SNAP should double down on fresh produce

12/28/2012 09:38:00 AM
Fred Wilkinson

SNAP to it

While the news about obesity and WIC kids is encouraging, even more progress could be realized through a little tinkering with food stamps, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program as it’s officially known, which helps feed a record 50 million Americans.

On the day after Christmas, Times food writer Mark Bittman had a piece titled “Stop subsidizing obesity," in which he suggests an interesting approach to emphasize the nutritional aspect of the program’s mission to feed hungry Americans.

Bittman’s proposed solution: essentially apply the tried-and-true retail grocery strategy of double coupons to food stamps.

New York and some other cities have programs that double the value of food stamps for purchases at farmers markets, and Bittman suggests applying that increase in spending power for food stamps used to buy fresh fruits and vegetables and other healthy foods, not just in farmers markets but in supermarkets and everywhere food is purchased.

The USDA currently finances a similar pilot program — known as the Health Incentives Pilot — in Hampden County, Mass., but it is scheduled to end soon, Bittman writes.

It’s a worthy idea, and one produce trade groups on the legislative front lines such as United Fresh Produce Association ought to consider championing.

Given the bitterly divided Congress, getting anything done in D.C. will be a grind, even something as seemingly non-controversial as improving Americans’ diets.

Contending with the influence of grain/meat/dairy interests in federal food and agriculture is always a tough fight.

But the produce industry’s legislative victories in recent years and stronger-than-ever backing from the executive branch certainly give it some momentum to take a run at it.

It’s time to double food stamps for fresh produce.

fwilkinson@thepacker.com

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