An Argument Against Food Stamps

Mar 07, 2014 | Updated Apr 27, 2014

I think we should stop food stamps completely.

It's not that I don't think the government should be feeding people, it's that I wouldn't call the options available in grocery stores (especially in low- and middle-income communities) "feeding" people. When a person uses food stamps they have a finite amount resources, which logically means they buy what is cheapest. What does that exclude? It excludes most high-priced organic packaged food and locally grown produce. In New York City, residents can use food stamps at farmer's markets, but what about low-income individuals in other parts of the country who don't have access to farmer's markets? What about people right in NYC who don't see why they should go to the (once per week) farmer's market rather than their local bodega?

The lack of nutrition in our diet is costing us dearly, and as a society we have zero foresight on the matter. We scratch our heads wondering why people in poverty are chronically obese and often have numerous health issues, meanwhile people with greater access to locally grown food know that is one of the reasons they are in good health. Nutrition used to be intuitive when people produced their own food because they knew exactly what they were eating.

A recent ad campaign from The Corn Refiners Association emphasized the natural composition of corn syrup. Corn syrup is made from corn, a natural substance, and the body breaks it down just like sugar, they say. While doctors and public health officials may disagree, I'm going to run with the assertion that the human body breaks down corn syrup in the same way it breaks down sugar.

How much sugar are people supposed to eat in one day? Not much, right? We all know we should not be having dessert at every meal. But what about ketchup? It's perfectly reasonable for a person to have ketchup with tater tots in the morning, ketchup on chicken fingers at lunch, and ketchup on a burger for dinner (the first two meals are actual examples from a public elementary school menu). High-fructose corn syrup (aka sugar) is the second or third ingredient listed in most non-organic brands of bottled ketchup.

So you decide to stay away from non-organic ketchup. Now you have to check your pasta sauce, any frozen food items, "healthy" options like flavored yogurt and fruit snacks, barbecue sauce, bread, all canned items, all beverages besides water and unsweetened tea (including water flavor additives), all packaged crackers, chips and cookies. When it comes down to it, there is not much at your local chain grocery store that doesn't contain high-fructose corn syrup.

While the body may process corn syrup like sugar, that still does not mean it is okay to consume sugar at every meal.

Cut back to food stamps. How many working people have the time to research deep enough to find out that most of their food contains ingredients making them unhealthy? I grew up in an educated household and both me and my mother are just starting to understand all of this and the implications. It takes learning to understand how to nourish bodies now, because we live in a country where our food comes from industries prioritizing money, not health. If you don't believe me just check the back label of any frozen "diet" food. It is loaded with sodium and additives, but it is sold as a healthy alternative to full-fat foods. It is not a coincidence that Americans consume plenty of "low-fat" and "diet" foods, but we are still fat.

My thought is to set up deliveries from local farmers to people who need food assistance all across the country. It's not about taking away the rights of people who need assistance, it is about giving them the right to locally grown real food, provided by the government. Detractors might say this would be too costly, but what is the cost of Medicaid/ Medicare when a majority of people on it are money pits because they are unhealthy? For every action there is a reaction. When people eat loads of sugar and other processed foods every single day they will not be healthy, and someone (taxpayers in this case) has to pay for that health care when it becomes a problem.

We have a responsibility here, both to taxpayers and to people who need to eat. We have the resources, but I fear our government and the food industry may be too intertwined to ever allow a shift like this to happen.

In the meantime I suppose poor (and working class) people in America will continue to go undernourished with food from cans, plastic packages, and McDonald's, while wealthier Americans and the government fret over starving people in other countries without seeing any correlation. It is true that people in America are not dying in plain sight because they don't have anything to eat, but we are dying quietly because the food we eat is not real.