the counter when he wouldn't let her buy vaseline with her stamps (why it was so important I don't know).

She don't use jelly?
posted by condour75 at 12:56 PM on October 7, 2010


Mister_A, I know it's a long thread so I'll reproduce what I only linked to above:
Under a proposal the City Planning Commission unanimously approved on Wednesday, the city would offer zoning and tax incentives to spur the development of full-service grocery stores that devote a certain amount of space to fresh produce, meats, dairy and other perishables.

The plan — which has broad support among food policy experts, supermarket executives and City Council members, whose approval is needed — would permit developers to construct larger buildings than existing zoning would ordinarily allow, and give tax abatements and exemptions for approved stores in large swaths of northern Manhattan, central Brooklyn and the South Bronx, as well as downtown Jamaica in Queens.

New York Times
The city is doing exactly this.

Hey how about this now: how about a government subsidy or tax abatement for development of supermarkets in poor neighborhoods - I think that would be great! Poor people ought to have more access to good food so that they can, perhaps, start making better choices beyond the soda issue. I'm all for common sense in public policy, especially when it comes to nutrition, and the soda ban would be a common sense measure. I think it's great that people want to look out for their less fortunate brothers and sisters, but I don't think we ought to hold up a ban on using government benefits to buy soda as an example of class warfare.


These things you suggest they should do, they are doing them. They are giving breaks and subsidies to "real" grocery stores, they are bring farmers' markets to these neighborhoods, they are giving EBT card readers to groceries and famers' markets for free. They even have special coupons for people using food stamps on produce to make the money go even farther. It's a pity that we're talking about the soda issue in a vacuum because we're missing the sweeping policy changes of which this is one tiny bit.
posted by 2bucksplus at 1:01 PM on October 7, 2010 [8 favorites]


However, if you know where to go, New York has an enormous abundance of some of the best (and certainly most diverse) food on the planet, and at affordable prices.

Um, it's a special kind of New Yorker who has time to take the subway to the grocery store every two days.

I've lived in a wide variety of neighborhoods in NYC and I am quite familiar with the problem described. A fine example: I lived near Woodward & Grove in Ridgewood, Queens.

* The closest grocery store was the horrible Food Dimensions, which has a bag check and on three separate occasions gave me food poisoning (not to mention spoiled milk, rotten meat and disgusting produce, all on a regular basis).
* There was an Associated (can't find it on Google Maps anymore) near the DeKalb stop, a 15-20 minute walk, that was OK but closed early.
* There was another (dirty) Associated on Myrtle, a 25-30 minute walk away, that was tolerable had reasonable hours but was frankly pretty gross.

It's January. Walk 30 minutes to Myrtle Ave to buy produce... or shop at the bodega a block away with the single pickle jar and three gallons of milk in a barely-functional fridge? Or fuck it, just get a pizza.

I agree, though -- the Park Slope Coop rules! And when I lived in Astoria I could get fresh vegetables, dirt cheap, by walking fifty feet from my apartment. Meanwhile, vast swaths of the city (think Bed-Stuy or Crown Heights, pre-Fulton-ST-Foodtown) have hellish grocery situations. Even in nice neighborhoods. And it's not because they don't "know where to go."
posted by zvs at 1:03 PM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


There are no good financial decisions to make supporting multiple people on $13,000 a year

This isn't true. Playing the lottery as opposed to not playing is a better financial decision.
posted by josher71 at 1:34 PM on October 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'd never heard of this project before, but Marquette University's Milwaukee Obesity Project has a good article about food deserts in Milwaukee. See that blank space on the map, north of I-94, between 41 and I-43? Surprise, that's the poorest area of the city. I like how the industry consultant notes that Detroit and Gary are worse off, so we shouldn't feel so bad. DETROIT. WTF.
posted by desjardins at 2:03 PM on October 7, 2010


That's great 2bucksplus; thanks for the good info.
posted by Mister_A at 2:06 PM on October 7, 2010


Also Dr Pepper's slogan was "Drink a bite to eat at 10, 2, and 4 o'clock" from the 1920s until around WWII.

That's amazing!
posted by milarepa at 2:20 PM on October 7, 2010


If this is true for a large number of welfare recipients, then the question becomes 'Why are they doing that?' Is it from ignorance? Stretching food dollars? Find out why that's occurring and work towards fixing that.

Oh, yes, instead of cutting off (some of the) government-subsidized empty calories given to the poor, let's find out why they're consuming said empty calories and letting us make them part of a looming public health disaster, and then hope we can encourage them to make better choices, rather than just ending the subsidy for that junk food.

(This is why liberals in the U.S. are so damned ineffective. They're afraid to take decisive action. The conservatives are always able to tend to their pet causes, however, because they don't give a shit what anyone else thinks.)
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 3:37 PM on October 7, 2010


soda is not food, or at least I have a hard time thinking of it as food. I fully understand those raising the concern that govt shouldn't regulate what is bought with food stamps, it does ring a chord with me, but ultimately I think some regulation is ok, there is a liminal area where thee could be passionate debate on what should or should not be covered by food stamps, soda is nowhere near that boundry.

I also think we are in relation to soda about where we where in the 50's and 60's to cigarettes. The soda companies are in full denial mode that it is bad for you ("how can something that is 95% water be bad for you?" actual soda company rep quote), and many people are well and truely addicted to the stuff.
posted by edgeways at 4:15 PM on October 7, 2010


Let me clarify one thing...

I completely agree with the idea that there needs to more education on how to budget and shop for food, especially when you are on such an extremely fixed-income, but to assume that poor people = ignorant people who don't know any better, just grinds my gears. Yes, many people, MOST Americans make HORRIBLE food choices, and income has little to do with it. This idea of taking away people's choice to have a damn soda is just not even near the tip of the iceberg.

Most of the people I grew up with were considered, I guess, "poor" by folks here. They also came from households where cooking with whole and fresh foods was also the "norm". Where our grandmothers would make foods with rice and beans and fresh vegetables every day. There are so many people on food stamps for a number of reasons, that this idea that poor people need your help in telling them what they can't buy is just ridiculous.

Lets talk about accessibility. Lets talk about the entire "culture of fast food" and poor food choices across the board before pinning it on the poorest of the poor and those who because of circumstance are on government assistance programs.
posted by lunachic at 4:42 PM on October 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


What an asshole idea. Hate this.
posted by agregoli at 4:51 PM on October 7, 2010


But to take away my right to choose to have one because *you* feel its for my own good you self-righteous assholes.. now thats really just fugged up.

No one is keeping anyone from buying soda. Taking money from the government in the form of food stamps comes with some restrictions. Is this soda thing the most important ever? No, but I have a hard time getting that upset that it be something put on a list that you can't buy with food stamps.

I would also be fine if they changed the law so that people could buy vitamins on food stamps.
posted by josher71 at 5:15 PM on October 7, 2010


Food stamps should only be used to buy food. Pop is not food.


I'm with ya, but we're talking about soda.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 5:26 PM on October 7, 2010


;' P
posted by Senor Cardgage at 5:27 PM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Please explain to me why Bloomberg shouldn't run for president.

Because the Hebrew nature of the name doesn't play well with those west of Staten Island, north of Palm Beach or east of LA. On the bright side, Hispanics are doing better. :)
posted by FrankBlack at 6:17 PM on October 7, 2010


People make really good points about pop (soda is used to settle your tummy, make volcanoes, and rise baked goods, mmkay) being very widely used/abused. It's kinda like the difference between taxing cigarettes and loose tobacco. Rolling your own slows you down. By that same token, a person on SNAP could buy club soda, extract/flavoring, and sugar and make their own pop.

I agree that this is a band aid solution. We need to completely restructure agricultural subsidies, and then change the food stamp program to include things like toothpaste and soap. That would go a lot further to fix things.

Food politics in this country are becoming weirder and more contentious by the day, or so it seems.
posted by Leta at 6:43 PM on October 7, 2010


I'm still wondering why I cannot buy vitamins, toilet paper or other necessities on food stamps.

It's not because people are seeking to deprive food stamp users of necessities - it's because the funding for the program comes through the US Department of Agriculture. Because it's under USDA, it only concerns itself with food, and not with other types of consumer products, and would in fact be operating outside of its agency jurisdiction if it decided to fund purchases of other kinds of things. It's more accurately thought of not as an overall welfare program designed to provide people will support for all the basic household necessities; instead, it's legislation created originally to provide an outlet for surplus goods and match people in need with producers in a federally funded market for agricultural products. Interestingly, that writeup notes that the earliest talk of excluding soft drinks from the program was in 1964.

Additionally, it has never allowed the purchase of alcohol. If that can be excluded, on the basis of having no nutritional value, then soda should be equally uncontroversial. Alcohol arguably has more health benefits than soda.
posted by Miko at 6:54 PM on October 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


Understood Miko, however several agencies contribute to state welfare programs, not just USDA so assisting with providing basics such as toilet paper and deodorant would not be a leap, nor impossible.
posted by lunachic at 7:02 PM on October 7, 2010


Allowances are made for some who qualify to receive community education, textbooks, work clothes, public transit, etc. As far as I know, none for basic necessities. Personally, I'd deduct 10 or 15 bucks a month from my foodstamp allowance if it meant that I could afford deodorant and toilet paper.
posted by lunachic at 7:16 PM on October 7, 2010


Do they contribute to SNAP? I don't think so; I'm pretty sure they only administer SNAP, and don't have the liberty to apply SNAP funds to purchases the state won't be reimbursed for. And even the costs states incur in setting up the program can be offset by USDA grants.

Certainly it could be the case that some other agency might see fit to provide vouchers for other products, but I don't see the argument that SNAP would be the logical body to do so.
posted by Miko at 7:20 PM on October 7, 2010


The department of aging, the department of transportation, the department of mental health/substance abuse.. all of these contribute to the funding of the department of welfare in my state. I'm not making the argument (?) that purchasing toiletries has to be through the food stamp program, any program would do.
posted by lunachic at 7:39 PM on October 7, 2010


I understand that many agencies create the welfare network in every state. I just saw a few people bringing in the food stamp program restrictions on non-food items as somehow illogical, when I think it's pretty well codified within that program that it's a nutrition program, and wanted to mention that its restrictions are based on its history and funding. Indeed it would be excellent for states to offer a program that would support the purchase of toiletries and cleaning products too - just wanted to note that that would never be likely to fall under the charter of SNAP.
posted by Miko at 7:55 PM on October 7, 2010


Please explain to me why Bloomberg shouldn't run for president.

During a recent televised interview he said it was because he was conservative, pro-choice and believed in evolution. Therefore impossible.
posted by Brian B. at 8:06 PM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Will there be a waiting period to purchase a bag of sugar if you purchase packets of Kool Aid?
posted by electroboy at 8:57 PM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm surprised this is as contentious on the blue as it is. I would have thought more would be in support of it.

Right now, Washington State has an initiative on the ballot that would overturn a recent tax on pop and candy. The beverage industry is pouring millions into the initiative. Polls have since shown a shift from 42% in favor to 52% in favor. The initiative will likely pass and the tax will likely be dropped.

Getting a tax passed in this climate, even one that has very positive public health benefits, is nearly impossible. So this approach via the food stamp program makes sense.

But this all ignores the fact that the beverage industry will get around the ban. They may be big and unhealthy, but they're smart and nimble. When Seattle banned malt liquors in certain "Alcohol Impact Areas" in the city, the beverage industry just invented new malt liquors. Expect to see new resources put into selling low-calorie soda/pop and newer products that get right up to the legal limit.
posted by formless at 9:48 PM on October 7, 2010


PepsiCo told ABC News in an initial statement that it's preposterous to blame soft drinks for dental decay, saying that raisins and cookies stay in the mouth longer.

AHHHHAAAAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAA
posted by Baby_Balrog at 11:17 PM on October 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


Lets talk about accessibility. Lets talk about the entire "culture of fast food" and poor food choices across the board before pinning it on the poorest of the poor and those who because of circumstance are on government assistance programs.

Good point. Food stamps are not accepted at fast food restaurants. Call that a mogul on the slippery slope if you like, but clearly a line has already been drawn so now we're just arguing over whether it should be moved.

According to economic theory, if you limit what food stamps will but to food (in which category soda as mentioned above does not fall) then shops will respond by stocking more fruit and veg.

It's also a question of whether we're subsidizing basic need or lifestyle choice. I've been in low water, mostly a matter of oatmeal and apples. Couldn't afford to get sick, you see. Seems to me if you're on the government teat, you kind of have an obligation to make a good faith effort to live as right as possible. Especially as you're also getting your fellow citizens to pay your health care. If you're too ignorant to realize that soda is actively bad for you, then is it not arguably responsible for the bill-paying government to make the point for you? As part of the new big swing to get government into our health lives?

If we're going to have a nanny state, then let nanny get on with it. Or not, if not.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:14 AM on October 8, 2010


Additionally, it has never allowed the purchase of alcohol. If that can be excluded, on the basis of having no nutritional value, then soda should be equally uncontroversial. Alcohol arguably has more health benefits than soda.

Is that really the reason that alcohol is disallowed, or is it because it's a mind-altering substance that can lead to addiction, violence, drunk driving, poor sexual decisions, etc.
posted by desjardins at 8:09 AM on October 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Seems to me if you're on the government teat, you kind of have an obligation to make a good faith effort to live as right as possible.

1. "government teat" is loaded and paternalistic language
2. why do they have such an obligation?
3. what is "living right"? I suppose we should ban gay sex for welfare recipients, right, because that could lead to AIDS. (I'm being hyperbolic, yes, but it's a restriction that many conservatives would probably back.)
posted by desjardins at 8:14 AM on October 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


Is that really the reason that alcohol is disallowed, or is it because it's a mind-altering substance that can lead to addiction, violence, drunk driving, poor sexual decisions, etc.

Alcohol was an allowable purchase until 1964. The 1964 Food Stamp Act specifies the purposes of the act:
"to promote the general welfare, that the Nation’s abundance of food should be utilized cooperatively by the States, the Federal Government, and local governmental units to the maximum extent practicable to safeguard the health and well-being of the Nation’s population and raise levels of nutrition among low-income households. The Congress hereby finds that increased utilization of foods in establishing and maintaining adequate national levels of nutrition will tend to cause the distribution in a beneficial manner of our agricultural abundances and will strengthen our agricultural economy, as well as result in more orderly marketing and distribution of food."
This book about social welfare in the South indicates that the program was well received, despite being part of the Great Society, because
The Food Stamp Program's conservative features appealed to southern politicians. First, food stamps were in-kind assistance, not cash benefits...the stamps were a food and agriculture program, not a general welfare program. As such, the program did not encourage the immorality and idleness many southerners ascribed to welfare. Eligible families could buy stamps which increased their purchasing power for food. Stamps could be redeemed only for food; they could not be squandered on drink or other idle pleasures...Not surprisingly, then, the conservative and business progressive leaders of the south generally welcomed food stamps."

I've been unsuccessful in finding free archived news articles that might enlighten us as to what kinds of debates happened on the floors of Congress that might have touched on the topic of alchol. But it looks to me as though the enormous expansion of the food stamp program in 1964 was utterly politically dependent on the prohibition of alcohol and tobbacco. Remember, in 1964 it was the beginning of the end of the FDR coalition and the start of the erosion of the solid Democratic south (a phenomenon which resulted ultimately in the election of Nixon and whose consequences we're still enduring today). Southern support was essential for this program - or any Great Society program - to pass, and it's clear that they liked using a market solution that drove business to retailers and provided an outlet for agricultural products over a direct food distribution program - another way in which it was designed to be palatable to social conservatives as well as liberals. For these reasons, and given the political realities of the day, I wonder if it was ever even contemplated to add non-food items to this legislation, or whether it was just widely assumed that including non-food items, especially those associated with the ills of addiction, to the list. Doing so might have scotched the program from the start. Again...the art of the possible.

So I'm sure the consquences of alcohol abuse were on the minds of the legislators, no doubt, and that they wanted to prevent the criticism the program would have drawn if public funds could be allowed to purchase alcohol or cigarettes. But I think it's important to note that alcohol and tobacco would fall outside the scope of the program anyway, because they simply aren't food, and are also subject to a host of distribution regulations not under the jurisdiction of the USDA. You could, in fact, make an argument that gunpowder and ammo should be supported in order to facilitate hunting, a very cost-effective way of securing food, but ammo isn't food and is regulated in other ways also, and not by the USDA.

In my view, it's just impossible to understand the food stamp program without understanding its origin in the agriculture agency and its combined purposes creating a market for American products as well as reducing malnutrition. It's structured as it is because of the realities and constraints of the agency and the legislation that maintains its programs. It's here to accomplish a few very narrow purposes, and nothing beyond that.

Personally, I would not be in support of a nutrition program that included the purchase of alcohol, and have no problem with soda being removed. In an ideal world, (well, first there'd be no need for the program, but if there were) I'd love to see only whole foods be approved. But I understand that it's impractical to assume that people have the ability, equipment, time or skill to cook with whole foods. I'd like to see a lot of changes to our food system. And I don't assert that the affluent eat better than the poor - they eat tons of processed crap and fast food, and every time I'm behind a wealthy suburban mom in the checkout line I'm pretty appalled at the number of shiny cardboard boxes and plastic packages in their carts as opposed to the amount of actual whole foodstuffs. But public funds aren't directly paying for those choices, so I have to tackle that issue using other forms of activism. I understand it's unpleasant to have one's food choices restricted, but participation in the program isn't actually required, and cash can be used to purchase items that won't be supported under public funds.
posted by Miko at 10:25 AM on October 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


Forgot to turn my blockquote off...it ends after the last set of quotation marks in the book link.
posted by Miko at 10:26 AM on October 8, 2010


The things is, you can use foodstamps to purchase alcohol. You use your SNAP card to buy food, sell it at a discount for cash to someone else, then use the cash to buy booze. There's an extra step in there, but people are certainly doing it.
posted by electroboy at 10:59 AM on October 8, 2010


If one cares about the "immoral" use of public money, one could start with corn subsidies or the money funneled into the military.

>How much does the mayor of New York subsidize corn, or funnel money into the military? How would he start with those measures rather than what he's doing now?


I was thinking of the supporters of the ban, who are also voters.
posted by ersatz at 11:06 AM on October 8, 2010


Well, I'm a supporter of the ban who's also a voter and who also spends lots and lots of my free time each year working against commodity subsidies and working on local food capacity and access. They're not exclusive endeavors.
posted by Miko at 11:20 AM on October 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hey, let's ban salt too, that's bad for you. How about food coloring? Potato chips? Hell, let's just ban everything that was ever created by man since the beginning of time.
posted by GrooveJedi at 2:43 PM on October 8, 2010


Electroboy: The people I know who do this don't usually buy the food. That's got perishability/storage issues and it's a recipe for losing money. A person selling actual food would have to make change, have to run his or her "storefront", have to display and protect merchandise. He or she would be just like a shopkeeper, with all the accompanying risks and responsibilities. There would be risk involved. And work. No.

The people I know who wish to turn their benefit cards into cash don't do it that way. Instead, they sell the use of the card itself (charging half of face) for cash, usually to people they know, not strangers. For example: "My card still has fifty dollars on it. Will you give me twenty-five dollars in cash if we go into the store and I let you pick out food worth fifty dollars and pay for it with the card?" Half of face makes the purchased food a bargain for the buyer -- it's like a 50% off sale at the grocery.

The seller accompanies the buyer into the store and pays for the purchases using the card. He or she can make the argument that the buyer is there to help carry the groceries or drove the seller to the store or is visiting for a few days or some other plausible reason why he or she would be accompanying the seller to the grocery. After all, it's not illegal to take a friend shopping with you and it's not illegal to have the friend help you pick out stuff to eat. As long as the initial agreement is done quietly, in private, this sort of fraud is a very safe sort of crime with just the state as a victim.

What happens to the cash? I expect it depends on the person pitching the card-for-cash exchange. The people *I* know who do this (and yes, they are actual named individuals that I have the misfortune of knowing personally) take their cash money, immediately purchase heroin from the friendly local heroin dealer, and shoot same in their veins.
posted by which_chick at 3:57 PM on October 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


This proposal is little more than a food-based variation of the usual race-based dog-whistle politics that are so prevalent in the US. The subtext is: Fuck you, you brown/black poor people. Y'all need to suffer even more.
posted by aerotive at 5:52 PM on October 8, 2010


Y'all need to suffer even more.

I guess I have a fundamental disagreement with this viewpoint on this issue that will not be resolved here.
posted by josher71 at 6:49 PM on October 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


How about food coloring?

That's not a bad idea. The FDA already regulates the use of certain food dyes which are known or suspected to cause cancer and other health problems. Some food colorings that are banned in Europe should be banned here, but we have a strong petrochemical lobby that wants to protect revenue from making and selling dyes, much as we have undue influence from HFCS and sugar lobbies.

I'd support a safer and healthier food supply, one that isn't controlled by private interests.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:34 AM on October 9, 2010


Well, I'm a supporter of the ban who's also a voter and who also spends lots and lots of my free time each year working against commodity subsidies and working on local food capacity and access. They're not exclusive endeavors.

No, they aren't, but I doubt most supporters of the ban will be following your example. It's fantastic that you're doing this though.
posted by ersatz at 10:41 AM on October 9, 2010


Honestly, I think anybody who hasn't been on food stamps even has anything of value to say about this issue. I kind of feel guilty for commenting in the first place.
posted by tehloki at 2:01 PM on October 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


*I don't think

I don't think.
posted by tehloki at 2:01 PM on October 9, 2010


I doubt most supporters of the ban will be following your example.

I'm not sure supporters of the ban are any easily identifiable group. I can certainly say that many people I know who are active in the food system reform movement would have liked to see this, and other measures, in place long ago, and not just for food stamps but for regulation as well. As for people who oppose the ban, I imagine a lot of them are focused on ideas of individual liberty. But this is a government-funded program, so it makes for odd bedfellows. I think, if anything, supporters of the ban are the more likely group to also be active in the food movement, because of their sharper awareness of the decreasing choices for healthy food available to America's lower income population, and the detriments caused by replacing those foods with corporately owned, high-margin, low-production cost, subsidy-supported, high-calorie, nutrient-deficient quasi-food. I thank you for your words of support, but I think reasons a person might or might not see this as supportable cross the political spectrum, and also hinge a lot on one's opinion of whether the state should provide welfare to begin with. Overall, I'm less concerned with why someone supports or opposes it and what their politics are than with the overall likely outcome, which is a step toward better health across the population.

Honestly, I think anybody who hasn't been on food stamps even has anything of value to say about this issue.

It's not possible for you to tell who has been on food stamps without each of us disclosing. I'm comfortable stating it's more than you think. 1 out of 8 Americans is now using food stamps, (and 1 out of 3 people who are eligible are not yet using them, meaning another large number above of the current total could qualify). Half of all kids will receive food stamp assistance at some time before they turn 20. Half of all adult Americans will have used food stamps at some point in their lives. If you have been lucky enough never to have taken advantage of the program, that's great, but chances are that many more than the self-identified food assistance users in this thread aren't speaking from ignorance.
posted by Miko at 7:39 PM on October 9, 2010 [3 favorites]


You know what the really fucked thing about food stamps is that nobody ever mentions? Using food stamps is humiliating. The second you pull out that distinctive-looking EBT card, the cashier and everyone in line who knows what it is look at you like you're the scum of the earth. You're not somebody who's fallen on hard times and needs help to get by, you're the scumbag welfare cheating piece of shit who's taking their hard-earned money.

It's awful and humiliating, and I'm sure we as a society wouldn't have it any other way.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:02 PM on October 9, 2010 [3 favorites]


Huge, huge improvement over the coupons.
posted by Miko at 8:34 PM on October 9, 2010


That doesn't surprise me in the least.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:55 PM on October 9, 2010


>1. "government teat" is loaded and paternalistic language
2. why do they have such an obligation?
3. what is "living right"? I suppose we should ban gay sex for welfare recipients, right, because that could lead to AIDS. (I'm being hyperbolic, yes, but it's a restriction that many conservatives would probably back.)


1) Don't be silly. Men don't have teats
2) It's a social thing. It shows a sense of responsibility and shared burden with your fellow citizens, the ones who are nice enough to foot this particular bill. That you don't regard the money as your due now and forever, but as part of combined effort between you and the gracious (or reluctant) bill payers who want to help you get you through these hard times and rise upwards and onwards and be the best that you can be. So one day you can pay it forward to someone else. Clearly not everyone feels such a sense of obligation, which is unfortunate for a number of reasons, but a restriction on a clearly bad product might at the very least give them something to think about, as well as improving their overall health.
3) And you accuse me of being loaded! Living right. Well, check out the boy scout oath, that's a reasonably good cover, assuming you can drop the sneer reflex. And as to your hyperbolic example of unprotected gay sex is simply stupid because of course unenforceable, but certainly the practice of unprotected sex gay or straight with multiple partners s ill advised at the best of times, food stamps or no. I would urge caution for all simply because I don't want to see any more deaths, and believe me, AIDS is not a pretty way to die.

Nor, by the way, is diabetes.

Which gets us back to the health argument, which was my main point all along. If you want to put these things in the hands of government, and don't be too shocked when they get all boot camp on you, even in this mild form.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:30 PM on October 10, 2010


for "and", read "then"
posted by IndigoJones at 4:39 PM on October 10, 2010


That doesn't surprise me in the least

Are you trying to make a point? If so, what is it? Let's be direct. I might surprise you after all.
posted by Miko at 5:02 PM on October 10, 2010


Are you trying to make a point? If so, what is it? Let's be direct. I might surprise you after all.

Um. I wasn't being sarcastic or anything. Just it doesn't surprise me that the coupons were even worse.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:37 PM on October 10, 2010


Oh, sorry. I thought you were saying that my point of view that the coupons were worse didn't surprise you - I misread your intent there. The coupons were worse.

There is a real advantage to the cards, in that despite how it feels to use them, most people actually don't notice what other people are using to pay, and in the plastic-driven world of today, if you don't know what to look for in an EBT, it isn't that well differentiated from all the interest-based credit cards out there and people just glaze right over it. Perhaps the clerks do and perhaps that's uncomfortable, but only in really affluent areas are they at all unusual. I'm frustrated at how long it's taking to get EBT into our local farmer's markets, though. There are hassles.

But I notice that some states do a better job of designing a card that doesn't scream 'public assistance' than others.
posted by Miko at 6:31 PM on October 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


The people I know who do this don't usually buy the food. That's got perishability/storage issues and it's a recipe for losing money.

Yeah, there's multiple ways to do it, although I've heard they cracked down on corner stores selling prohibited stuff and recording it as other items. Mostly my point is that restricting the purchase of soda isn't much of a bump in the road to actually getting soda.
posted by electroboy at 8:15 AM on October 11, 2010


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