Junk food stamps.

Jane Black has an article over at Slate exploring the odd world of American food stamp politics, in which legislators are keen to promote health by funding good food (Surprising, no? I half expected Republicans to deem burgers and soda to be inextricably tied up with patriotism), but nothing is materialising because of opposition from anti-hunger groups. This is especially frustrating when the case for restricting what can be bought with social security cheques is so powerful:

Supporters of restrictions have persuasive arguments on their side. While the food-stamp program was initially created to get malnourished Americans more food, today’s low-income families are as likely to be plagued by obesity and related chronic diseases as hunger. According to a study in the Journal of Health Economics, the annual medical cost of obesity in the U.S. is now $190 billion. When indirect costs are included, such as income lost from decreased productivity and absenteeism, the number rises to $450 billion (pdf). “The science linking soda to obesity and diabetes is rock-solid,” says Kelly Brownell, the dean of Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy. “The government should not be in the business of making people sick.”

Emphasis mine. If conservatives are conventionally for social responsibility, and liberals are defenders of choice, I see why the former can often find the latter infuriating. Nothing in me nowadays has any desire to defend the right of individuals to choose to binge on junk which later in their lives contributes to a public health crisis. The extent to which diabetes, obesity, coronary heart disease, cancer and so on have become epidemics in the West, with all the social costs that they entail, is sufficient reason to justify the state in taking steps to cut consumption of such literally corrosive products.

Now, the anti-hunger charities do have some legitimate concerns. As the article notes, the task of publicly categorising which foods in supermarkets are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ would be colossal and ripe for disaster, and making “low-income families in the grocery line pay separately for forbidden foods” is indeed a worryingly stigmatising and exclusionary image. But to oppose even exploring any such ideas from the outset, when the potential benefits on the other side of the scale are so big? It makes one sadly suspect that the following has some explanatory role to play:

ConAgra Foods, makers of everything from Slim Jims to Chef Boyardee, has made a $10 million commitment to Feeding America, which also lists General Mills, Kellogg’s, Kraft, and PepsiCo among its donors in its annual report. The sponsors of FRAC’s fundraising gala dinner, held in June in Washington, D.C., included PepsiCo, Land O’Lakes, Yum! Brands, Nestle, the American Beverage Association, and the Snack Food Association.

Only in America.


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