Should food stamps buy ice cream?

Via Flickr user Jens Dahlin.

Via Flickr user Jens Dahlin.

Everyone’s talking about it.

Healthy eating. Staying active. These topics sneak into dinner conversations. They are the focus of Michelle Obama’s efforts. They’re everywhere.

Charles Lane of The Washington Post brought up a subject I hadn’t thought much about: Should the government allow people to use food stamps to buy junk food?

There’s no question that the government has the authority to force beneficiaries of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to only buy healthy food. Beneficiaries use taxpayer money, so they have to agree to play by certain rules.

Plus, SNAP is a nutrition program. Shouldn’t the government encourage healthy eating habits in a nation with a more than 35 percent obesity rate?

But I’m torn about one aspect of restricting food stamp usage to nutritious foods — what are nutritious foods?

The government needs to draw the line somewhere, but I’m not sure where that would be. For example, let’s say snacks can no longer be bought with food stamps. That sounds good in theory. That rules out Oreos and Doritos, which are unarguably bad for anyone’s health. But sweet potato chips and salt-free pretzels are also snacks. Where does the definition of “snack” stop?

Let’s say you ban food that is over a certain calorie or fat content. Bye, bye, ice cream and chocolate bars. But wait — a lot of nuts are high in fat. Are we going to ban heart-healthy pistachios?

It gets murky. In essence, the government would have to identify each and every food in the grocery as healthy or not healthy, an impossibly monumental task.

The U.S. has an obesity epidemic on its hands. The White House is promoting healthy lifestyle. Food companies are paying more attention now than ever to adding healthier choices to their lines. Clearly, to stay in sync with all this, food stamps should be spent on yogurt instead of ice cream and chicken instead of bacon bits.

But when it come to discerning between healthy food and junk food, it is difficult to find the line in the sand.

  1. true, it might not be very practical. i don’t think these ideas can help much. we all have seen people smoking cigarets from packets that have a cancery liver on them.

    • Well, with food stamps, you could actually stop people from buying certain foods. It wouldn’t be just a warning.

      • mmm, truee. hah, this makes me think of undercover labs to produce some certain types of food 😀 like a mafie for unhealthy food 😀

  2. Sharon Fleitman said:

    You’ll never have a perfect system, but the most logical way would be to exclude items with a certain percent of fat calories. It would be a start and would limit the most egregious offenders. Fat is the most concentrated source of calories. I find it disconcerting to see government assistance money (my tax dollars) being used to buy foods with little to no nutritive value. Certain foods are banned from school lunch programs that receive government support so why not other public assistance?

    • True. Besides deciding the limits for healthy vs. unhealthy food, it’s a good idea to ban junk food.

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