Contributed by Katie Powell
While countries such as Denmark are imposing a “fat tax,” which consumers will
face with the purchase of foods containing saturated fats, American
companies such as Yum! Brand are lobbying to make fast food accessible with
SNAP (food stamps). While some believe this is a huge step backwards
for current nutrition efforts, others feel it is a necessary step
towards food accessibility. Is access to unhealthy food among a
population that is already at a statistically higher risk for diet-related diseases truly a liberating force?
to the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), “17 Million, nearly one
in four children in the U.S., are food insecure." A recent study
conducted by the nonprofit Wholesome Wave found that while food
insecurity is rampant, obesity is plaguing approximately 2/3 of the US
population. While these two facts seem to contradict one
another (can a large percentage of our population really be
hungry and obese?), this is the current reality in the
United States. In order to examine this debate one must ask who benefits
from SNAP usage at fast food restaurants. Studies
by Wholesome Wave have shown that $5 of SNAP can generate $9.20 in
total economic activity when spent in the conventional global food
distribution system. It seems Yum! Brand and other companies could
considerably benefit from this policy change. Though policy has a
profound effect on how all Americans eat, what other factors contribute
to food choices among Americans, especially SNAP recipients? Some of
these factors include time, culture, and expense.
It has become conventional wisdom that healthy food is more expensive than alternative choices, such as fast food. It seems price, or assumed price, of food has
come to be the greatest factor in food choices. Mark Bittman of the New
York Times refutes this idea by giving an example of a typical order
for a family of four at McDonalds. If a family orders two Big Macs, a
cheeseburger, six chicken McNuggets, two medium and two small fries, and
two medium and two small sodas, the cost would be $28. However, this
same family of four could serve an at-home meal of a roasted chicken
with vegetables along with a simple salad and milk for about $14. While
cost seems to be the first assumption people make about healthy food
choices, it is clear that it is practical to eat healthy at home.
Therefore, it cannot simply be price that influences food choices.
Another factor that must be considered is access. According to the
Department of Agriculture, more than two million Americans in low-income
rural areas live 10 miles or more from a supermarket. Seeing as many of
these households have no access to a car, it becomes difficult if not
impossible to purchase healthy food.
of these barriers to healthy eating are beginning to be addressed by
initiatives across the United States. The USDA began the Healthy Food Financing Initiative,
to help bring access to fresh and healthy foods to communities in food deserts. The Let’s Move
Campaign, started by First Lady Michelle Obama, addresses children’s health. Many
nonprofits, including Catalyst Miami, have brought "double-value coupon programs" to farmers markets. This means that when
a SNAP recipient uses food stamps at a participating farmers markets, their purchase will be doubled. In other words, if they spend $10 worth of SNAP they will
receive $10 in coupons for further purchases. The amount you can double varies from
market to market, but the goal is the same: to make healthier food
more accessible and affordable and increase sales for local farmers.
With the launch of the new Catalyst Miami website, we hope to include an
interactive map that will provide dates, times and locations of
farmers markets in Miami with double-value coupon programs. During my
time at Catalyst Miami, I will be working to create other outreach
efforts to inform our community about these healthy food opportunities.