The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a D.C.-based nonprofit, has proposed limiting SNAP purchases to whole grains; fresh, frozen or low-sodium canned vegetables; beans; and fruits. This meal plan would supply 65 percent less fat than the average American diet and twice the fiber, according to the committee.
No doubt such limitations would entail a change in habits for many SNAP recipients — perhaps too much change. Fish and poultry, as well as lean red meat, should probably be included. But even if SNAP paid only for healthy stuff, recipients would still be free to use their own cash for other products. The point is to increase the amount of real nutrition per taxpayer dollar.
The counterargument is that it’s not fair to restrict poor people’s grocery choices. You hear this a lot from the food and beverage industry, for which SNAP has grown into a significant subsidy.
Sorry, I don’t get it — morally or pragmatically. Of course the federal government should be able to leverage its purchasing power for socially beneficial purposes. If you take Uncle Sam’s help, you play by his rules. I repeat: This is a nutrition program, or so the taxpayers who fund it are told. It should nourish.
Probably the most cynical argument against banning junk food from SNAP is that it would “stigmatize” the poor by making them conspicuous at the grocery store. Since when is it humiliating to take only healthful food through a checkout line? And why should this theoretical threat to psychological health outweigh more plausible threats to physical health? Saslow’s story suggests that it’s already no big secret who’s on SNAP in places such as Woonsocket.