Hidden within Trump’s “Budget for America” is a proposal that would drastically change the diets of countless numbers of people on the food stamp program. Instead of giving low-income people a set amount on a card every month for food purchases, their monthly stipend would be cut in half, and they would be given a box of food from the federal government.
While the food boxes may not sound all that bad in theory, what is planned to be put into these boxes would be a nightmare for people with certain health issues or food allergies. The boxes would include:
- Shelf stable milk
- Ready to eat cereal
- Peanut butter
- Canned fruits and vegetables
While everything on the list seems sensible as part of a balanced diet, many things on the list could potentially make people extremely sick. For example, diabetics require a low carbohydrate diet, so pasta, rice, cereal, and canned fruit wouldn’t be healthy food choices for them. People with Crohns, Colitis, and IBS really can’t handle gassy foods like beans, and many are also highly sensitive to lactose found in milk and gluten found in pasta.
What about the high salt content in canned vegetables for people with elevated blood pressure and renal disease? How about kids with peanut allergies who can’t eat peanut butter? Would there be a dairy free option for people with dairy allergies or lactose intolerance with the milk? Would any of these issues even be considered, or would it be an “eat it or starve” situation?
Another concern is the possibility of unhealthy processed and canned meats being included in these boxes. Canned meats traditionally provided by the USDA to food programs are not only extremely high in sodium, but items such as tuna could be high in dangerous mercury as well. Not to even mention the preservatives and chemicals used in preserving the meat to be shelf stable are linked to cancer and a host of other illnesses. This box should be called, “Let’s Make Unhealthy Eating Great Again”.
These are serious issues that need to be taken into account before legislation like this is passed. The power of choice in the food stamp program allows for recipients to work within their own dietary restrictions. Forcing a box of USDA government surplus as a replacement for that choice could conceivably be fatal.
Fortunately, I don’t think this proposed change to the food stamp program is ever going to happen. Other than the health implications I’ve discussed, there are logistical issues on how these boxes will be distributed to recipients, ethical concerns about taking food choice away from our most vulnerable, and the loss of food stamp revenue to small independent grocery stores and family owned Bodegas already trying to compete with Wal-Mart. It is a short-sighted, cruel plan meant to punish the poor by taking away their choice, their cultural identity with food, and their dignity. All to save a few bucks and keep the poor from buying a birthday cake or an occasional steak. How much more evil is this administration going to get?