More Americans than ever before, 50 million, are in poverty. One in seven people rely on the government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, or food stamps. And they are not always the people you might expect. Formerly middle class families, recent veterans, college graduates and farmworkers are featured in this new photo essay, the latest report produced by the Food & Environment Reporting Network in collaboration with Switchyard Media, which first appeared on MSN. Read more
With the debate over the 2012 Farm Bill currently underway in the Senate, most of the media’s attention has been focused on how direct payments—subsidies doled out regardless of actual farming—are being replaced with crop insurance, in a classic shell game that Big Ag’s powerful lobby is likely to pull off.
Meanwhile, the Senate may hurt the less powerful by cutting $4.5 billion from the largest piece of the farm bill pie: the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly called food stamps). Reducing this lifeline for 46 million struggling Americans (more than 1 in 7—nearly half of them children) has become a sideshow in the farm bill circus, even though SNAP spending grew to $78 billion in 2011, and is projected to go higher if the economy does not improve. Read more
This week Congress begins hearings on the 2012 farm bill, the massive piece of legislation that gets updated about every five years and undergirds America’s entire food supply, but that few mortals can even understand. As nutrition professor Marion Nestle recently lamented, “no one has any idea what the farm bill is about. It’s too complicated for any mind to grasp.”
Nestle also called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) “the huge elephant in the farm bill” because its enormity trumps everything else. This entitlement program (the budget expands as more people enroll) provides modest monthly benefits for food purchases and represents a critical lifeline to many people in need.
In recent years, public health and food policy experts have sounded the alarm about how farm bill programs supporting all the wrong crops (think corn and soy) contribute to America’s epidemic of obesity and diet-related diseases. This is certainly true, along with a host of other economic drivers.
But are we focusing too much on the commodity title and not enough on the nutrition title when it comes to how the farm bill truly subsidizes Big Food? After all, even if the commodity title was completely eliminated, most economists believe it would have minimal impact on healthy food consumption. Read more
When I first lost my job, we applied for emergency food assistance. Then, when I saw how little was provided for our family of five, I went into panic mode and bought the cheapest stuff I could find: a coffin-sized crate of ramen noodle packages, a box of Cheerios as big as an ottoman. No longer did I shop for the “best”—organic, free range, all natural—I was now shopping for the cheapest.
And I was not alone in trying to negotiate this shift from affluent foodie to poverty-level mom just trying to feed her family on next to nothing. Take a look at the numbers and be startled along with me. As you can see, there was an unprecedented jump in participants in the program after the Great Recession in 2008 began. Suddenly, families who were unaccustomed to financial struggle joined the ranks of the truly needy, and we didn’t know how to shop for it! And still, after a few years of this “New Poor” culture, we are looked at with derision when we try to maintain our values as careful consumers and healthy eaters.
Thankfully, however, there are ways to make a mountain (of produce) out of a molehill (of money.) Read more
When the House returns to work this week they will likely be considering the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, a reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, twice extended as legislators struggled over the details. According to The Hill 80 percent of Americans support expansion of the act to “provide healthier food and cover more kids.” Yet in the current climate of economic crisis, finding the funding for this expansion has been a nearly insurmountable challenge. If this bill is not passed within the current lame-duck session, the new session of Congress will have to start over, perhaps with a diminished commitment to its expansion. In fact, there is reason to believe that there will be no work done the week after Thanksgiving, which means this week is make-or-break week for the bill. Read more
On Thursday, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that he had asked the US Department of Agriculture to allow the city to exempt soda from the permitted list of items its 1.7 million food stamp recipients can purchase with their benefits. This ban would last for two years, enough time to assess its effects and determine whether the ban should be continued on a permanent basis. New York City food stamp recipients spend an estimated $75 million to $135 million of their $2.7 billion in food stamps annually on soda, according to AP. Read more
This week is National Farmers Market Week. Time for fresh corn, tomatoes and berries at your local farmers market, which now are as American as baseball and apple pie. In the past fifteen years, the number of markets has almost quadrupled to nearly 6,000. Americans annually spend $1.3 billion at farmers markets, according to Farmers Market Coalition estimates.
Business associations adore farmers markets because they revitalize depressed downtowns, bringing shoppers into otherwise ignored areas. Communities love them because they turn a parking lot or empty city street into a colorful and festive weekly commons where friends and neighbors can meet and linger. Farmers frequent them because they can capture 100 percent of the retail value of their products, helping revive a flagging small farm economy.
Yet, there is one group that has been excluded from the benefits of farmers markets: food stamp recipients. Read more