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Food Restrictions of the Welfare State


How many of you have been in line in the store when someone on one of our incredibly cheap and limited welfare programs has tried to buy food and something or another is now no longer on the acceptable list and there’s a big deal about it and she (usually) is totally embarrassed and everyone else is impatient as it all gets sorted out? Well, that’s certainly happened to me, though I wasn’t so much impatient as pissed at the situation this poor woman had to go through. Why are there all these restrictions on what women can buy on food stamps or WIC? Why are these the only people in the United States outright told what they can and cannot buy. It’s really quite outrageous. I can see not using these benefits to buy cigarettes or alcohol I guess, but within the realm of food, how about people be allowed to eat what they want to eat?

Civil Eats has a piece on this, specifically about WIC:

For low-income parents who turn to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) to help feed their kids, moving to a new state could make accessing the benefits confusing.

In Louisiana, those parents can buy soy milk in place of cow’s milk with their WIC cards, but they can’t buy tofu. In California, tofu is allowed; however, if they buy the Azumaya brand, they can get silken, firm, or extra firm, but they can only buy silken tofu if it’s the Nasoya brand. In Iowa, if their food package includes eggs, they’ll have to buy large, and the label can’t include any special health claims like cage-free or non-GMO. In Maryland, they can choose medium or large eggs, and organic and cage-free are okay—but, if a store brand carton is available, they must buy that. Those complications are only the start.

Many federal programs vary across the country due to differences in the way each state administers them. But unlike Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which aims to reduce overall hunger, WIC is restrictive by design. Using analyses done by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASM), the program targets specific nutrient deficiencies among American infants and their parents.

Advocates say the focused nature is what makes it effective. For example, evidence that the program reduces the risk of preterm birth, low birth weight, and infant mortality is strong. But the strict nutrition requirements and hyper-specificity of WIC-approved food shopping lists from state to state can also be confusing for those doing the shopping.

This is incredibly stupid. I can see some level of restrictions I guess. What I can’t see is confusing regulations about egg cartons. It’s just humiliation all the way down. And a lot of it is caused by the agribusiness lobby, as the linked piece explores in some detail. It needs to end. I also love how that official WIC image is the most white bread middle class image possible.

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