In early autumn of 2010, Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York, proposed a change to the Department of Agriculture’s Food Stamp program. This recent idea is to disallow the buying of soda and other sugary drinks with food stamps. Two proponents of this idea are Thomas Farley and Richard F. Daines, the health commissioners of New York City and New York State respectively. These men wrote an article published on October 7, 2010, entitled “No Food Stamps for Sodas” in which they claim the 1964 implemented food benefits program has a “serious flaw”. They claim the error is the allowing of recipients to purchase sugary drinks with their food stamps. They believe this is an error because these beverages lack nutritional value, contribute to obesity in adults and children and cost taxpayers an exorbitant amount of money for what they deem is a subsidy to the soft drink industry.
Not everyone agrees with the New York health commissioners. In an editorial published on October 15, 2010 in the LA Times, the author openly disagrees with the plan to ban the purchase of sugary beverages with food stamps. “Wait a New York minute!” says Bloomberg should stick with providing education regarding healthy nutrition rather than “reaching into shopping carts” with an “arbitrary” mandate that demeans the poor and is, probably, not going to create a healthier population if it is implemented.
Both articles agree that soda and other highly sugared beverages are nutritionally deficient and that everyone would prefer people consume healthier foods. The points of consensus end here. While the health commissioners strongly contend that banning soda purchases is in keeping with the original aims of the food stamp program of not paying for that which is non-nutritious, the editorial authors argues that the program’s purpose is to provide enough food for those who are too poor to buy enough themselves and not to dictate what this population chooses to consume.
The commissioners say food stamp recipients do not lose any benefits and they retain the right to buy sugary beverages with money not supplied by the benefits program. They argue that these beverages contribute greatly to a diet that results in obesity and its associated health problems which cost taxpayers a great deal of funds. The authors claim the banning of soda purchases with food stamps is reasonable and will result in less expenditure on healthcare and will aid in “stemming the wave of obesity and diabetes in New York” providing a model that can be replicated all over the country.
The author of the LA Times article does not support the “ban” on soda purchases by food stamps. This editor believes Bloomberg’s proposal limits the freedoms of a particular population of people and “infantilizes” by deciding what food choices they make for themselves and their families. He (or she) proclaims that none of us want to be told what we can eat and what we cannot. He argues that very few are such “paragons of nutritional virtue” that they never indulge in foods labeled as “junk”. Though the author agrees that everyone wants a populace that is in good health and will not cost us a fortune in healthcare expenses, he believes Bloomberg’s idea is not the way to go about achieving these goals. He would rather see more efforts at nutritional education.
Both articles make reasonable points regarding the issue of whether to implement the measure regarding food stamps and sugary beverages. The health commissioners stress the escalating problem with obesity in our current society and say a measure designed to reduce the consumption of soda which has doubled during the past 30 years and accounts for a high percentage of the overall calories consumed by teens. The commissioners appeal to a sense of outrage by suggesting the taxpayer funded benefits program is, in effect, subsidizing the soda industry. They also contend that putting this proposal against food stamps being used to buy sugary drinks is acceptable because the recipients do not lose any of their benefits.
The LA Times writer makes valid arguments as well. He states the program should not make such choices for its recipients and wonders, if implemented, how far such measures could go in the future. He hints that there could next be a ban on other nutritionally lacking items such as corn chips and cake. He also points out that if sodas are disallowed due to sugar content then why could it not be argued that fruit juices which are naturally high in sugar be banned as well. In other words, how many more freedoms of choice will those benefited by the food stamp program lose?
Both articles are reasonable and passionate in their stances on this controversial proposal. They present arguments for everyone to consider and weigh before making up their own minds as to which side they choose.