Earth Eats: Real Food, Green Living

NYC Mayor Proposes Banning Soda From Food Stamp Program

Reducing soda consumption is undeniably a healthier choice for consumers. However, Michael Bloomberg's proposal raises controversial issues of classism.

Orange Soda

Photo: Xandert (morguefile)

Packed with sugar and chemicals, soda is liquid candy, and the NYC mayor thinks the federal food-stamps program shouldn't pay for it.

These recent eye-catching videos released by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene illustrate the latest chapter in NYC’s battle against obesity.

Warning: This second video is not for the weak-stomached.
Pouring on the Pounds

Grossed out? That’s how NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg feels about soda, and as of Thursday, he’s taken another steps to limit its consumption. The United States Department of Agriculture already bans cigarettes, beer, wine, liquor, and prepared foods from the federal food-stamp program, and if Bloomberg’s proposal passes, New York will add soda to that list.

However, regardless of the health benefits of removing soda purchases from the food-stamp program, the proposal raises serious questions about stigmatizing poverty.

In NYC’s waiver request to USDA, it reports that in 2009 an estimated $75 to $135 million dollars of food-stamp funds were spent on sweetened beverages in New York City alone. Since soda contains no substance other than sugar and chemicals, they point out that this is an alarming amount of money to spend on the equivalent of liquid candy.

Reducing soda consumption is undeniably a healthier choice for consumers. However, Bloomberg’s proposal raises controversial issues of classism and stereotypes that low-income individuals make worse food choices than others.

George Hacker, a senior policy adviser for the health promotion project, had this to say:

The world would be better, I think, if people limited their purchases of sugared beverages. However, there are a great many ethical reasons to consider why one would not want to stigmatize people on food stamps.

Marion Nestle, blog author of “Food Politics,” adds, “I would much prefer incentives: make the benefit worth twice as much when spent for fresh (or single-ingredient frozen) fruits and vegetables.”

But Bloomberg’s proposal highlights the growing danger of the obesity epidemic. “In spite of the great gains we’ve made over the past eight years in making our communities healthier, there are still two areas where we’re losing ground — obesity and diabetes,” he said. He believes this initiative will give New York families more money to spend on truly nutritious foods.

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Julie Rooney

Julie Rooney is a vegetarian, musician, and artist who primarily works in video and new media. Currently she is the director of Low Road Gallery, a non-profit contemporary art gallery located in Greencastle, Indiana.

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