This holiday weekend my husband, Adam and I, spent the weekend at Lake Webster in Indiana. We had a great time relaxing, spending time with family, getting out on the water in the boat/jet ski, and eating delicious food! Obviously one of my favorite parts of the weekend was cooking delicious meals for the whole family and then enjoying the company while feasting! Because we were out in the good old Midwest, we had to stop at a farm stand to pick up some sweet corn and other delicious produce like watermelon. On a farm stand run, I noticed that there was a sign that said they accepted SNAP money. For those of you who don’t know SNAP stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, aka Food Stamps. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that people who are enrolled in SNAP could purchase fresh local produce at a farm stand. It made me think about the controversy that is going on with SNAP right now.
There has been an ongoing debate over allowing the government to dictate what people can purchase using SNAP. Some believe that the government should not allow those enrolled in SNAP to purchase unhealthy food with their money. Others say that the government has no right to tell people what they should or should not eat. This is not just a debate going on over food stamps either. Remember a few months back when Mayor Bloomberg of NYC tried to get a citywide ban on purchasing soda over 16 oz? The bill was shot down in court and never made it through. These types of debates pop up all the time and have for a long time. Seeing the current back and forth over SNAP though got me thinking, what was my stance on the issue?
You might think that this would be a simple issue for me. I write a health blog and firmly believe in a healthy life for ALL people, whether they utilize food stamps or not. You might think that I would side with those who believe that the government should restrict purchases on junk food. My beliefs are a little more complex than that: I believe in educatio, not mandates. Let me explain. I don’t like the idea of people enrolled in SNAP spending money on unhealthy food choices. I personally don’t buy junk food, so I don’t like that government money (aka my tax dollars) goes towards helping others buy junk food.
That being said, I do NOT believe that we should tell people what they can and can not purchase/eat. They are adults and should have the freedom to buy what they want to eat, just like those not enrolled in SNAP can choose what to eat. That is one of the pros (and sometimes cons) of living in a free country with free choice. You are able to decide how you want to eat and no one can tell you otherwise. How unfair and hypocritical to not allow this same freedom to those who might not be able to afford to eat without the assistance of SNAP. Again, I firmly believe that every single person should have access to a healthy lifestyle, no matter socioeconomic status, race, religion, or gender.
I understand that not everyone in SNAP has access to healthy food. There are food deserts, areas that do no have access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food, all over the country. These areas usually have to rely on convenience stores or fast food restaurants for the bulk of their diet. I also know that forcing someone to eat healthy food when they don’t want to is a good way to turn them away from eating a healthy diet. I prefer my belief in educating people about healthy lifestyles. I think that we need to teach people how to live a healthy lifestyle with the tools and resources they have access to, because I am not into forcing people to do something, even if that is learning how to live healthier. I propose that those who enroll in SNAP take one mandatory class that shows the basics of living healthy. After that one class, they can go on their merry way and do whatever they want with their food decisions. After that one class though, SNAP should offer other classes and resources that people can choose to participate in and will help them further their knowledge of leading a healthy lifestyle. This way, you can give every single person in SNAP some tools to utilize through the one class, but then only those who are truly interested can further their knowledge with cooking classes or learning how to eat healthy on a budget or guided trips to local grocery stores.
Is this a perfect plan? Of course not. Obviously these classes would have to be funded in some way, and most likely that would mean through tax dollars. While everyone might not be so enthusiastic about their money going towards this, I would much rather have my money fund education than stocking convenience stores with more chips and soda. I think that this can be a step in the right direction and I also believe that there are groups and organizations out there that are making great strides towards bettering SNAP. SNAP to Health! is a great website that has tons of information about programs and resources and other tidbits about what people can do help further the health and nutrition of the USA. I urge you to check out the site and see what you can do in your area to help out. I know that promoting better health for all can seem like a losing battle. It takes a bunch of tiny steps that may not look like they are doing anything to help, but every little step counts. I believe that the more people we can educate and get on board with leading a healthier life, the faster we can reach the goal. Your health is one of your most important assets; fight for better health and fight to help others reach that very same goal!