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by Charing Ball

Various media outlets are reporting that Mayor Michael Bloomberg and NY Governor David Patterson are actively seeking permission from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to add sugary sodas to the list of products not allowed for purchase through the federal food stamp program.

According to Mayor Bloomberg, the idea behind the sugary soda food stamp ban is to address obesity in the city. The proposal could potentially ban any drinks with 10 or more calories per 8 ounces. Juices, diet sodas and milk-based products with no added sugar would not be included in this ban.

In an opinion-piece in the New York Times, city and state commissioners argue that tens of millions of federal dollars are spent on sweetened beverages in New York City through the food stamp program, which they claims acts as a enormous federal subsidy  for the sugar beverage industry.

How they are able to track the amount spent on sweetened drinks alone is beyond me however, how is that any different that what we already spend on subsidizing crap food?

Some are applauding Bloomberg and Patterson for taking an active stance in the war on obesity while some activists are opposed to the restriction and are questioning whether or not this is just a way to further perpetuate the myth that only poor people on public assistance make poor shopping decisions.

For the record I’m not one of those persons, who gets all bent out of shape every time I see another person whip out an access card to pay for their cart full of soda, potato chips and other junk food.  As a former child on food stamps (back in the day when stamps were actually books of funny printed money), I remember very vividly what it was like not having all of the “fun” foods in which my other classmates’ parents could afford.  And how much of a treat it was when my mother bent the budget a little to get us youngins’ something a little extra.

And this is not to say that the eating habits of folks aren’t atrocious but we all, regardless of income level, could use a little more fruit and vegetables in our diets.  Yet things like soda, and its consumers, are always the target of these anti-obesity initiatives while those similar sugar laden yet expensive drinks such as Venti-sized Starbucks Carmel Chocolate Frappuccino, never raise an eyebrow with any of these “concerned” legislators and politicians.

What is apparent is that the conditions of homelessness and poverty in America are being further criminalized, stigmatized and marginalized to the point that our political leaders spend more time obsessing on the poor and their habits and behaviors instead of the underlying reasons behind why there is so much poverty.

Despite the many years of research, our politicians have yet to figure out why obesity and socioeconomic class are often interconnected. If Bloomberg, Patterson and the rest of the get-healthy hacks in our government were really concerned about the “shape” of its lower income citizens, then time should be spent on actually regulating the junk, which passes as food in his state as well as across the country.

Not everyone has a Whole Foods in their neighborhood.  Moreover, not everyone in the vicinity of a Whole Foods can afford to spend his or her “whole paychecks” on “organic” and “healthy.” Can someone explain to me why a 1,000 calories bag of potato chips is cheaper than a 44-calorie apple?  Oh yeah, that right: because our government subsidizes many of the food items found within that bag of potato chips as oppose to fresh fruits and veggies, which we are suppose to eat.

I probably wouldn’t be so outraged at this ban if it also came with a plan – and funding – to address the issue of food insecurity in many of these lower income communities, many of which are more likely to have several fast food restaurants and no adequate supermarket. Giving grocery stores tax incentives for doing business in low-income neighborhoods is just as effective as food bans at giving these lower income families access to healthier options.

Thanks in part to the recession; which by many indications suggest that the effects will be with us for a very long time, the face of poverty in America is rapidly changing. As more and more people find themselves out of work, knocked out of unemployment benefits and yes, at the welfare office, we should be cognizant that it is never okay to deny people, who may have less than us financially with the dignity and self-respect as the rest of us are lucky enough to afford – for now at least.

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